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Kumano Kodo in The Japan Times

Seeking Japan’s gods and nobles in roots, stone and moss
Text: Amy Chavez
Published by The Japan Times
Nov 26, 2014

"If you’ve had a hankering to go hiking with Shinto gods, then I recommend trying Japan’s Kumano Kodo: the Kumano Old Road. This UNESCO World Heritage site, located on the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture, offers three pilgrimage routes that take you to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano (Kumano Sanzan). Emperors and nobility traveled the Kumano Kodo from Kyoto during the Heian Period (794-1185), when Kyoto was the capital city.

The Kumano Kodo is very well-sign-posted in both English and Japanese. There are even signs to tell you when you’re going the wrong way. Other boards indicate where historical events took place, and some reference the court diary (kanbun nikki) of Fujiwara Munetada, who, as a court noble, documented religious practices of the nobility in his diary, called the “Chuyuki” (1109).


The pilgrimage was eventually adopted by commoners and became so popular that the hordes of faithful were described as “ants” marching over the mountain passes. Well, better ants than cockroaches, I suppose.

The Kumano Kodo is a linear pilgrimage — a journey to a specific site. You go there, you come back the way you came. It is different from Buddhist pilgrimages that tend to make a loop so that you circuitously, often weeks later, find yourself back at the same place you started.

Traditionally, the Japanese have believed the mountains of Kumano were inhabited by Shinto kami, or deities. But of course, what we’re all really wanting to know is, who exactly are these deities? And, what’s the trail really like? I don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble envisioning emperors and nobility in hiking boots.

Not finding the answers to these questions, I decided to go seek them out on the trail myself so that I could then pass the information on to you.

I chose to hike the Nakahechi route, which, according to the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, is the most popular path. This course takes about six days to complete. While people hike the Kumano Kodo to participate in an ancient Japanese tradition from the Heian Period, most people don’t care about tradition that much to hike back the way they came. So, at the end of the one-way journey, they claim victory and finish off by taking a bus back to where they started. Surely the nobility would have scoffed at this and thrown their hiking boots at us."

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NEW Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass

NEW Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass
This is an easy way to do a loop of the Kii Peninsula.

From July 15, 2016 (Friday)
PRICE Adult 11,000 yen Children 5,500 yen (Children 6 to 11 years old)
NOTE: This pass is not available for purchase in Japan.
VALIDITY PERIOD Five consecutive days
AREA ●JR conventional lines: Nagoya-Shingu-within Osaka City (via lse Tetsudo Line or Kameyama, via Kisei Main Line/Hanwa Line) ●Nagoya-Kameyama-Nara-within Osaka City (via Kansai Main Line) Taki Toba (Sangu Line) ●Kansai International Airport-Hineno (Kansai Airport Line) ●Bus routes for accessing Kumano Kodo, Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha (Only Kumano Kotsu Bus); and Select bus routes
TRAIN TYPES ●Unlimited use of non-reserved seats on ordinary cars on all JR conventional line trains in the subject section. ●Reserved seats can be used up to four times on ordinary cars of limited express and rapid trains. ●Only non-reserved seats can be used on the limited express "Haruka' between the Kansai Inte…