Brad Towle, International Tourism Promotion & Development Director of the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, has been registered as a Cool Japan Ambassador by the Japanese Government Cabinet Office.
Brad Towle is originally from Canada but has called Kumano home for almost 2 decades.
He is currently the International Tourism Development and Promotion Director for the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau—the only non-Japanese person in a tourism director's position in Japan.
After leaving his small hometown on the Manitoba prairies, he because enthralled with the mountain environments of the world, exploring the Canadian Rockies, Himalayas and sacred mountains of Japan.
His first taste of Kumano came when he was employed on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) in the rural village of Hongu. Like a mystical magnet these ancient pilgrimage routes and sacred sites keep drawing him back to Kumano, the cultural roots of Japan.
Before founding the tourism office in Tanabe, he was a professional guide in the Canadian Rockies, leading hiking and skiing trips for Japanese clientele.
His passion for the region and enthusiasm to create a positive environment for sustainable tourism has been contagious—a driver for a new model of grassroots tourism in Japan.
Message from the Cool Japan Ambassador
I am honored and thrilled to be selected a Cool Japan Ambassador.
Community development is not done by one individual though but via a strong effort from all stakeholders. I would like to thank everyone here for allowing me to be a part of your family, and thank you so much for all of the support over the years.
Message about Kumano from Cool Japan Ambassador
"A pilgrimage to Kumano is like copulating with the universe" —or so says my first boss.
For people looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination in a natural environment—a place to slow down, relax and experience the spiritual countryside of Japan—the enigmatic Kumano region is for you. And don’t forget the great isolated onsen, delicious authentic cuisine and friendly locals!
I first came to this isolated sacred region in 1999 to teach English in the small village of Hongu. I couldn't speak Japanese and knew nothing of the rich spiritual history around me, but I could feel something special...and almost 2 decades later, I am still here!
I am now responsible for grassroots tourism development in Tanabe City, a challenging and rewarding job, and I’m still trying to decipher all of the complexities and symbolism of this sacred place. If you get confused about all of the details, don't worry, Kumano is more of a feeling than an ideology.
The Kumano faith is based on pre-historic forms of nature worship—I guess that’s where the cosmic sex comes in!—and over the centuries has mixed with other religions, such as Buddhism.
I like the fact that the Kumano faith is not defined or standardized, and is open to re-interpretation by those who visit, a universal sacred site.
The best way to visit Kumano would probably be to follow the general flow of pilgrims from the 9th century—How could over 1000 years of pilgrimage tradition be wrong!
Find your way down the west coast of the Kii-hanto peninsula from Kyoto or Osaka to Tanabe (or travel through Koyasan). Tanabe has some great Izakaya pubs.
From here, head into the mountainous Hongu area. Following the pilgrimage route from Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha is a great half-day walk. There are some excellent onsen in Hongu, including Yunomine and Kawayu, and many visitors spend a few nights here.
You can then travel along the Kumano-gawa River to Shingu and Hayatama Taisha (there is also a lovely boat trip offered part-way) and then onto Nachi Taisha to see Japan's highest waterfall, the awe-inspiring Nachi Falls. Don't miss the Daimon-zaka Slope staircase!
You can complete your visit by soaking in another onsen bath in Katsuura to contemplate your experiences.
A couple words of advice: travel responsibly, respect the locals’ faith, take your time, and open your mind.
One last thing: be careful, the universe might try to make some moves on you!