A Guide to the Accommodation on the Kumano Kodo

Japan’s UNESCO listed pilgrimage trail the Kumano Kodo serves up a fascinating adventure across many levels, the stunning mountain vistas and forest trails, the history and stories of pilgrims, Emperors, tea houses and life in the forest, and the villages and people along the walk. The accommodation however is a little bit different to what many westerners are accustomed to in commercial accommodation, and whilst delightful and truly authentic, it is important to understand the differences in order to know what to expect and to plan for your hiking adventure.

Firstly, along the Kumano Kodo whilst the walking happens within the mountains and through the manicured, stunning forest, the accommodation is generally in small villages spread along the walk. Many of the villages or small towns are in valleys and exist for a combination of supporting pilgrims and walkers of the Kumano Kodo along with their own stand alone population providing rural life amongst the mountain towns, and various industries. One of the fascinating characteristics of these towns that will have you speculating along the walk is the fact that they are quite quiet.

There are various styles of accommodation on offer throughout the towns and villages of the Kumano Kodo with the main styles being; Minshuku, Ryokan, and guest houses.

The style of Kumano Kodo accommodation that we recommend at Hiking Trails and most commonly book for our guests are the ‘Minshuku’, which are like small guest houses that offer ‘supper’ (the main evening meal), and breakfast to walkers. Some but not all also offer a packed lunch for hikers to take on the next day. Minshuku have generally only a small number of guest rooms, ranging from about 3 to 12 rooms, and are often owned and hosted by Japanese local families.

Meals are served at set times which your hosts will advise you of upon checking in.

The meals that are included at the Minshuku are a pre-set traditional Japanese spread for each guest, in the case of ‘Supper’ it generally includes miso soup, various pickles, often fish cooked or sashimi or both, and often a meat and vegetable dish all served in an assortment of small Japanese dishes and plates, and always with a serve or steamed rice. Exactly what is included varies between establishment and season and the meals are an authentic part of the whole experience.

Beer and sake can be purchased at most Minshuku with the meal. You will need to take cash for these. It’s a good idea to ensure you have some smaller denominations such as 1000 JPY notes.

The breakfast is very similar to supper, including fish, pickles, rice, miso soup, Japanese tea, and sometimes fish and other items. It’s important to note that it is not a western style breakfast.

Insiders’ Tip – coffee lovers be warned that coffee isn’t a big part of the Japanese culture, and whilst some Minshuku have coffee available at breakfast others won’t, thankfully though you’re never too far from a vending machine with small cans of hot (albeit often sweet) coffee for around 100 to 200 JPY. Remember to select the coffee can with a red button as these signify hot drinks.

When a packed lunch is included this will be provided to you upon checking out.

Note… Most but not all Minshuku can cater to vegetarian and other dietary requests, however they do need to be booked in advance, so please let us know as early in your booking process as possible of any special requests or requirements so as can update the booking accordingly.

Now we should talk about the bedding. Most of the rooms we book for guests are traditional Japanese style tatami rooms. These rooms are very traditional, and are often a nearly empty room with bamboo matting on the floor (this is what makes it a tatami room) and limited furniture. In these rooms futons are provided for guests to sleep on. The futons are often not pre-spread out for guests in advance but instead folded in the room to avoid taking up space until you’re ready to lay them out. The futon is the mattress part that you lay out on the floor and it will come with a sheet on it, and also a small doona that will have a strangely fitted doona cover on it to cover you.

If you’ve booked a western style room, which we include in most Kumano Kodo packages on the fourth night for guests via Koguchi, this means you’ll get a “normal” bed.

Within your room there’ll also be a small pillow, a towel for when you wash, and a dressing gown/kimino to wear in the evening. The gown can be worn to meals, and also to the bathroom, and many hikers use these almost exclusively whilst in the Minshuku as their evening outfit.

Insider’s Tip – The pillows are quite likely not what you’re used to, they’re often small and quite firm, sometimes resembling wheat bags more than pillows. If a soft pillow is important to getting a good sleep then we suggest you consider taking a travel pillow with you.

The Minshuku vary in that some have en-suites bathrooms, and some have shared bathrooms outside of the rooms. This gets even more interesting in that having an ensuite or a communal bathroom doesn’t assume a shower, as these are often part of an in-house onsen (Japanese communal bath) where showering before bathing is the etiquette, and communal baths are generally split into separate male and female bathrooms.

Wifi is available at most Minshuku, if you can’t find the password simply ask your hosts.

Don’t forget to take an international adaptor to charge phones and other accessories.

If your booking has daily baggage transfers included simply leave your bag clearly marked and labelled at reception upon checking out. If using this service we suggest still carrying a small backpack per person with additional water, snacks, your lunch, a camera/phone, additional layers in case it gets cold or wet, cash for the vending machines and local buses, and any valuables.

One of the nicest things you’ll discover on the Kumano Kodo is how friendly, trustworthy helpful and caring the Japanese people are, so if you have any questions whilst at a Minshuku simply ask your hosts.