Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage: The Sacred Path of a Thousand Temples

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is one of the most beautiful and sacred pilgrimage trails in Japan. It’s a network of pathways that lead to 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kii Mountain range in Wakayama Prefecture, central Japan. The Kumano Kodo was an essential part of life for the local people who lived here centuries ago. Today, it remains a popular site for both Japanese and international tourists. With more than 50 inns and hotels along its paths. We have outlined some information below to help you plan your visit.

The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage: A Brief History

The Kumano Kodo was used as an ancient pilgrimage path by locals in Japan since at least the 8th century. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was an essential part of life for the local people who lived here. The three sacred areas of Kumano: Kii, Sai, and Naka, were believed to be the dwelling places of gods. Therefore, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage became a tradition that bridged the relationship of humans to the gods. From about the late 10th century, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage became an official pilgrimage route. Historical records suggest that during the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Tokugawa shogunate issued a decree to extend and maintain the pilgrimage route. In 1910, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was added to the list again in 2004.

Things to know before you go

The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage is best done in spring (March-May) or autumn (September-November). Summer is hot, humid and rainy. Winter can be cold and snow can fall. - The Kumano Kodo trek is not easy. Even though there are hotels, restaurants and shops along the way, it is important to have good physical condition before you start the trek. - Always be mindful of your surroundings. The area is quite remote and there are few police officers, so be careful and watch out for pickpockets. - Be respectful of the area and its culture.

Kii-Tanabe UNESCO World Heritage Site

Kii-Tanabe is the first stop on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. It is a beautiful town located on the shores of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. A 5-minute walk from the station brings you to Kii-ji, an impressive wooden temple complex dating back to 1602. Kii-ji is famous for Kumano Nagu Shrine and the elegant Kii-ji Daisojobutsu, a 20-metre tall, painted statue of Buddha. In spring, the gardens of Kii-ji are a riot of colour. The Kii-ji festival is held in October every year and is a spectacular sight. Kii-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is an excellent example of a Buddhist temple complex dating from the Heian period (794-1185).

Hongu UNESCO World Heritage Site

Located in the heart of the Kii Mountain Range, Hongu is the most sacred of the three Kumano sites. It is believed that this is the place where the local deity, “Kumano-no-miya”, resides. The most important structure here is the massive “Giant Cedar” tree that is believed to be more than 1000 years old. The Kumano Hongu Taisha is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is one of the few remaining examples of Shinto shrines that were built during the transition from ritualistic ceremonies to architectural structures. Hongu is the perfect place to start your Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. It is a beautiful, peaceful and easy walk from the train station.

Shao Shrine and Sai Shrine

The Shao Shrine is the second stop on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. It is a small but beautifully maintained architectural complex that dates back to 1002. The shrines here are dedicated to the local deity, “Kumano-no-miya”, and the goddess of mercy, “Ten-jin”. The Sai Shrine is a short walk from the Shao Shrine. It is considered the guardian shrine of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage and was built over 1000 years ago. Both the Shao and Sai shrines are UNESCO World Heritage Sites because they are examples of ancient architectural styles and design.

Wakayama Cultural Heritage Centre, Nara Ruins and Sai-jo Ruins

Wakayama Cultural Heritage Centre is a great place to learn about the history of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. You can also take a walk, enjoy the beautiful gardens, or taste some traditional Japanese sweets. Wakayama Cultural Heritage Centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is the best example of a historic Settlement in the Kii Mountain Range. The centre’s buildings were built between 1916 and 1932 in the architectural style of “Wabi”. Wabi refers to the aesthetic concept of “accepting and expressing the natural beauty of imperfection and impermanence”. It is a building style that was meant to create a sense of nostalgia and longing. The Wabi architecture was based on the idea that a building should be made from natural materials and reflect a sense of simplicity.

Koyasan UNESCO World Heritage Site

Koyasan, the final stop on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, is a magical place. It is one of Japan’s most famous and important religious centres. Koyasan is the head temple of the Shingon school of Buddhism. The main attraction here is the massive wooden temple complex called “Daikodo”. The Daikodo is the largest wooden building in Japan and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Koyasan is a popular destination for Japanese people. It is also a good place to start your Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. It’s a 3-hour train journey to Koyasan from Kyoto or Osaka.

Suma Beach

Suma Beach is one of Japan’s best beaches. It is a popular summertime destination for both Japanese and international tourists. Suma Beach is the perfect way to finish your Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. It is an easy 30-minute train journey from Koyasan. Suma Beach is a beautiful sandy beach with clear blue waters. It’s a great place to relax, swim and enjoy the sun. Suma Beach is also famous for its sand. The sand here is said to be very warm, even in cold weather.

Tips for Visiting the Kumano Kodo

- Kumano Kodo operates from 8am until 5pm daily. If you are planning to visit more than one site, make sure you have enough time between them. - Buy the Kumano Kodo pass. The pass provides you with express entry, special exhibition tickets and discounts on food and souvenirs. - Book your hotels and inns early. The Kumano Kodo is popular, especially during the peak season. - Remember that the Kumano Kodo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s important to be mindful of your surroundings and respectful of the culture.

Kumano Kodo: The Sacred Path of a Thousand Temples

If you love history, beautiful architecture, Japanese culture and nature, then the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is for you. The Kumano Kodo is a journey back in time to discover the roots of Japanese culture. It’s a walk through history along the pathways that were once used by the monks and locals who lived here centuries ago. The Kumano Kodo is a sacred place where you can walk in the footsteps of history and experience the culture, architecture and beauty of the Kii Mountain Range. It’s a journey of self-discovery and an opportunity to understand the origins of Japanese culture.

Hiking Trails Travel Service and Hiking Gear Shop can help help you book your Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage with our self-guided Kumano Kodo walking packages

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage