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Kumano Kodo guide: a week on the sacred roads of Japan

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He Kumano Kodo It is a pilgrimage route that joins the so-called Kumano Sanzan, three sacred temples of Japan: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hatayama Taisha. This route runs along the Kii peninsula, easily accessible by train from Osaka. The Kumano Kodo and the Santiago's road they are the only two pilgrimage roads declared World Heritage. To the travel to Japan For the third time, I spent a week traveling this path. They were more than 70 km on foot in four stages. Then you can read one Kumano Kodo route guide, with all the practical information to explore this unique pilgrimage trail for free.

More than a thousand years ago, both the nobility and the plain people were already pilgrimage to visit the sacred temples. These pilgrimage routes crossed the mountainous Kii peninsula, and eventually formed the Kumano Kodo (Kumano path). During the pilgrimage along these rugged paths they performed religious rituals of prayer and purification. However, today many people travel this famous path for reasons other than the spiritual, among which they enjoy enjoying nature or exercising as healthy as walking.

As with the Santiago's road, pilgrims can choose several different paths. However, the best preserved route, with services to go through it and that runs 100% through nature is the Nakahechi route. The so-called "imperial route" has been used since the 10th century and has two different starting points that end in the great Shinto shrine. Kumano Hongu Taisha. The first begins in Takijiri and the second begins in Kumano Nachi Taisha. On the other hand, the route that goes from Nachi Taisha to Hatayama Taisha (The third of the temples mentioned at the beginning of this article) is fully urbanized and nobody walks it on foot. Even so, it is considered that one has traveled the Kumano Kodo if you make the section that goes from Takijiri to Kumano Hongu Taisha or from Nachi Taisha to Kumano Hongu Taisha. We we decided to go through these two stretches in a row starting in Takijiri, passing through the Kumano Hongu Taisha and ending in Nachi Taisha. We did this hiking tour in four stages and five days. Finally the itinerary It remained like this:

Day 1: Arrival to Tanabe from Osaka (night in Tanabe)
Day 2: From Takijiri to Nonaka (night in Nonaka)
Day 3: From Nonaka to Kumano Hongu Taisha (night in Hongu)
Day 4: Visit Kumano Hongu Taisha, Yunomine Onsen and Watarase Onsen (night in Hongu)
Day 5: From Hongu to Koguchi (night in Koguchi)
Day 6: From Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha (night in Shingu)
Day 7: Visit to Kumano Hatayama Taisha and return to Osaka

You can walk the Kumano Kodo on foot perfectly for free. That is, without hiring the services of any travel agency. The trails are very well signposted, although it is a very demanding path and should be physically prepared. The first recommendation to organize the route through the Kumano Kodo is: make the reservation of the accommodations as early as possible. The supply of accommodation at the end of each stage is very low and the demand is increasingly high. In our case, we traveled the second week of October and for this we booked four months before, but still in Koguchi we had availability problems that forced us to change the dates.

All accommodation reservations during the stages must be made on the web Kumano Travel, the company that manages all the tourist services of the Kumano Kodo. In this way, almost nobody carries the backpacks, but you hire a company to take them directly to the hotel where you will sleep that night. But Attention: if you choose send luggage From stage to stage, it is very important book the road accommodation on the web I mentioned, because if you have a hotel booked outside the official system, they won't send you the suitcase. The Kumano Kodo official website It is very complete, there is so much information that sometimes it is difficult to find what you are looking for. Anyway, in this guide we will put the links of the maps and of the services that we use so that you have it easier. Further, we rent a pocket wifi to be connected at all times during the route.

The trail can be started from Takijiri (west of the Kii peninsula) or from Nachi Taisha (east). We started the road in Takijiri, on the west coast of the peninsula. To get there we take the Kuroshio train at the station Shin-Osaka to KiiTanabe station. The Kuroshio train also stops at the station Tennoji in Osaka and also has some departures from Kyoto. The journey takes 130 minutes and costs 5070 yen without a reserved seat. There is an hourly train that connects Osaka with KiiTanabe. You can check all the schedules of this train on the website of Hyperdia. This train is included in the Japan Rail Pass and in the Kansai Wide Area Pass. You can buy both passes at a very good price on the web Japan Experience.

You can also go by bus to Tanabe station. It is cheaper than the train, but the frequency is lower. From Kyoto, the Kintensu company It has two daily departures, at 8 am and at 5.20 pm, and costs 3300 yen (one way), round trip 6000. From Osaka There is more bus frequency. These leave from Osaka train station and Namba station and cost 2600 yen. Bus tickets from Osaka to Tanabe can be purchased at the JR offices and you can check schedules. From Kyoto the bus takes 3.30 h and from Osaka about 3.

In our case, we arrived in Tanabe late and spent the night there. The next day we take the bus to Takijiri, where we start the hiking route.

In Tanabe we stayed at the Tentsuku Guest House. It is next to the train station and the bus stop that leads to Takijiri. The night in a Japanese-style female dormitory room (futon) cost 2900 yen and we booked on Booking. Since there were four of us, we had the room for ourselves. The accommodation is simple and the shared bathroom is quite fair, but the situation is unbeatable, right next to the train station and the bus stop that leads to Takijiri. In addition, there we were able to get the booklet with the maps and itineraries since, having arrived late, the tourist office was already closed. This guest house does not include breakfast, but quite close there is a combini (24h store) where to buy breakfast and something to eat during the next day's stage. Also, the owner spoke some English.

In Tanabe we take the bus at 08:02 h (KiiTanabe Station stop) and we arrive at Takijiri at 8:40 h. The ticket cost us 960 yen and there aren't many buses, so watch the schedules. In the Kumano Kodo tourist office they insisted that we should not start walking the stage later than nine in the morning, because it requires a whole day to travel the distance of that day.

Upon arriving in Takijiri we leave our bags in a store called Kodo-no-mori, which is right in front of the information office. The luggage transfer service you have to book at least one week before in the web Kumano Travel, if you get there without prior reservation no They will send it to your accommodation.

After leaving our bags, we went to the information center. There we ask for Kumano Kodo credential to go putting the seals along the way. If you don't have the map booklet, you can also order them there. We were given the free booklet that on the one hand serves to put the Kumano Kodo stamps and on the other the Seals of the Camino de Santiago. For 100 yen you could have a Kumano Kodo special credential, but we were more excited to have the dual. You will find the stamps with the ink in some wooden houses along the way, mainly in the sanctuaries and other points of interest. On the other hand, in this center there is detailed information about the history of the Kumano Kodo and some mannequins with the clothes that the pilgrims used to wear.

At twenty past nine in the morning we begin to walk the path of the Kumano Kodo. Personally it was a very hard stage despite the initial illusion, since almost all the way was based on climbing mountains and lowering mountains. In addition, the road was full of fairly round stones that slipped a lot. Luckily, the hiking sticks helped me a lot. And when there were no stones there were roots, so you had to watch where you put your feet. Fortunately, we had an incredible good time with lots of sun, but if it rains, the road has to be even more complicated. However, all these are trivialities, because the landscape is so spectacular from the first minute that you forget all possible penalties. That day was quite hot to be mid-October, but luckily at this stage there are enough rest areas with vending machines where to buy fresh drink. Of course, remember to take coins or 1000 yen bills along the way to buy on them.

The map marked the end of the stage at point 34, but shortly before reaching point 31 was our accommodation, the Minshuku Irorian. This is where we finished the stage of the day. It is a small traditional house Very well maintained in which our guests treated us like queens. We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and they offered us a fresh tea to recover from the physical effort. We had walked more than seven hours. They showed us the room, traditional with futon, which was very nice, and they told us to wear the yukata because we were going to onsen by car

In the Chikatsuyu Minshuku there is a small onsen. There we washed and recovered from the stage in the hot tub. After leaving onsen They came for us and we had dinner as soon as we arrived. That night there were washoku, a traditional Japanese dinner composed of several dishes. The one I liked the most was the Sukiyaki, it was delicious. After dinner we made a washing machine taking advantage of it was free and we went to sleep early. The next day we expected a very long stage that would end up taking us to the Kumano Hongu Taisha.

Kumano Kodo - Stage 1: from Takijiri to Nonaka (from point 1 to point 31)

Departure from KiiTanabe station: 8:02 a.m. There is a bus at 6:35 a.m., at 6:50 a.m. and 8:02 a.m. If you plan to do the trail on foot, do not take the bus later. You can check the schedules here.

Arrival in Takijiri: 8:40 a.m.
Start of the road at 9:10 a.m.
Arrival at Takahara Kumano Jinja: 11:05 a.m. (past point 7)
Rest in the rest area of ​​Takahara until 11:30 a.m.
Arrival in Daimon-Oji: 12:23 h (past point 11)
Arrival in Joju-Oji: 1:00 p.m. (before reaching point 14)
Arrival in Osakamoto-Oji: 2:35 p.m. (between point 21 and 22)
Arrival in Chikatsuyu-Oji: 3:35 p.m. (past point 26)
Arrival at Irorian Minshuku: 4:30 p.m. (between points 30 and 31)
We add the route between points 31 and 34 to the next day's stage.
Time taken to cover the stage: 7:20 h

Takijiri-oji to Nonaka travel map

It is divided in two parts: Part 1 and part 2.

Where to sleep in Nonaka

Irorian Minshuku price 9950 yen per person, includes visit to onsen Chikatsuyu, traditional style dinner washoku and takeaway the next day (bento). This accommodation was the most expensive of all the way, but it was an unforgettable experience. Dinner is served between 6pm and 7pm, keep it in mind to prepare the stage. Western-style breakfast is served between 6 and 7:30. The nearest bus stop is Nonaka-no-Ipposugi. It is advisable to book with full board since Nonaka is a very small town without shops where you can buy food for the next day stage and there are no shops along the way.

Suitcase delivery service from Takijiri to Nonaka

Kodo-no-mori. Shipping the first suitcase costs 2200 yen and the following add up to 880 yen per piece. The luggage transfer service must be booked and paid at least one week before starting the Kumano Kodo through the Kumano Travel website.

More information about that day's itinerary here.

This was the longest stage, since we added the kilometer and a half that we did not do the previous day to find the accommodation before the end of the stage. That day we had to go from point 30 to 75, and between the points there are approximately 500 meters. For the girls it was the toughest stage because we were walking almost ten hours. However, this stage had fewer ascents than the previous day and had flatter sections.

We start the tour at 7: 40h and half an hour later we arrive in Nonaka. Sonia and I deviate from the path to go down to the Nonaka no Shimizu, a very beautiful spring. We continued the route, which initially ran for a long time on a secondary road, although no car passed at all the time we were.

When you pass point 43 there is a detour on the road of four kilometers (which is marked). It turns out that because of the typhoon that hit the area in September 2011, the original road was very damaged and has not yet been repaired.

Between points 49 and 52 we cross one of the most beautiful places and with a more disturbing atmosphere of the stage (!). From here the stage is becoming more beautiful, going through temples and small towns. For those who do not want to travel the entire Kumano Kodo, a very popular stage is to go by bus to Hosshimon-Oji and walk from there the seven kilometers there are to the Kumano Hongu Taisha.

That day we barely crossed paths with other pilgrims, only a twenty-four-year-old American girl who had started the road at the same time as us the day before. I was doing the Kumano Kodo alone and carrying a championship backpack. The last four kilometers joined us because I was tired of walking alone. Access to Kumano Hongu Taisha Coming from Nonaka is very special, since you enter through the back of the temple and you cannot get the idea of ​​what exciting That was to have finished the stage.

He Kumano Hongu Taisha It closes at five in the afternoon and we arrive five minutes before closing. We asked for a map of Hongu to locate the hotel where we were going to spend that night. The next day was resting, so we would visit the temple more calmly.

Hongu is a fairly small population, and at five in the afternoon all the restaurants were already closed. Our accommodation only had breakfast, so we went to find a supermarket to buy something for dinner. In front of the post office there is a small supermarket where we buy instant noodles and some snacks for dinner. In Hongu the supermarkets are not 24h, for example this one closed at 6:30 p.m., so it must be taken into account.

Kumano Kodo - Stage 2: from Nonaka to Kumano Hongu Taisha (from point 30 to point 75)

Start of the road at 7:40 a.m. (between points 30 and 31)
Arrival in Hisohara-Oji: 8:00 a.m. (past point 31)
Arrival at Hidehira-zakura Cherry Tree: 8:17 h (point 34)
Arrival at the detour: 10 h
Deviation departure: 11:30 a.m.
Arrival in Yukawa-Oji: 11:55 h (past point 51)
Arrival at Hosshimon-Oji: 2pm (between point 61 and 62)
Stop to eat in the rest area point 62: 14:15 h.
Arrival in Mizunomi-Oji: 3:05 p.m. (point 65)
Arrival in Fushiogami-Oji: 3:47 p.m. (point 69)
Arrival in Haraido-Oji: 4:50 p.m. (point 75)
Arrival at Kumano Hongu Taisha: 4:55 p.m. (point 75)
Time taken to cover the stage: 9:15 a.m.

Travel map of Nonaka to Kumano Hongu Taisha

It is divided in two parts: Part 1 and part 2.

Where to sleep in Hongu

Blue sky B&B. This modern bed and breakfast Traditional style is on the outskirts of Hongu, but only 10 minutes walk from the entrance of the Kumano Hongu Taisha temple. The room with tatami (he sleeps in futon) costs 6600 yen per person (from two) and has a bathroom and toilet inside the room. If it is a single person it costs 7700 yen. Here we spend two nights and we recommend it 100%. Although they do not offer dinner, this B&B has a communal kitchen where you can prepare dinner. The breakfast is very complete but there are shifts for breakfast, so if you are one of the first to make the check-in, you can choose a turn before anyone else. The B&B has a beverage machine and the owners speak a little English.

Baggage delivery service from Nonaka to Hongu

We leave the bags in the minshuku Irorian and the transport service came looking for them. When we got to Blue sky B&B The bags were already in our room. The price is 3960 yen sending up to 3 bags. If there are 4 suitcases the price is 5240 yen in total. You can book the luggage transfer between Nonaka and Hongu here.

More information about that day's itinerary here.

This was a well-deserved rest day between stages that we dedicated to visiting the area. After breakfast we went to visit Oyunohara, which is where the Kumano Hongu Taisha temple originally stood. Formerly the temple was located on the shore of the Kumano and Otonashi rivers, but a flood in 1889 destroyed it. The entrance to Oyunahara is framed by an immense torii, he torii biggest in the world, which is almost 34 meters high and 42 meters wide. He torii It is surrounded by rice fields and forms a beautiful postcard.

We walked towards Kumano Hongu Taisha, but first we went to the tourist office since, the fact of having completed the Santiago's road and one of the sections of Kumano Kodo I became Dual Pilgrim.

It is a symbolic commemoration granted to all people who have completed the Santiago's road and the Kumano Kodo and requested at the Hongu Information Center. To prove that the two roads have been traveled, the Compostela and / or the pilgrim's card must be presented (I took photographs on the mobile phone to not take it to Japan) and the Kumano Kodo card with the stamps of the temples for which It happens along the way. As a commemoration they give you a diploma made with local paper, a pin with the symbol of the dual pilgrim (with the scallop drawing and the three-legged raven) and on top you can touch the taiko sacred of Kumano Hongu Taisha. In addition, they make you fill a paper with your information and, if you agree, they upload a photo of you to their blog. Here mine (what a hair I had that day!). I don't know what they'll give you in Santiago if you complete the two roads there, but I would bet that the reward is not as cool as the one you get in Japan.

After all the processing of the dual pilgrim I went straight to the Kumano Hongu Taisha to touch the taiko. At the tourist office they had already been notified of my arrival, so when I entered the sanctuary, a young priest accompanied me to the drum. I was able to access a part of the enclosure that cannot be walked on if you are a visitor and after touching the taiko The mace was ceremonially handed to me. I didn't know how many times I had to touch him or how long, but when I saw that he had more or less touched him in a manner similar to the priest, I returned the mace. What I didn't expect is that while I put on my shoes, the priest would start asking me (in Japanese) if in Spain the manga was popular and what kind of manga I liked to read. I love Japan!

At the entrance of the sanctuary, next to the steps, there is a cafeteria where you can taste a matcha (green tea) with a mochi for 350 yen. Nearby there is a shop where they sell very cool souvenirs and where we made time until it was time to take the bus to Yunomie Onsen.

To go to Yunomine you can take the bus at the stop in the parking lot of the Hongu information center (Hongu Taisha-mae stop). The bus does not pass very often, so it is important to consider the schedules. In ten minutes we were in this spa town famous for having the only World Heritage bathroom. Yunomine's population is very small: just a row of traditional houses and hotels deep in a valley, lined by a river with sulphurous waters. They say that these hot springs were discovered 1800 years ago, being one of the oldest in Japan, and here the pilgrims performed purification rites. When you get off the bus you quickly feel the smell of sulfur. Next to the river there is a small artificial raft where you can put eggs to cook (12 minutes if you want them well done). They are sold in a small grocery store across the road (70 yen, two eggs) or in the only restaurant in town (100 yen, 2 eggs).

The first thing we did was go to pay the entrance and ask for a turn to bathe in the Tsuboyu, which is a small cabin by the river where you can bathe privately. The water there is medicinal and they say that it takes away all the evils, ideal after having walked 40 kilometers in two days. This bathroom is registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Next to the restaurant there is a ticket office where you have to pay the entrance fee. In fact, you buy the ticket at the vending machine (770 yen per person) and at the box office they give you the turn. You can only bathe 30 minutes and only two people can enter at a time. You have to be attentive to the shifts, because if you do not appear when it is your turn you can jump.

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