During the journey*, you will start the holy route from mountain through dense forests to rivers and waterfalls. Upon arrival at Kii-Tanabe station, make your way to the Tanabe Tourist Information Center next to the station. A local assistant will welcome you and recommend some of the local restaurants for lunch.
Afterwards, you'll have an orientation talk on the Kumano Kodo and your journey, helping you to understand the route in advance and to know what to expect. The helpful staff will provide you with plenty of maps and information for your journey.
Before your pilgrimage begins, you'll take part in two sacred ceremonies. First is Shiogori, which people used to perform to purify themselves before their pilgrimage. Next, you will be blessed at Tokei Shrine by a Shinto priest for a safe trip. These ancient rituals will allow you to feel what the pilgrims would have felt before setting out on their journeys.
In the late afternoon, take a public bus** to Kumanohongu Onsen-kyo (Kawayu approx 2 hours) where you will stay at a classic Japanese accommodation. While exploring the small town before dinner, we recommend that you try a local public bath. Lie back in one of them and let the aches of the day disappear.
(Dinner & Accommodations, Kawayu Midoriya in Kawayu)
*Although the course is intended for beginners, most of the trail is unpaved and hiking shoes covering the ankle are recommended. The trail is open rain or shine. Please prepare rain gear as well as hats and sunscreen in summer.
Be advised that the temperature up here is a few degrees cooler than the rest of Japan, especially at night, so be sure to pack extra layers in Spring and Autumn.
**Local bus fares to be paid on spot by the guests as there is no pass or ticket available in advance.
During the trail, you'll pass Minuzunomi-oji, Fushiogami-oji, and Haraido-oji. Oji is the shrine found along the Kumano trail to protect and guide pilgrims. There are also a few places where you can pause for a rest and take in the beautiful scenery. As you descend through the forest toward Kumano Hongu-taisha, you will be able to stop at a lookout, providing astonishing views.
After lunch in the Hongu area, stop at the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center. You'll find an informative exhibition of the pilgrimage, explaining its history and cultural background. An included activity today is making Japanese traditional paper (Washi) at a local workshop. When finished, take your handmade paper to Kumano Hongu-Taisha to get it stamped. It's a tradition in Japan to pay fees and receive a sacred stamp at each shrine and temple. Those stamps serve as proof that you have taken part in the pilgrimage. Once you are finished exploring the shrine area, you can take a public bus back to Kumanohongu Onsen-kyo. Then take the opportunity to soak in the hot springs. and enjoy another delicious Japanese dinner.
(Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Accommodations, Kawayu Midoriya in Kawayu)
After you have enjoyed Hatayama Taisha and lunch in Shingu, take a train to Nachi station and then a local bus to Daimonzaka. The last leg on your journey takes you to Kumano Nachi-Taisha, the main shrine of the area. This is the most picturesque trail on the route called Daimonzaka, with a cobblestone staircase slope and ancient Japanese cedars lining both sides (walking time is 30-45 minutes). As you approach the top, you'll hear the sound of Nachi Falls; the highest waterfall in Japan at 133 meters and worshiped as a sacred site. After your visit, take a local bus back to Kii-Katsuura and your hotel. It's a coastal town of the Kii peninsula, well known for its fishing industry.
(Breakfast, Kawayu; Accommodations, Hotel Nakanoshima, Kii-Katsuura)
NOTE: Although a luggage shuttle is included from Tanabe to Kumanohongu Onsen-kyo and Kumanohongu Onsen-kyo to Kii-Katsuura, we suggest that you forward all large luggage from Kyoto / Osaka to your destination after the Kumano Kodo. Space at your accommodation is likely to be limited and the luggage shuttle service will also be used by other hikers so large luggage can cause issues.