Kumano Kodo Guide: All you need to know to hike Japan’s ancient pilgrimage trails

Pilgrims on Kumano Kodo by Kieran Taylor

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Whether you’re after a rewarding outdoor experience or an enriching spiritual journey with one-of-a-kind hospitality, the Kumano Kodo has it all. Hiking the Kumano Kodo was one of our absolute favourite experiences in Japan (and indeed, of all times). In this guide, you will find all the information you need to create your own unforgettable memories hiking the ancient trails in the Kii Mountains of Japan.

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Map of Recommended Accommodations, Points of Interest, Eateries, and Transport

Below is the map of the accommodation, points of interest, eateries. and transport terminals/stops mentioned in this article.

Kumano Sanzan - the three Grand Shinto Shrines of the Kumano Kodo

Kumano Hongū Taisha

Kumano Hongū Taisha [Official website, Google Maps location] is located in the centre of the Kii Mountains, at the confluence of the Kumano and Otonashi Rivers. Its original entrance is marked by the world's largest shrine gate (called Torii) - the Ōyu no hara Torii - which is 34 metres high and 42 metres wide. Being destroyed by floods (and rebuilt) a few times in its history, Kumano Hongū Taisha was relocated from its original position by the Kumano River to higher ground nearby in 1889. Among others, Kumano Hongū Taisha enshrines Izanagi, the founding father deity of Japan.

Kumano Nachi Taisha

The second Grand Shrine in the Kii Mountains is Kumano Nachi Taisha [Official website, Google Maps location]. It's uniquely positioned on the side of a mountain high above the Nachi River and next to Nachi Falls - at 133 metres, Japan's tallest single-drop waterfall and the home of Hiryū Gongen, another important Shinto deity. Nachi-san (as the sacred complex is often called), is also home to Seiganto-ji, a Temple of the Tendai School of Buddhism, and a sacred 850-year-old Camphor tree, which is said to grant wishes to worshippers who walk through its hollow trunk.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha

The third Grand Shinto Shrine, Kumano Hayatama Taisha [Official website, Google Maps location] is located on the east coast of the Kii Peninsula, in Shingū City near the mouth of the Kumano River. The Grand Shrine is home to a sacred 850-year-old Podocarp tree, called Nagi no Ki. It is said that Izanagi and Izanami, the mythological couple that created Japan, first arrived in the area on a rock named Gotobiki Iwa. The rock marks the location of Kamikura-jinja, the original shrine, which pilgrims can reach by climbing a narrow 500-step stairway a few hundred meters south of the main complex.

Three-storied Pagoda and Nachi Falls

Nachi-san (which includes Nachi Falls) is one of the sacred sites connected by the trails of the Kumano Kodo

What to expect when hiking the Kumano Kodo (compared to the Camino de Santiago)?

Religious/Spiritual Context

The Kumano Kodo and the Camino de Santiago are both religious/spiritual pilgrimages. However, while all routes of the Camino de Santiago end at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela [Official Website, Google Maps location], the Kumano Kodo leads to and/or connects three sacred sites (the Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan and Yoshino/Omine) – which means, between those sites, pilgrims may hike in either direction.

Both pilgrimages have pilgrim passports, and stamps can be collected along the route to receive official recognition:

Unlike the Camino de Santiago (and surprising to us), many of the people we spoke to on the Kumano Kodo did not choose it for religious or spiritual reasons. Instead, they sought refuge from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, and a peaceful and immersive outdoor experience.

Dual Kumano Kodo and Camino de Santiago Pilgrim Passport

Pilgrims who do both the Camino de Santiago and the Kumano Kodo can become Dual Pilgrims

Terrain and Climate

Another significant difference between the two pilgrimages is the level of difficulty. All Kumano Kodo routes are (significantly) shorter but the three mountain routes – the Omine Okugake Michi, Kohechi and Nakahechi – are (significantly) more physically demanding than the Camino routes. To give you an idea: On the Nakahechi (the easiest of the three mountain routes), we hiked 67 kilometres over five days, with an elevation gain of 3,400 meters. Long stretches of uphills and downhills, often on slippery terrain, put a strain on your feet, legs and knees. Therefore, on the mountain routes of the Kumano Kodo, a decent level of fitness is a must, and the use of trekking poles is highly recommended.

Both pilgrimages take you through some of the wettest regions of their respective countries: Galicia in Spain and the Kii Peninsula in Japan, so carrying a raincoat or poncho is essential in both cases.

paul on kumano kodo with rain poncho2

The Kii Peninsula is one of the wettest regions of Japan, so bringing a raincoat or poncho is essential when hiking the Kuman Kodo

Logistics and Infrastructure

While both pilgrimages pass through beautiful natural landscapes, the mountain routes of the Kumano Kodo – the Nakahechi, the Kohechi and the Omine Okugake Michi – lead mainly through forests and over mountain passes, and (significantly) fewer (and smaller) villages compared to the Camino. The coastal routes of the Kumano Kodo – the Iseji, the Kiiji and the Ohechi – on the other hand reminded us a bit of the Camino Portugues de la Costa.

Unlike the Camino de Santiago, where pilgrims can usually find accommodation upon arrival (especially in the off-season), lodging on the Kumano Kodo mountain routes must be booked in advance, with the availability and location of accommodation dictating the distance hiked each day. On the most challenging route, the Omine Okugake Michi, you need to bring your own camping gear.

Way markers are present on both pilgrimages, helping pilgrims to keep to the trail. In many places, signs even indicate trails that are not part of the Kumano Kodo, making it hard to get lost. Most way markers are made of wood or stone, but in some cases, especially on (parts of) the more remote mountain routes, it may just be an arrow and ribbons. So, check your whereabouts regularly using offline maps that track your GPS location.

not kumano kodo sign

Signs indicate trails that are not part of the Kumano Kodo, making it hard to get lost

Distance markers on the Camino count down the kilometres to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (and on to Cape Finisterre). On the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi route, numbered markers (approximately every 500 meters) count up towards Kumano Hongū Taisha (and down towards Kumano Nachi Taisha). On the last stage of the Kohechi route, 33 statues of Kannon (the Buddhist deity of compassion and mercy) count down your distance to Kumano Hongū Taisha.

The symbol of the Camino de Santiago is the scallop shell, while the Kumano Kodo is symbolised by the three-legged crow (known as Yatagarasu).

paul with camino marker in hongu

A Camino de Santiago distance marker can even be found in Hongu

What Kumano Kodo route to choose?

Which of the six Kumano Kodo routes to choose will depend on the following:

  • how many days you want to spend hiking the Kumano Kodo,
  • the time of year of your visit,
  • your fitness levels,
  • your thirst for adventure/risk tolerance, and
  • the gear you have (and are happy to carry on your back).

The three coastal routes (Iseji, Kiiji and Ohechi) are relatively easy (and easily accessible) routes that can be hiked in (shorter) parts (including as day hikes). The Nakahechi route is more challenging but still easily accessible. It can also be done in parts.

The Kohechi takes it up a notch from the Nakahechi. The complete route can only be done as a 4-day through-hike. Alternatively, the last section (from Totsukawa Onsen [Google Maps location] to Kumano Hongu Taisha) can be done as a day hike. The Omine Okugake Michi is the most challenging route. It can only be done as a through-hike, though it can be shortened by two days avoiding the Ōminesan-ji Temple area.

To help you decide which Kumano Kodo route is the right one for you, we compare all six routes in more detail below (in alphabetical order):

StartFinishHiking Days
Ise-Jingu Naiku (Ise City) [Google Maps location]Inland branch (Hongudo): Kumano Hongu Taisha (joining the Nakahechi Route at Banze-toge Pass)

Coastal branch (Hamakaido): Kumano Hayatama Taisha
7-14 days (4-6 days for most popular section)

Description

  • The eastern coastal route has a maximum elevation of approximately 700 metres.
  • The most popular section is the 78-kilometre-long Central Section from Umegadani [Google Maps location] to Hana no Iwaya-jinja [Official website, Google Maps location] (the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan and gravesite of Izanami, the founding mother deity of Japan)
  • The route splits at Hana no Iwaya-jinja (Kumano City) with one branch heading inland and one branch continuing along the coast.
  • Scenery highlights comprise river valleys, forests, quiet villages, mountain passes, ocean views, beaches and rice paddies.
StartFinishHiking Days
Hachikenya-hama, Osaka [Google Maps location]Tokei-jinja, Kii-Tanabe [Google Maps location]8-14 days
(4-7 days for most popular section)
  • The western coastal route has a maximum elevation of around 300 metres.
  • The most popular section is from Fujishiro-jinja (Kainan) to Kii-Tanabe (approximately 80 kilometres).
  • Scenery highlights comprise quiet suburban neighbourhoods and villages, Daisen-ryo Kofun/Tomb of Emperor Nintoku (Sakai City), river valleys, rural countryside, orchards, forests, mountain passes and ocean views.
StartFinishHiking Days
Koyasan Kongobu-ji [Google Maps location]Kumano Hongu Taisha (joining the Nakahechi Route at Sangen-jaya)4 days
(or day hike for final section only)

Description

  • This remote mountain route has a maximum elevation of approximately 1,200 metres.
  • Its northern passes are snowed in and thus closed from mid-December to mid-March.
  • The final section (Totsukawa to Kumano Hongū Taisha) is open all year and can be done as a day hike.
  • Scenery highlights comprise forests, mountain passes, quiet villages and onsens.
  • Bear sightings are possible.

 

 

StartFinishHiking Days
Takijiri Ōji [Google Maps location]Kumano Hongu Taisha / Kumano Nachi Taisha / Kumano Hayatama Taisha2-5 days (pending section chosen)

Description

  • This mountain route crosses the Kii Peninsula from West to East and has a maximum elevation of approximately 900 metres.
  • Scenery highlights comprise forests, mountain passes, quiet villages, river valleys, onsens and ocean views.
StartFinishHiking Days
Tokei-jinja, Kii-Tanabe [Google Maps location]Fudarakusan-ji, Nachikatsuura [Google Maps location]4 days (2 days for recommended section)

Description

  • The southern coastal route has a maximum elevation of approximately 500 metres.
  • Due to heavy urbanisation, only the section from Kii-Tonda to Mirozu (approximately 37 kilometres) is recommended. Another worthwhile section leads through the forest from Uragami to Fudarakusan-ji (approximately 15 kilometres).
  • Scenery highlights comprise the Ago-no-Watashi ferry crossing, mountain passes, forests and ocean views.
StartFinishHiking Days
Yoshino Kinpusen-ji [Google Maps location]Kumano Hongu Taisha7-8 days
(5-6 days if started south of Ōminesan-ji Temple at Mt Daifugendake)

Description

  • This very remote alpine mountain route through Yoshino Kumano National Park has a maximum elevation of 1,900 metres.
  • The route is largely uninhabited. It is a training route for Shugendō practitioners (mountain ascetics) from early May to end of September.
  • Large drops are frequent, and some sections along cliff faces and ridgelines require the use of (installed) ladders, ropes and chains.
  • Scenery highlights comprise mountain passes, forests, river valleys and panoramic mountain vistas.
  • The Ōminesan-ji temple area is inaccessible to women, requiring a detour (or more southern start) for female hikers.
  • Bear sightings are possible.
Maruyama Senmaida rice terraces | Photo by Soichiro Ito on Unsplash

A small detour on the Iseji route takes you past the Maruyama Senmaida rice terraces | Photo by Soichiro Ito on Unsplash

When is the best time to hike the Kumano Kodo?

The best time to hike any of the Kumano Kodo routes is in Spring (March to May) or Autumn (mid-September, through October and November, and into early December): The temperatures are perfect for hiking, there is enough daylight to finish each day’s stage without stress, and all service providers are open for business. On top of that:

  • In Spring, you can witness the beautiful blooming of flowers and trees (including cherry trees).
  • Autumn is a great time to enjoy the vibrant colours of the foliage change.

If you want to hike the Kumano Kodo in Winter (December to February), we can only recommend the coastal routes (Iseji, Kiiji and Ohechi) and the section from Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongū Taisha on the Nakahechi route. Hiking all other Kumano Kodo routes in Winter is not recommended (even impossible) for various reasons: the days are shorter leaving you insufficient time to finish stages during daylight hours and alpine mountain passes are snowed in (and thus closed from mid-December to mid-March).

Summer (June to August) is typhoon season, which means it is hot and humid, with a lot more rain (and wind), making it less ideal for hiking. Summer also means some nasty critters are way more active (more on that below).

plum blossoms along kumano kodo

Spring is one of the best seasons to hike the Kumano Kodo

How to get to the Kumano Kodo?

Getting to the Kumano Kodo is relatively straightforward, especially when using Japan’s efficient public transportation network, but it does take time.

The Kii Peninsula is south of and roughly halfway between Osaka and Nagoya. The nearest international airports are Kansai International Airport [Google Maps location, IATA: KIX] located on an island south of Osaka, and Chubu Centrair International Airport [Google Maps location, IATA: NGO) on an island south of Nagoya. The closest regional airport is Nanki-Shirahama Airport [Google Maps location, IATA: SHM], south of Kii-Tanabe, which has regular flights from/to Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) [Google Maps location, IATA: HND].

The most common access points to the Kumano Kodo are as follows:

  • Ise City (Iseshi): The JR Rapid Mie train takes 1.5 hours from Nagoya Station. From Iseshi Station, a bus ride of approximately 30 minutes will get you to Ise-Jingū Naiku.
  • Umegadani: It takes just under 3 hours from Nagoya Station on the JR Nanki Limited Express and JR Kisei Local Shingū trains (a change is needed at Taki Station).
  • Kumanoshi (the nearest train station to Hana-no-Iwaya-jinja): The JR Nanki Limited Express takes just over 3.5 hours.
  • Hachikenya-hama is just outside Osaka’s Temmabashi Station (Tenmabashi-eki).
  • Kainan (the nearest train station to Fujishiro-jinja): The JR Kuroshio takes just under 1 hour and 15 minutes from Shin-Osaka or Osaka Stations.

Getting to Kōyasan requires the use of multiple modes of transportation (none are covered by the JR Pass):

  • The Nankai Limited Express or Nankai Koya Line trains from Osaka’s Namba Station to Gokurakubashi Station take 1 hour and 30-45 minutes.
  • From Gokurakubashi Station, the Nankai Koyasan Cable car takes you to Kōyasan Station in 5 minutes.
  • The bus ride from Kōyasan Station to the trailhead near the Senjuin-Bashi bus stop takes 10 minutes.

If you are planning to hike from Kumano Hongū Taisha to Kōyasan, your closest access points are Shingū and Kii-Tanabe (with bus rides from there taking between 1 hour and 1 hour 45 minutes) – see below on how to get to both from Nagoya/Osaka.

  • Kii-Tanabe (the nearest town on the western side of the Kii Mountains) – The JR Kuroshio Limited Express train gets you there from Shin-Osaka or Osaka Stations in just under 2.5 hours.
  • Kii-Katsuura and Shingū (the nearest towns on the eastern side of the Kii Peninsula) – From Nagoya Station, Shingū can be reached on the JR Nanki Limited Express train in approximately 3 1/2 hours (and Kii-Katsuura in about 4 hours). If you’re coming from Shin-Osaka or Osaka Stations, the JR Kuroshio Limited Express train takes about 4 hours to Kii-Katsuura (and 4 hours 15 minutes to Shingū).

From either of those access points, a bus ride is required to get to the starting point of your hike. Pending the route and starting point that is selected, this bus ride can take anywhere between 25 minutes and 2 1/2 hours. As the route and starting point chosen, determines which access point is most suitable, we’ll cover this topic in more detail in our sample itineraries (link).

  • Kii-Tanabe is also the closest train station to Tokei-jinja – see above on how to get to Kii-Tanabe from Osaka.
  • From Kii-Tanabe, the JR Kinokuni Local Shingū train takes you in just under an hour to Mirozu, 1 hour 45 minutes to Kii-Uragami and just over 2 hours to Nachi Station. The bus ride from Nachi Station to Nachi-san takes just under 20 minutes.
  • Yoshino is the nearest train station to Yoshino Kinpusen-ji. It can be reached from Osaka’s Abenobashi Station using the Kintetsu Limited Express train in just over 1 hour and 15 minutes. The nearby ropeway, one of the oldest in Japan, whisks you up the mountain in under 5 minutes. The Kintetsu trains are not covered by the JR Pass.
  • If you are planning to hike from Kumano Hongū Taisha to Yoshino Kinpusen-ji, your closest access points are Shingū and Kii-Tanabe (with bus rides from there taking between 1 hour and 1 hour 45 minutes) – see above on how to get to both from Nagoya/Osaka.

Given the time it takes to get to most access points, it is not recommended to travel from Nagoya, Osaka or further afield on the day you plan to start your hike. Likewise, we do not recommend booking your flight out of Kansai International Airport [Google Maps location, IATA: KIX] or Chubu Centrair International Airport [Google Maps location, IATA: NGO) on your last day of hiking.

outside kii tanabe train station

Buses are the predominant mode of transportation in the Kii Mountains

Is there public transportation along the Kumano Kodo?

The short answer: It depends. The three coastal routes are loosely traced by railway lines (and some local buses), making it relatively easy to join/leave the routes.

It’s different for the three mountain routes where buses are the only form of public transportation (if they exist at all). The ancient Kumano Kodo mountain routes do not follow the modern road network (or vice versa), so the opportunities to join/leave the mountain routes of the Kumano Kodo are limited to the few occasions where the routes meet the roads on the bus network. Furthermore, buses go very infrequently. So pending the schedule, you may have to wait a few hours until the next bus arrives.

Out of the three mountain routes, the Nakahechi is best serviced by buses, and you can join/leave the Kumano Kodo at various points. Check our itineraries for recommendations on common entry/exit points and the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau website for up-to-date bus timetables.

If you want to leave/join the Kohechi, the best option to do so is at Totsukawa Onsen. If you want to leave/join the Omine Okugake Michi, the best entry/exit point is the Wasamata-guchi bus stop (for Mt Daifugendake/ approximately km 24 which is also south of the Ōminesan-ji sacred boundary/exclusion zone for women).

bus timetable asso

Make sure to check the bus schedule as buses on the Kii Peninsula are very infrequent

Where to stay and how to book accommodation on the Kumano Kodo?

Traditional Japanese inns (known as Minshukus and Ryokans) are the most common form of accommodation on the Kumano Kodo (except the Omine Okugake Michi route), offering a unique cultural experience:

  • You will be sleeping on futons in rooms with tatami floors and paper-thin sliding doors (if you’re a light sleeper: bring earplugs, just in case).
  • Bathrooms are shared among the guests.
  • Many of these inns have onsens (hot springs), which provide a blissful way to relax and rejuvenate after a long day of hiking.
  • Most inns also offer home-cooked meals by way of meal plans (more on that below).
minshuku bedroom2

Traditional Japanese inns are the most common form of accommodation on the Kumano Kodo

Accommodation options along the Kumano Kodo are limited, especially on the Kohechi and Nakahechi. We, therefore, recommend booking all your accommodation (well) in advance.

Traditional inns are run by local families, who often don’t speak English (or very little). If you speak Japanese, you can contact the inns and make your reservation by phone (or fax) – email is still relatively uncommon.

If you don’t speak Japanese use booking platforms such as Agoda or Booking.com, which list some guesthouses along the trail and provide a convenient and familiar way to secure your accommodation (we booked three of our five nights through these platforms), or make your reservation via the Kumano Travel website.

For easy reference, here are our accommodation recommendations on the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi route (* where we stayed):

  • Guest Cafe Kuchikumano* is a 1-star guest house with 5-star service. Highly recommended as a great starting accommodation for your pilgrimage.
  • Guesthouse Ogawaya has free WiFi, washing machine and a fully equipped kitchenette with a microwave and toaster.
  • Guesthouse Takao, a 3-star property also has a restaurant to make your stay more indulgent and memorable.

 

  • Minshuku Momiji-no-Sato is a small rental house at the east end of the sleepy main street of Chikatsuyu village, directly on the Kumano Kodo route. It can booked through Kumano Travel.
  • Guest House AGAE (pronounced "ah-gah-eh") is a lovingly renovated rental house in Chikatsuyu village. It too is booked through Kumano Travel.
  • Minshuku Nakano* is a family-run guesthouse located in the southern part of Chikatsuyu village. The shared lounge area is nice.
  • Koguchi Shizen-no-Ie* is an old junior high school that has been beautifully renovated as a lodge.
  • @koguchi is like a home-away-from-home in this remote mountain settlement. It can be booked through Kumano Travel.
  • Minshuku Momofuku is run by Mr. Nakazawa, a friendly retiree. This tiny guesthouse has only two rooms and can also only be booked through Kumano Travel.
  • Minpaku Kodo was a family home that was re-purposed into a guesthouse.
  • Oyado Hana* has a pleasnt hot spring bath, but with small accommodation rooms.
  • Chochu Stay So House is a very clean property near public transport.
  • Hanare is located within 600 metres of Kamikura Shrine and less than 1 km of Kumano Hayatama Taisha. It features accommodation with a shared lounge and free WiFi throughout the property as well as free private parking for guests who drive.
  • Kokoyui Guesthouse Shingu is a beautiful, modern-looking, renovated older Japanese home in a quiet residential area of Shingu City.and can be booked through Kumano Travel.
  • Shingu Guest House has private accommodation in Shingu with access to a garden, a shared lounge, as well as a shared kitchen.
zenzai evening at asso minshuku

Interacting with your Japanese hosts and other guests is a wonderful experience

Kumano Travel [Official website] is a locally run agency that connects pilgrims with guesthouses and local activities. The Kumano Travel website provides a list of guesthouses in each location, along with details on meal plans, pricing and reviews. Once you have found an inn you like, complete a booking request and send it off. Kumano Travel typically responds within 24 hours, either confirming your booking or providing alternative options if your preferred guesthouse is not available.

It is important to note that Kumano Travel’s cancellation policy is quite strict, so it is essential to review the terms and conditions before making a booking. Once you have paid for your accommodation through the booking system, you will receive a booking confirmation, which you then present to your inn upon arrival.

Is (wild) camping allowed on the Kumano Kodo?

On the Kumano Kodo, camping outside of designated campgrounds is only allowed on the Omine Okugake Michi route, where the Misen Hut is the only serviced accommodation option among otherwise basic unstaffed mountain huts and other shelters (the latter operating on a first come/first served basis).

There are a number of campgrounds on the

Some campgrounds may be located off the actual Kumano Kodo trail, requiring additional walking from/to the trailhead. Advance booking is recommended (especially during Golden Week). Other than dedicated campgrounds, you may also be able to camp on private land in the villages you pass through (after asking for permission).

view from tent by scott goodwill on unsplash

On the Kumano Kodo, camping outside of designated campgrounds is only allowed on the Omine Okugake Michi route | Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash

What about food (and water) on the Kumano Kodo?

How much food and water you should carry when hiking the Kumano Kodo will depend on the route you choose and the number of days you are planning to hike. Also, when booking accommodation in Japan (not just on the Kumano Kodo), you are commonly offered a meal plan – for example, dinner only / breakfast only (one meal), dinner and breakfast (two meals) OR dinner, breakfast and lunchbox (three meals). It may make sense to book a meal plan depending on the route you choose.

We’ll talk about both in more detail below.

How much to carry (and where to stock up)

The coastal routes regularly pass through villages with small grocery stores/convenience stores or family-run restaurants, which means you can stock up (at least) at the end of each day and generally only need to carry enough food and water to sustain yourself through the day.

That said, shops and restaurants may not be open on the day of your hike, so always bring extra food. The coastal routes are also routes where you can find drink vending machines (at relatively regular intervals). To reduce the amount of plastic waste, however, we recommend refilling your water bottle at your accommodation before you start your hiking day.

Meal Plan

Given the prevalence of shops and eateries along the coastal routes, booking a meal plan is not generally needed. Do check though in advance that the shops and/or eateries you intend to visit are open on the day of your hike.

How much to carry (and where to stock up)

There are hardly any shops or restaurants in the small villages you stay in on this route, thus booking a meal plan is recommended (see below). There are some water refill opportunities along the Kohechi but you can’t rely on them, so make sure to fill up your water bottle each morning (and en route as needed).

Meal Plan

Given the remoteness of the trail and the lack of shops/restaurants, we recommend booking a full meal plan (dinner, breakfast and lunch box) for each of your overnight stays on this route.

How much to carry (and where to stock up)

On the Nakahechi route, you will pass through and stay in small villages (with small shops and eateries), thus you only need to carry enough food and water to sustain yourself through the day. That said, we would encourage you to always carry extra food as these small businesses may not be open when you need them.

Some guest houses also sell food items to guests (for example, instant noodles, microwaveable meals, biscuits and muesli bars). And if you pass through Yunomine Onsen, you can boil eggs and sweet potatoes in the hot spring:

  • You can buy both at the small grocery store across the road, but Yumune Chaya, the teahouse adjacent to the Yumune Kusushi Tōkō-ji Temple (squeezed between the river and the public onsen), offers the best price.
  • Hang the little bags the eggs/sweet potatoes are sold in on the nails in the wooden frame around the hot spring and wait until they’re done (around 10-15 minutes).

While there are some places along the trail where you can fill up your water bottle, they are not as frequent. Therefore, it is advisable to fill up your water bottle at your accommodation before starting your hike in the morning (and en route as needed).

Meal Plan

We hiked the Nakahechi route largely without a meal plan, buying provisions for breakfast and lunch (sandwiches, boiled eggs, rice balls, etc) before our hike and at the small shops along the route, and eating dinner at one of the small restaurants in the villages or buying ingredients to cook at our accommodation.

That said, if you are hiking on a Sunday (when most shops are closed), stay in the accommodation without a guest kitchen (most of them don’t have one) OR if you are hiking from Kumano Hongu Taisha to Kumano Nachi Taisha (or vice versa), we recommend to include a meal plan (for peace of mind and the experience). Our dinner in Koguchi was huge, the buffet breakfast (with scrambled eggs, sausages/bacon and toast) a good base, and our lunchbox (supplemented with snacks) sufficient to get us through the day.

How much to carry (and where to stock up)

Given the remoteness of this route, you will have to carry sufficient food for your entire hike – only the Misen Hut offers meals, and there are no villages along the route. Some mountain huts provide the opportunity to refill your water bottle, otherwise, you will need to refill from mountain streams (though they are not always reliable, so make sure you fill up at every opportunity).

Meal Plan

The Misen Hut is the only serviced accommodation along this route. If you’re planning to stay in the hut, booking the full meal plan is recommended.

kumano kodo lunch box

Meal plans with lunch boxes can be a worthwhile inclusion when booking accommodation along the Kumano Kodo

What to do with excess luggage during the Kumano Kodo?

Chances are that you don’t just come to Japan to hike the Kumano Kodo. So what do you do with any luggage you don’t need to be schlepping around with you on the trails? You can either store any excess luggage (and pick it up afterwards) or forward it to your next destination.

Luggage storage options

Before we headed to the Kii Peninsula, we reduced the content of our travel packs to the absolute minimum, leaving everything we didn’t need (including our laptops) in a separate bag in Osaka. If you need a place to store your excess luggage, Daikoku near Osaka’s Shin-Imamiya Station is a safe and convenient option. With storage costs for a medium-sized bag of JPY80 per day, Daikoku is also significantly more affordable than coin lockers (which have a time limit as well).

If you’re travelling through Kii-Tanabe, you can also store your excess luggage at the Tanabe Tourist Information Center (next to the train station) for JPY500 per bag/day.

daikoku osaka luggage storage

Daikoku near Osaka’s Shin-Imamiya Station is a safe and affordable option to store luggage while hiking the Kumano Kodo

Luggage forwarding options

If you only want to carry a daypack with food and water but have your main luggage available at your accommodation each night, same-day luggage forwarding services are available along the Nakahechi and Kohechi routes. The best is to ask your accommodations (or Kumano Travel) to organise this for you. The service is not cheap though: budget between JPY2,500 and JPY5,500 per bag/day.

If you want to hike the Kumano Kodo with a reduced pack and have your excess luggage join you after your hike, you can also forward your excess luggage to your post-hike destination. We did this when hiking the Nakasendo, using Yamato and paying JPY1,620 for one travel pack from Osaka to Matsumoto.

luggage forwarding kumano kodo

Same-day luggage forwarding is available along the Nakahechi and Kohechi routes of the Kumano Kodo

How much does it cost to hike the Kumano Kodo?

Over the six nights we spent on the Kumano Kodo (Nakahechi route) in March 2023, we spent an average of JPY7,150 per person per night. This includes four night’s accommodation in traditional Japanese inns and two nights’ accommodation in a hostel (all private rooms), all food/beverages, luggage storage (one bag/one week) and luggage forwarding (one bag/same day) as well as public bus transportation on the Kumano Kodo. Not included is the train journey to Kii-Tanabe/from Kii-Katsuura.

For more details, check out how to budget like a pro: How much does it cost to hike the Kumano Kodo?

What else to know before hiking the Kumano Kodo?

Ten essential tips for a safe Kumano Kodo pilgrimage

For over 1000 years, people from all levels of society have attempted the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage - sadly not all of them survived it. Even today, some areas along the Kumano Kodo don't have mobile phone coverage and/or offer limited access to emergency services to reach injured pilgrims.

So, do heed our advice to make sure you and your hiking pals have a safe and enjoyable experience:

  1. Do not attempt to hike in the dark. Make sure you leave early in order to have plenty of time to enjoy your hike, take sufficient breaks and arrive well before sunset at your next accommodation.
  2. Carry enough food and water to sustain yourself. Many of the routes are physically demanding, so it is vital to stay hydrated and keep your energy levels up.
  3. Protecting yourself from the sun is also important. Apply sunscreen and wear a hat, especially on sunny days - while you hike through forests for most of the day, you can get sunburned.
  4. Insect repellent may also be necessary during the summer months to protect yourself from bugs and mosquitoes.
  5. Most injuries on the Kumano Kodo are from slips and falls as many of the old moss-covered stones or wooden planks are slippery (even when not wet). Take your time and watch your step, especially on downhill sections. Where possible, walk along the side of cobble-stoned sections where leaves and tree roots provide a safer surface. Trekking poles are also recommended.
moss covered stone path on kumano kodo

Most injuries on the Kumano Kodo are from slips and falls, so watch your steps on those slippery moss-covered stones

  1. Bring a Personal Locator Beacon if you are planning to hike one of the more remote routes (especially on the Omine Okugake Michi) - mobile phone coverage on those routes is limited to non-existent.
  2. While you are not likely to encounter bears on the more frequented routes (including the Nakahechi), Asian black bears do roam the Kii Mountains, and carrying a bear bell is advised when hiking more remote trails. For further information on bear safety check out this post.
  3. Other potentially dangerous animals include the venomous Mamushi snake (a small pit viper 50 to 80 centimetres long), the Mukade (a black centipede with orange legs about the length of an adult hand with a very painful bite), and the giant hornet known as Suzumebachi. These critters are most active during the summer months. If you are bitten by a snake call emergency services (119) immediately.
  4. Summer (June to August) is also typhoon season. Typhoons can bring very strong winds, heavy rainfalls, flash floods and landslides, making it unsafe to hike (you will see some of the damage from prior typhoons along the trails). Stay up-to-date with the latest weather conditions to ensure your safety.
  5. In the event of an accident or bite, you may end up in hospital. While Japanese medical facilities are great, they are not cheap. So, do make sure to buy travel insurance for your trip.

Do you really have the right insurance coverage?

Having insurance can be a lifesaver (or a nuisance). Our step-by-step guide helps you find a policy that suits your needs.

SafetyWing
be careful of bears sign on kumano kodo

Asian black bears roam the Kii Mountains and carrying a bear bell is advised on remote Kumano Kodo trails

Bring enough cash

It is important to bring plenty of cash as very few businesses along any of the Kumano Kodo routes accept credit cards, and ATMs that accept foreign cards are not readily available (and may charge withdrawal fees). Read more about how much it does cost to hike the Kumano Kodo.

Get your (dual) pilgrimage recognised

If you want to have your pilgrimage recognised (particularly if you have completed or are planning to also walk the Camino de Santiago)

  • Pick up a pilgrim passport free of charge at the Tanabe Tourist Information Center [Official website, Google Maps location].
  • Make sure you collect stamps along the route. They can be found at many of the small shrines (oji) along the trail (look out for the small huts on poles) and are proof that you actually walked the route. Also, don’t forget your completion stamp.
sandra collecting stamp along kumano kodo

Collect stamps along the Kumano Kodo if you want to have your pilgrimage (officially) recognised

If you’ve already completed the Camino de Santiago and would like to be recognised as a dual pilgrim, head to the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center [Official website, Google Maps location] across the road from Kumano Hongu Taisha OR to the Tanabe Tourist Information Center for your dual pilgrimage registration:

  • You need a copy of your Camino de Santiago Pilgrims certificate – a digital copy is sufficient.
  • The registration process takes about 10 minutes.
we are dual pilgrims

For those who have completed the Camino de Santiago and the Kumano Kodo, Dual Pilgrim certificates are issued by the Kumano Kodo Heritage Center in Hongu

Where to find further information about the Kumano Kodo?

To learn more about the Nakahechi route, check out our sample itineraries and cost article.

Brochures, maps and videos:

The Tanabe Tourist Information Center [Official website, Google Maps location] is a great place to

  • grab a paper copy of the Kumano Kodo route maps and an up-to-date bus schedule;
  • check for any route adjustments (typhoons in prior years have closed routes/required detours to be put in place).

The Kumano Hongu Heritage Center [Official website, Google Maps location] across the road from Kumano Hongu Taisha is a great place to learn more about Wakayama Prefecture and its UNESCO World Heritage sites.

What was your Kumano Kodo experience like?

Have you hiked the Kumano Kodo? What route did you do, when did you do it and most importantly, how was your experience? And if you have any questions we haven’t answered please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

Author: <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandrarosenau/" target="_blank">Sandra Rosenau</a>

Author: Sandra Rosenau

Sandra Rosenau is a Gen X gal from Germany, born and raised behind the Iron Curtain, with an unquenchable thirst to learn. Self-starter. Multi-lingual. Minimalist. Environmentally conscious. Financially and location independent. Energised by connecting with others and helping people succeed.