How The Kumano Kodo Is Different From The Camino de Santiago:

After walking the Camino de Santiago many times via multiple routes I walked the Kumano Kodo.  They are the only two UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimages on the planet. Many pilgrims aim for a Dual Pilgrim Certificate which can be earned after walking both pilgrimages. Both have religious significance as well as spiritual and healing powers and other similarities. However, the aim here is to explain how they are different to assist pilgrims who have walked one of these pilgrimages and are considering the other. There is a separate post explaining how to plan your Kumano Kodo and earn a Dual Pilgrim Certificate.

How The 88 Temple Pilgrimage Is Different From the Camino de Santiago is also available in a separate post.

Admittedly this is one pilgrim’s biased perspective but I have reviewed this with some other pilgrims and included their feedback as well. With the Japanese Yen being so weak now is the ideal time to visit Japan and go on pilgrimage. (Costs are in Yen for the Kumano Kodo and Euros for the Camino). ¥1000 = $6.35 = €5.93 ————————————

  1. Different Religions:

The Kumano Kodo is a Shinto Pilgrimage dating back over 1,000 years. Shintoism is a religion primarily found in Japan. There are 100,000 public shrines in Japan with 3 Grand Kumano Shrines; Hayatama Taisha, Hongu Taisha and Nachi Taisha are the destination points of Kumano Kodo pilgrims.  Shintoism is unlike Christianity and Buddhism and other religions in that there is no central authority and much diversity of belief and practice among practitioners. There is no dogma or rules. It is more of a philosophy centered on worshiping all of nature. As with just about everything in Japan there are specific rules to follow at the Shrines. You bow twice upon reaching the Shrine. Clap your hands together twice, say a prayer to the Shrine god while your hands are together, and then bow once more before leaving the Shrine.

The Camino de Santiago is a Christian Pilgrimage to Santiago, Galicia, in northwest Spain. Santiago (aka as St. James, St. Jacques, and St. Jakob) was one of Jesus’ 12 Apostles. There is a legend that after his beheading in Jerusalem his body was recovered by knights who sailed with him on a stone ship to Galicia, Spain and buried him there in an unknown grave site. Then around 812, a hermit reported a star hovering over a field and his religious superiors ordered excavations where St. James’ body was recovered. That field is the site of the Cathedral de Santiago and destination of its pilgrims.

2. The Kumano Kodo has three destinations while The Camino has only one:

On the Kumano the goal is to reach 3 Holy Shinto Shrines known collectively as Kumano Sanzan; Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha, and Hayatama Taisha. Hongu Taisha is the where you obtain a Dual Pilgrim Certificate. It is also the main Kumano Shrine of which there are over 3,000 across Japan. It also enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, who I call the Mother Nature of Japan. We continued on from the 3 Kumano Shrines on the Kumano Kodo route to Ise and the main Shrine of Amaterasu, Iseji. A much quieter experience allowing for more interaction with the Japanese people.

Most pilgrims though walk on to Nachi Taisha which is renown for its spectacular view of a red pagoda and the longest (133 meters) waterfall from the Temple grounds. Nachi no Taki. The tallest single-tiered waterfall in Japan. And it’s a beautiful, though challenging walk over the mountain to reach it.

The Camino de Santiago of course has one destination, the Cathedral of Santiago.

3. The Kumano Kodo is shorter than the Camino de Santiago:

This is somewhat of a gray matter as many pilgrims walk just the last 100 kilometers to Santiago in order to earn their Compostela or Certificate. That said, many start farther back in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, Pamplona, Seville, Irun, Madrid, Porto or Lisbon. A few start even further away in Germany, Poland, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Israel, Estonia, etal.. So a Camino de Santiago can be a short 100 kilometers or 3-4,000 kilometers.

The Kumano Kodo is a series of routes totalling 491 kilometers. However, most pilgrims walk the Nahechi which is only 68 kilometers and takes 4 days. If your only interest is collecting the Dual Pilgrim Certificate you need only walk 37 kilometers over 2 days from Takijiri to Hongu Taisha.

4. There 5 Kumano Kodo Routes while there are 9 Caminos coming into Santiago:

The Camino de Santiago has 9 routes of over 100 kilometers into Santiago, and many more Caminos across Europe feeding those routes. The nine Caminos include; Frances, Norte, Primitivo, Portuguese, Sanabres, English/Irish, Invierno, Finisterre, and Minoto Ribeiro.

The Kumano Kodo is in the southern Kansai Region of Honshu Island and has 5 routes;

  1. Nakahechi is a 68 kilometer route and the most popular. It normally takes just 2 to 5 days. It starts in Tanabe City but many skip the urban walking and bus to Takijiri where Nakahechi enters the mountains. From there it is just 37 kilometers to Hongu Taisha where one collects their Dual Pilgrim Certificate. However most pilgrims continue on to Nachi Taisha in a spectacular setting with its red pagoda and waterfall.
  2. Kohechi is more mountainous with less infrastructure. It starts in Koyosan near beautiful Okunoin Cemetary and the tomb of Kobo Daishi, the patron saint of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The trail is a challenging mountainous 63 kilometers taking 4 days to Hongu Taisha.
  3. Iseji is a 170 kilometer trail that includes urban and mountain walking offering some spectacular coastal and sea views. It starts in Ise at the main Shinto Shrine of Japan. Home to Ameterasu, the Mother Nature of Japan. It is also noted as the Shrine of the Emperor. It ends at Hayatama Taisha but pilgrims can continue on th Hongu Taisha and or Nachi Taisha. 
  4. Ohechi follows the coast from Tanabe 92 kilometers to Nachi Taisha. While this route offers some beautiful sea views it includes more pavement walking so sees fewer pilgrims.
  5. Omine Okugake is the most rugged of the Kumano Kodos spanning 98 kilometers of mountain walking. It starts in Yoshinoyama in Nara Prefecture to Wakayama Prefecture’s Hongu Taisha Shrine. 

5. The Kumano Kodo is more mountainous and physically challenging than the Camino: 

While the Camino has a few mountain passes to cross and has some more rugged options to Frances, like Primitivo, it is an easier walk relatively than the Kumano Kodo. Nakahechi is supposedly the easiest but has 2 of 4 days with over 1,000 meter ascents and at least 600 meter ascents each day. Kohechi’s days are less elevation change slightly but are even more rugged and more akin to mountain walking trails than a pilgrimage trail. One last point though is that the Kumano Kodo is shorter so you don’t have to worry about blisters developing or pains associated with long distance walking. 

6. The Kumano Kodo Brings Pilgrims Closer To Nature:

While getting closer to nature is highly spiritual and subjective for each pilgrim, my experience was that the Kumano seems to combine the best of both worlds. Like the Camino, there are other pilgrims from around the globe to connect with. But unlike the Camino you will find yourself high on a mountain top surrounded by a dense forest of lush green Cedars and Pines walking on moss covered stone. Perhaps pine needles easing the pounding of your feet. Or stopping to watch the rising sun over the Pacific. Arriving at the Shinto Shrines one prays to nature without concern for set prayers or rules made by man. Pilgrims don’t need to enter a building to talk to God. The Japanese get this and Shrines and also Temples seem to blend with nature. Walking with Mika, she often pointed out wild vegetables, roots, and grasses that we had eaten recently at our meals. I love the Camino and there are many beautiful natural sites, but I would also say that the Kumano connects you more deeply with nature.

7.  Food and Drink:

Huge difference here. No wine on the Kumano. Just lots of green tea or occasionally a roasted tea or barley tea. A typical dinner at a guesthouse included; a soup of miso or seaweed, sashimi, cooked fish, picked veggies such as radishes and or cucumbers, occasionally tempura veggies or fish. Occasionally a bit of meat. And of course all the rice you wanted and green tea. Beer and sake were available for purchase. Breakfast included the same rice and green tea, but almost always Nori, crisp thin seaweed, an egg usually served raw that you poured into your rice bowl, soup, some pickled veggies and a small piece of marinated or cooked fish and perhaps a little salad. Often you would get a bowl of natto, fermented soybeans with small packets of mustard and soy that you poured onto the soybeans and stirred up. Most meals included a small sour fermented plum (umeboshi) to aid in digestion and prevent food poisoning.

Very different from cuisine on the Camino where a typical pilgrim’s 3 course dinner including; a starter of mixed or Russian salad or soup or spaghetti and plenty of bread. A main of roasted meat of ham, pork, chicken or beef with fried potatoes. Last a dessert of packaged ice cream, custard, or almond cake. And instead of green tea you usually get a half bottle to a bottle of wine, or water.

Food is cheaper on the Camino for sure. However, the quality and diversity of the Japanese cuisine is superior. More than a few times, we had gourmet meals that would be valued at well over $50 in the west. For example, on Iseji, one Minshuku offered dinner of lobster sashimi, fresh urchin, conch, cooked yellow tail, sashimi, and a hot pot along with other items. Cost of that in Tokyo, Paris or New York would have been well over $100 and most likely not as delicious as this fish was all caught that same morning.  Our room, dinner, and breakfast were just $58 per person.

8. Cost. The Camino is definitely cheaper at $30-45 per day for everything assuming you are staying at albergues. Still reasonable staying at private inns and hotels especially if you share a room. The Kumano Kodo is more expensive especially the Nakahechi route, as it is the most popular by far. Our Nakahechi daily cost in March 2024 averaged ¥12,964/$82.75/€76.06. Kohechi and Iseji was significantly cheaper at ¥8,500/$54.26/€49.87. Many assume the Japan pilgrimages are very expensive but as you can see they are reasonable and cheaper than pilgrimages in Northern Europe.

9. DAILY RITUAL:

On the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage and staying in Minshukus and Ryokans,  you are served a breakfast before departing. Upon arrival you are greeted with a tea and almost always a hot bath is drawn for you allowing you to soak away your aches and pains. Occasionally you are at an Onsen Hotel where the water is from a natural hot spring. Sometimes your bath is private, sometimes public. Bathing is a tradition and common everywhere in Japan. Afterwards one dons a very comfortable Yukata (bathrobe) before an always delicious dinner. Last you retire to your room and sleep on a futon. Rarely on a western bed. 

Going to the toilet should be mentioned as it can be a strange experience in Japan for a westerner. Occasionally the seat is heated. Often the toilet will have a built in bidet. You press a button and your bottom is sprayed. Occasionally there is a blower to dry your bottom as well. Makes it kind of fun. Personally I won’t miss the toilets so much but I came to really like those hot baths after a long walk. The Camino is fairly similar except for the hot bath and Yukata. And while sometimes there is a communal dinner at the albergues, more often you go into town to a plaza and enjoy dinner outside with other pilgrims.

10. MAKE UP OF THE PILGRIMS:

On the Nakahechi the make up of pilgrims was similar to the Camino with it mostly being a mix of westerners of all ages from; USA, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Czech, mixed with a few Japanese. However, on the Kohechi we met no other westerners and a few solo older Japanese males. On the Iseji very few other pilgrims, a few Europeans and a few Japanese. You don’t see too many young Japanese on the pilgrimage trails. A Japanese pilgrim told me that young people in Japan typically don’t have the time required, and see this as a religious experience. The trend in Japan as in many other parts of the world is the young are moving away from religion. Like the Camino, the Kumano has a relatively strong proportion of solo pilgrims.

In conclusion, the Kumano Kodo is a wonderful pilgrimage and ideal for those seeking to open their minds to Japanese culture and Shinto religion, as well as enjoy some challenging mountain walking. However, if you have the time and desire, the 88 Temple Buddhist Pilgrimage may offer a richer and more meaningful pilgrim experience. If you are interested I blogged daily the Japan Kumano Kodo and 88 Temple Pilgrimages on my Facebook group: The Camino de Santiago & Other Global Pilgrimages.

For more information read:

The Top Ten Reasons For Walking The Kumano Kodo.

Everything You Need To Know About The Kumano Kodo and Earning a Dual Pilgrim Certificate.

Also, for those ending their Caminos in Muxia, you are welcome at our global pilgrim house overlooking the sea where we have guidebooks of over 25 global pilgrimages for you to review as well as 500+ canvas print photos adorning the walls of many global pilgrimages. We offer conversation, wine, snacks, and even have a few beds for pilgrims wanting to reflect and or consider which Camino or pilgrimage to walk next. Contact me at kevin@globalpilgrim.net if you want to visit or stay with us.

This post is one of 11 companion pieces:

1. How The Japan 88 Temple Pilgrimage Is Different From The Camino de Santiago

2. How The Way of St. Francis/Via Francesco Is Different From The Camino

3. How The Via Francigena Pilgrimage Is Different from The Camino Frances

4. How Camino Del Norte Is Different from Camino Frances

5. How The Camino Portuguese Is Different From The Camino Frances

6. How Camino Via de la Plata (VdlP) Is Different From Camino Frances

7. How The Israel Jesus Trail Is Different From The Camino de Santiago

8. How the France Chemin duPuy is Different From Camino Frances

9. How A Nepal Trek Is Different From The Camino de Santiago

10. How The Camino de Faros Is Different From The Camino de Santiago

Share to Social Media

Happy to answer any questions and help in any way.