Top 10 Reasons for Walking the Japan Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage:

  1. It’s the best way to experience Japan and its people
  2. Beautiful mountain walking and nature
  3. Experience onsens (natural hot baths)
  4. Enjoy traditional Japanese Food
  5. Experience Ryokans and Minshukus
  6. Earn a Dual Pilgrim Certificate
  7. Open your mind. Experience Shintoism
  8. Doesn’t require too much time. 2-14 days
  9. A weak Yen makes it relatively inexpensive
  10. Experience Japanese toilets
  1. It’s the best way to experience Japan and it’s people:

Most visitors to Japan take a week or two and focus on Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and maybe Hiroshima. Those places offer interesting experiences but are also crowded. Walking the Kumano Kodo gets you off the beaten tourist trail. Allows you to slow down and enjoy nature, which the Japanese are much more connected to than us westerners. Exploring Shintoism in the mountains of the Kumano region and the worship of nature and all things in this world will open your mind and connect you to Japan and its people much more deeply than walking the streets of Kyoto in a Kimono.

Over the days on pilgrimage, one finds the Japanese to be polite and impeccably clean. Though reserved they are kind. And occasionally will open up to you. Two of my favorite encounters were with older people. Akira is 95 and was 16 when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on his city killing most of his family and friends. He is the friendliest of men and loves supporting pilgrims. He has two pet Koi (carp) in the small pond of his house that are 65 years old. A few days ago Mika and I bumped into Hoshiro who is 88 and was in 3rd grade in 1945 when Japan was preparing for the invasion by the Allies. He was taught that they needed to defend the homeland to their deaths for the Emperor. He also mentioned that the 6th graders were training to use bamboo sticks as weapons. The Shrines and Temples are all in Nature and the food includes all kinds of wild vegetables and grasses and roots. The longer I stay here, 6 months now, the more I sense the Japanese are connected to nature at a whole higher level than most westerners. Perhaps akin to the American Indians of the old west. One more, the 75 year old woman serving Mika and I in the 4th picture below was so warm and engaging. I asked her why she was still working at her age. She said, “Serving guests feeds my soul.”

2. Enjoy beautiful mountain walking and nature:

Unlike the Camino, this pilgrimage takes you more deeply into nature walking up and down lush green forested mountains filled with soaring Cedar and Pine trees. Much of the rocky stepped trails are covered in moss. Even the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples are integrated with nature. One rarely goes inside to worship God. Walking with Mika, she is aware of most of the nature, pointing out seasonal wild vegetables and grasses and plants such as bamboo and bracken and fiddlehead fern and lotus that we have been eating along the Kumano.

3. Experience Onsens (hot natural baths):

This is a highlight of any trip to Japan. However the experience is so much richer after a tough day walking up and down 600 to 1,000 meters through a mountain forest. Upon arriving at your Onsen Hotel, you will be issued a Yukata (bath robe). Then you proceed to the public bath where you strip naked. Then you walk into the bath where there are sit down showers with small stools. The etiquette includes soaping down and or rinsing before entering the hot bath. Some onsens just have a single hot bath. Some have saunas and a few steam rooms. Some have indoor and outdoor baths. I love the outdoor baths and go out of my way to visit them. Also, a great option are those that include an icy cold pool. I have found alternating hot with cold baths to be deeply therapeudic. Also, the various hot baths across Japan have different types of water, including; simple, chloride, sulfur, sulphate, carbonated, iron, radioactive, acidic and carbon dioxide. My personal favorite was an alkaline simple sulfur at Iyaonsen Hotel on Shikoku Island. Being 69 with sun damaged dry skin especially on the back of my hands, I have been amazed at the transformation to soft healthy skin.

4. Enjoy traditional Japanese Food:

I could write for days on this being a foodie and finding that Japan has some of the most exquisite dishes on the planet. And they enhance their food by presenting it often as a work of art. The sashimi and sushi here is the best in the world as is the tempura.

On the Kumano Kodo meals are served Japanese style. Typically one sits down to several small plates. Sashimi. Tempura. Cooked whole fish. Various veggies. Miso or seaweed soup. Always some pickled radish or cucumbers. Occasionally a bit of meat. Of course there is unlimited amounts of rice and green tea. Everything beautifully displayed. Beer and sake are usually available to purchase. 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.

5. Experience Japanese traditional accommodations; Minshukus and Ryokans:

Minshukus and Ryokans are small, usually family run, guesthouses or inns. The rooms are Japanese style with the only furniture being a table a foot or so above the floor. One sits on cushions or a chair with no legs. The size is measured by number of tatami mats with 7 being small to average. Each mat is 1.8 meter by .9 meter. Occasionally one enjoys a spacious 13 mat room. There is alway a hot water kettle or thermos and a container with green tea. Some of the nicer ones also had small balconies with a sitting table and 2 chairs. In a closet one finds yukatas (bath robes) and futons which are usually set up by the staff while you are dining. Toilets are usually shared. After walking it is a wonderful part of the daily ritual to don your yukata and walk to the common bath. In the small ones, it is a single person bath. Sometimes the bath fits two. Before bathing you soap down and shower while sitting down at a small stool before entering the bath. After letting the soothing hot water soak your tired, achy body for 10-20 minutes you return to your room feeling totally refreshed and relaxed enjoying the remaining time before dinner doing absolutely nothing.

6. Earn a Dual Pilgrim Certificate:

Along with the Camino de Santiago the Kumano Kodo are the only two pilgrimages on the planet that are World Heritage Sites. After walking both pilgrimages one can obtain a Dual Pilgrims Certificate at either the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center across the street from Hongu Taisha or the Turismo de Santiago Information Center at Rúa do Vilar 63, Santiago de Compostela. Also be sure to stop in the Hongu Taisha Shrine Office and they will allow you to experience a drum banging ceremony which to me was much more enjoyable that earning a certificate.

7. Open your mind. Experience Shintoism:

After 6 months in Japan I feel I am getting slightly closer to their essence. Unlike most westerners, and more like the American Indians and other peoples, they are much more closely aligned with nature. I suspect that their ancient religion of Shintoism is a key to that. Shintoists worship no god and have no dogma. There is no central authority. Their religion is more a philosophy that recognizes all creatures and things as being part of nature, with much diversity of belief and practice evident among practitioners. Like the Camino de Santiago on the Nakahechi trail you will encounter other pilgrims from around the world to chat with and share experiences.

8. Doesn’t require too much time:

The typical Kumano Kodo requires just 4 days of your time. This compares favorably with the 35-50 days required to walk the Japan 88 Temple Pilgrimage. In fact if you are really in a hurry and still want to earn a Dual Pilgrim Certificate you can do so in just 2 days of walking 37 kilometers. The primary Kumano Kodo is Nakahechi and starts in Tanabe City which is just a 2 1/2 hour train from downtown Osaka.

9. A weak Yen makes 2024 the ideal time to visit Japan and walk the Kumano Kodo:

While I often read that visiting Japan is expensive, I would strongly disagree. I am here now and the Yen is at historical lows against the US$ and Euro. The Kumano Kodo Nakahechi is a bit more expensive than the other routes due to its popularity. Our Nakahechi daily cost in March 2024 averaged ¥12,964/$82.75/€76.06. Kohechi and Iseji were significantly cheaper at ¥8,500/$54.26/€49.87. While this is more expensive than the Camino it makes for a relatively inexpensive visit to Japan compared to visiting Kyoto, Tokyo, or Osaka.

10. Experience Japanese toilets:

While I added 10 to get to a round number and couldn’t think of anything else to write, this is no joke. To give you an idea, I will summarize my toilet experience. First you don toilet slippers and enter the toilet room. Occasionally the seat automatically raises itself. You sit down to find the seats are warm. If you are concerned about making too much noise you can press a button to make fan noise or music. After taking care of business you press a button to wash your bottom. Of course the water is warm and soothing. Yes, you can increase the pressure if you so desire. Women can also wash their fronts. Finally, you can use the fan to dry your bottom if you are not in a hurry. Or you can do a final dab with toilet paper. Japan is the only country I know where it is actually kind of fun to go to the toilet. 99% of Japanese toilets are crystal clean. Even the public toilets.

If you are interested in the Kumano Kodo these 2 related posts may be of interest:

How The Kumano Kodo Is Different From The Camino de Santiago

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

My daily blog of our Kumano Kodo and 88 Temple Pilgrimages is available on my Facebook Group Site Camino de Santiago & Other Global PIlgrimages. The Kumano Kodo was blogged March 17 to April 3. Our 88 Temple was blogged April 13 to May 30.

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Happy to answer any questions and help in any way.