From Koyasan to Kumano Kodo

Posted on June 27, 2018 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

When I was planning my Japan trip, I came across an article about the ancient pilgrimage trail, Kumano Kodo, in the Wakayama region. Despite numerous visits to Japan over the years, I have never heard of this trail before. I became interested and started researching about the trail. Unlike the famous pilgramge route, Camino de Santiago in Spain, Kumano Kodo comprises several routes and walkers can be flexible with the days and distances. The most popular route is the Nakahechi route which starts from Kii-Tanabe on the western coast of the Kii Peninsula and traverses east into the mountains towards the other side of the Peninsula. Since the 10th century, the Nakahechi route had been extensively used by the imperial family on pilgrimage from Kyoto. Since this was my first multi-day trail, I thought I should stick with the more popular route.


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Although there are some sample itineraries on the official Kumano Kodo tourism website, I decided to make some alterations; meanwhile, I still used their free reservation services for accommodations and bento boxes. Instead of using the rather pricey daily luggage transfer service, I forwarded my luggage in Osaka to my next desination after the pilgrimage trail.

Before my trip, I bought a pair of foldable walking sticks and a foldable rucksack big enough to carry essentials and clothing for 5 nights. Like the protagonist in the film 'Wild', I was constantly packing and repacking to make sure that I wasn't carrying too much. Yet later I acknowledge that I had still taken too much unnecessary stuff, like a book that I never got to read (too exhausted), accessories such as scarf and hat (too warm), and a heavy camera... minimalising is never as easy as we think.




Due to the traveling period (low season), the route from Koyasan to Kii-Tanabe (the beginning of the trail) was a not a straight-forward one despite that they are not that far apart by distance. I ended up taking 3 buses and 2 trains, which took over 6 hours of traveling time! Luckily, the stunning scenery along the coast made the journey more interesting.

When I arrived at Kii-Tanabe, I had to rush over to the Tourist office to get a copy of the route maps as I would have to depend on it a lot over the next few days. Since I spent almost 1/2 day traveling, it meant that I didn't have time to walk to my destination, hence I took a bus and headed to my lodging at Chikatsuyu village.



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The starting point of the trail: Kii-Tanabe


My original plan was to stay in Takahara village, a ridge-top village that offers a panoramic view of the mountains in the surrounding area, but all the lodgings there were full when I tried to book, so I had to skip the first part of the trail and start from Chikatsuyu village. With only a few choices in the village, I decided to rent a cottage owned by a lovely Ms. Muya (according to the official reservation website) who named the cottage: Happiness Chikatsuyu.





Chikatsuyu village


Not only I was the only person who got off the bus at Chikatsuyu, I did not encounter anyone during my 15 minutes' walk towards the cottage. I went to pick up the keys from the neighbour and he kindly showed me around the cottage and suggested that I take a bus up the hill tomorrow and start the trail at the top of the hill.


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The cottage is way better than the photos on the website. In fact, I understood immediately why it has been named 'Happiness'. Honestly, I could feel the love and positive energy at this cottage. The spacious and bright cottage is not over-furnished, and has three exquisite kimonos hanging around the house. Yet more 'happiness' could be found outside in the garden.





The cottage is located on the top of a hillock overlooking the Hiki-gawa River. I felt incredibly blissful sitting inside the gazebo surrounded by the beautiful and tranquil environment.

Since there are no restaurants nearby, I had to pre-order dinner, which was delivered by a friendly lady who runs a small cafe in the village. It was a simple bento dinner, but enjoyable nonetheless especially because I was able to savour it in the garden.



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After dinner (which was only around 7pm), I decided to stroll into the village to see if there is a grocery shop or convenient store for my lunch tomorrow. Again, I did not see anyone along the route, nor did I see any food shop nor convenient store. There is a derelict petrol station and surprisingly, a wonderful bric-a-brac shop that sells vintage items and ceramics. I went into the shop but again, I didn't see anyone... suddenly, I felt like I was in a surreal film where everyone in the village has vanished! Where is everyone?








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Although I have read a lot about the issues of urbanisation and rural depopulation in Japan, I have never seen it in real life until this trip. Chikatsuyu is only one of many. Walking back, I felt a bit sad that people would rather live in congested, polluted, expensive and high density concrete jungles than villages surrounded by natural beauty. And yet Japan is not alone - this is happening all over the world.

After I got back, I had to prepare for the big day ahead and was slightly anxious because the first day would be the longest day out of the three, with approx. 8 hours of walking time. I would need to reach my destination before sunset, but I could save some time and energy by taking a bus up the hill from the village in the morning.

I thought I had planned everything quite well, but as we all know, life rarely turns out the way we plan it...



This post was posted in Travel, Nature, Anything Japanese, Hiking & walking, Japan and was tagged with hiking, nature, Japan, Kumano Kodo