98 Kilometers On The Kumano Kodo Nakahechi

I’ve just returned from a 7-day, 98-km hike along the Kumano Kodo, a group of pilgrimage trails through Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture. Pilgrims of all social classes, from retired emperors and samurai to Buddhist nuns and priests, have traveled these mountainous trails on foot for more than 1,000 years.

My hiking pilgrimage followed the Nakahechi Route from Takijiri (on the western side of Japan’s Kii Peninsula) through the mountains to Kii-Katsuura, on the eastern coast.

Along the way, I visited the three Kumano Grand Shrines: Kumano Hongu, Kumano Nachi, and Kumano Hayatama. I stayed in minshuku (traditional family-run inns similar to a bed and breakfast) and ryokan (traditional inns), and met a number of wonderful, interesting people on the trail–fellow travelers from all over the world, some of whom became friends I hope to stay in touch with far beyond this journey.

I’ll share more about my experiences in the days to come. In the meantime, I’ll start with the image above – the view from my room at the minshuku where I spent the night after my first day on the trail – and this somewhat different image from the ladies’ room at the Yokohama bus terminal, where I caught the overnight bus to Kyoto the night before I began my Kumano Kodo pilgrimage:

Apparently, the toilets in Yokohama are a “no concert” zone.

I’d wanted to hike the Kumano Kodo since learning about the history of the route during my college years – more than two decades ago. I’m pleased to say, the experience exceeded my twenty years of accumulated expectations. Mentally, I’ll be unpacking the experience for a long time to come – even longer than it’s going to take to edit the thousands of photos I took on the trail.

For now, I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep – without the need to get up at 5:30am to get back on the trail!