Wakayama Walk-O-Rama!

Walking the Kumano Kodo Kohechi Path in Japan
from Koyasan to Kumano Hongu Taisha (and on to Nachi).
(click on any photo for a larger image)

There doesn't seem to be a lot of information in English on hiking the Kumano Kodo Kohechi route, from Koyasan to Hongu, so I thought it might be useful to put pics and info from our October 2012 trip on the web. We walked from Koyasan to Hongu, then continued on to Nachi, for a total of roughly 100 km over 5 days. Since most of this is in the Wakayama Prefecture, we call it "Wakayama Walk-O-Rama".

The Tanabe City Tourism Bureau has a ton of information about this area and the pilgrimage paths. They are also quickly responsive to email and extremely helpful, with no language problem since one of their employees is a native English speaker. The site includes maps of the various routes, but there is not a link to the Kohechi maps for Koyasan to Totsukawa in English. These maps are available from the Tanabe tourist office. The segments are: Koyasan to Omata (16.8 km), Omata to Miura-guchi (18.7 km), and Miura-guchi to Totsukawa Onsen (19.2 km). The last Kohechi map, from Totsukawa Onsen to Hongu (15.2 km) is available on the map page, as are the maps for Hongu to Koguchi (13 km if you take a bus from Hongu to Ukegawa, or maybe 16 km of you walk the road from Hongu to Ukegawa), and from Koguchi to Nachi (14.5 km to the shrine).

October 11: Koyasan

Koyasan Cable Car Daimon Gate Chanting Monks Daito

We started in Koyasan. We took the fun cable car up the hill, then walked along the quiet road to the impressive Daimon Gate. Walking around in the Garan (Sacred Precinct) we were treated to a group of monks chanting in front of each temple and shrine. The most powerful moment was when we walked into the Daito (Great Pagoda) - the power and compassion radiating from the Cosmic Buddha brought both of us immediately to tears. (It is forbidden to take photos inside the temple, but you can see some small photos of the interior here.)

Okunoin Okunoin

After lunch we walked through the amazing and extensive cemetary of Okunoin.

Rengejoin Rengejoin Rengejoin

One of the (many!) highlights of Koyasan is staying in the "shukubo" (temple) lodgings. We stayed at the excellent Rengejoin, which had a beautiful garden, very pleasant rooms, and outstanding vegetarian food. The head monk led a 45 minute meditation in the evening, and in the morning we attended a ceremony with chanting. Really a beautiful and nourishing stay.

October 12: Koyasan to Omata

Nondescript start in Koyason Nice trail Nice trail Cute village along the way
Forest trail Forest trail One of many Kannon statues along the trail

After a lovely night at Rengejoin, it was time to hit the trail in earnest. After days of "touring" in Tokyo, Kamakura and Koyasan, we were eager to get moving, and left town around 9AM.

Kawarabi-so Proprieter of Kawarabi-so shows us how to cook the hot pot Sleeping room Breakfast in Japan is not what we're used to!

After hiking about 17 km, we reached our accomodations at Kawarabi-so in Omata just before 2PM. The proprieter was very friendly and helpful, given that she spoke exactly as much English as we speak Japanese - none. In tiny Omata, there was a nice onsen just 1 km from the guest house, so we spent the afternoon having a good soak, followed by an outstanding dinner served at the guest house. For us, staying in these small, traditional guest houses was certainly one of the highlights of hiking the Kohechi, and indeed a highlight of our trip to Japan. Accomodations do seem to be quite limited along the route, and it is imperative to make reservations before hand to ensure that you have a place to stay and so that the guest houses know to have food for you. The Tanabe tourist office made all the reservations for us, and everything was prepaid by credit card.

October 13: Omata to Miura-guchi

Omata Obako-dake summit

Steep Kannogawa valley Miura-guchi

Stephanie and are very strong hikers, and in general we found these days were pretty short. We hiked at a very casual pace, and finished walking before 2PM each day (except the 4th day, see below). We would have liked to do about 50% more hiking each day, but there simply are not accomodations that will support that. Going twice as far each day would have been doable, but kind of a chore So, for once we accepted biting off less than we could chew. I think a more "average" hiker will find these days about the right length. These trails are definitely challenging, with some very steep climbs and descents, and some rough footing. We were fortunate that conditions were dry for our entire hike, but when wet some of thes trails could be treacherously slippery!

Miura-guchi Miura-guchi With the proprietor of Minshuku Mandokoro

Miura-guchi is a sort of ramshackle farming village. The accomodations at Minshuku Mandokoro was exactly like staying in somebody's home - which is what it is. We felt very welcomed, and had quite a laugh with the proprietor over the intractableness of the language barrier. After a walk around the tiny village and a nice bath in the Minshuku, we had an early dinner - there wan't much else to do. The Minshuku was a little noisy at night - the proprietors stayed up watching TV and working in the kitchen, and these traditional Japanese homes have really thin walls.

October 14: Miura-guchi to Totsukawa Onsen

Kannon statue Bamboo Large cedars

Spring nicely wrapped lunch

Shrine Koi pond Bus stop (Nishinaka) Dinner at Hotel Subaru

It was another nice day of walking from Miura-guchi to Totsukawa. We caught a fleeting glimpse of a group of monkeys as we were leaving Miura-guchi. At Totsukawa, we stayed in the large western style Hotel Subaru, which has it's own onsen, so we had a nice soak, followed by another sumptuous dinner. we seem to have visited during the off season, perhaps between a busier summer season and leaf-peeping season in November? In any case, most everything seemed pretty deserted, which was just fine with us. For the last 3 days we didn't see a single hiker on the trails.

October 15: Totsukawa Onsen to Koguchi (via Hongu)

Wobbly suspension bridge leaving Totsukawa Steep climb to Hatenashi-toge Koi pond

Old Hatenashi village End of the trail at Yakio

The Kohechi trail ends at Yakio, about 4.6 km from the Hongu shrine. The route continues along the highway for a couple km and then joins the Nakahechi route for the final approach to the shrine. We walked the road, stopping for lunch at a grocery store at one of the villages along the way. As we were leaving the store, a friendly local offered to give us a ride the last 2 km into Hongu, which we happily accepted, as this segment was not that interesting for hiking & we had quite a bit of walking left to get to Koguchi. After 3.5 days walking from Koyasan, a major Buddist center, along a trail that was pretty much lined with Buddist statues (particularly to Kannon, the diety representing pure compassion), we arrived at the conclusion of the pilgrimage - a Shinto shrine! Such is the intermixing of Buddism and Shinto in Japan. I didn't find the Hongu shrine all that interesting, and we didn't spend a lot of time there. As with most of the Shinto shrines, you can't really see inside.

Back on trail at Ukegawa

We considered taking the bus to Ukegawa, but as it didn't leave for 30 minutes and it was only 3 km along the highway we just went ahead and walked. From Ukegawa, it was a fairly easy (and very pretty) 13 km of trails to Koguchi.

Dinner at Minshuku Momofuku With the proprietors of Momofuku

At Koguchi we stayed at Minshuku Momofuku, which was a real delight. The proprietors were exceptionally helpful and friendly (the husband spoke a little English), their place was beautiful and ecclectically decorated, and the meals were just outstanding. As with all the small guest houses along the trail, we were able to wash in Japanese style (clean yourself with a shower head, then soak in a common hot bath), and the owners offered to do our laundry. It was a lovely stay after a fairly long day of hiking - about 30 km.

October 16: Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha, plus Kii-Katsuura

Leaving Koguchi Steep climb up to Echizen-toge

Steep descent off Echizen-toge

Beautiful lunch prepared by Minshuku Momofuku Kumano Nachi Taisha Fat Buddha at Nachi

It was only about 15 km from Koguchi to the Nachi shrine, but with a steep climb and descent. The shrine itself is spectacular, with a backdrop of Japan's highest waterfall. With this our hiking was complete. We took a bus down to Kii-Katsuura, on the coast.

Ferry to Hotel Urashima, Kii-Katsuura Inside Hotel Urashima View atop Hotel Urashima Kii-Katsuura The Japanese love these games

Typical restaurant display Street kitty! Dinner at Minshuku Wakatake

At Katsuura, we dropped our luggage at our lodging at Minshuku Wakatake (just across the street from the train station), and then headed out to the onsen at the Hotel Urashima, which is located on a rugged spit of land that protects Katsuura harbor. The hotel was wierd - huge and completely empty. There were color coded lines on the floor to help visitors find the various onsens. We visited the famous Bokido - cave onsen - where you sit in the hot spring while watching the Pacific Ocean waves crash against the cliffs just outside the mouth of the cave. After the soak we took the elevator to the top floor of the hotel for a stunning view of the town and ocean. After where we'd been, Katsuura seemed like a major city!

Hiking these remote routes was certainly an adventure. Apparently, the Kohechi has only recently been "developed" for hiking, and we were among the first non-Japanese to hike here. Still, between the excellent maps (provided by the Tanabe tourist office), and adequate signage, we found it easy to follow the trail, and everyone we met was extremely kind and helpful, despite the language barrier. If you want to see "real" rural Japan, and get some good, solid hiking, this might be the route for you!

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