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Photo By: Kanenori

A Guide to Hiking the Kumano Kodo

Walk in the presence of the gods as you follow these ancient pilgrimage trails in Western Japan.

Buddhist monks and other religious pilgrims have walked the roads of the Kumano Kodo for over 1,000 years to reach some of Japan’s most sacred shrines and temples. Also known as the Kumano Old Road, the Kumano Kodo is a collection of interconnecting ancient trails in Western Japan.

Connecting modern-day prefectures like Osaka, Nara, Wakayama, and Mie to Mount Koya, Ise Grand Shrine, and other spiritual sites, the Kumano Kodo takes hikers through breathtaking landscapes, rural villages, and relaxing onsen.

Kumano Sanzan in Wakayama Prefecture

Photo by: Beau Saunders One of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, where the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage leads to.

All of the Kumano Kodo routes eventually lead to Kumano Sanzan (The Three Grand Shrines of Kumano) in the mountains of southeastern Wakayama. The Kumano area is often thought of as the “Land of the Gods” where you can commune with the divine. Though modern infrastructure now provides easy access to these places by car or train, the preserved trails are great for hiking.

This ancient holy road holds such cultural significance it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The only other pilgrimage route holding such a distinction is the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Hikers who have completed both legendary trails are known as “Dual Pilgrims.”

Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine at Wakayama Prefecture

Photo by: Christian Kaden There are four main hiking routes to lead you to the Kumano Sanzan.

Kumano Kodo’s many trails make up a series of multi-day hikes, however, most of these can be broken up into shorter excursions. There are four main sections of the Kumano Kodo open to hikers. Click on the links below to learn more about each. May the gods be ever in your favor as you walk these ancient pathways to the divine.