Kumano Kodo: Kohechi Route
This demanding trek is for seasoned hikers only, but gorgeous views and the unearthly Mount Koya are sure to take anyone’s breath away.
Kohechi is the most remote and strenuous route of the four main Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails. Zigzagging over steep peaks, the route crosses over three mountain passes, reaches over 1,000 meters in elevation, and spans over 65 km (40 mi) in length.
The hike begins in Wakayama Prefecture at the legendary Koyasan, also known as Mount Koya. Revered for over 1,000 years, Mount Koya is one of Japan’s most sacred sites. It’s home to the nation’s largest graveyard, Okunoin, where you’ll find the grave of Kobo Daishi—the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
Taking hikers through Wakayama and Nara Prefectures, Kohechi ends at Hongu Taisha, one of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano (Kumano Sanzan in Japanese). Though tough, the opportunity to see two of Japan’s most holy places and the incredible sights along the way make it worthwhile.
Hike through Wakayama’s sacred mountains
Historically, Kohechi was used by Buddhist monks living on Mount Koya. They would travel across the treacherous mountains on foot to pay homage to the sacred Grand Shrines of Kumano. Today, you can walk the same path.
While hiking over the forested peaks and braving narrow cliff-side pathways, you’ll come across extraordinary sights. Hidden moss-covered statues, traditional ryokan with natural onsen baths, and ancient gravesites are just some of the treasures you’ll stumble upon. Not to mention the views!
There are four sections of Kohechi: Mizugamine Peak (Koyasan to Omata in Nara), Obako-toge Pass (Omata to Miura-guchi), Miura-toge Pass (Miura-guchi to Totsukawa Onsen), and Hatenashi-toge Pass (Totsukawa Onsen to Hongu Taisha). Each section takes about a day to complete.
The hike ends at the grand Hongu Taisha, one of the Kumano Sanzan, which is often called the “Land of the Gods.” From there, it’s possible to continue traveling along the other pilgrimage trails to the other Grand Shrines and more sightseeing spots if you wish.
Preparing to hike Kohechi
This mountaintop route is long and steep, and should not be undertaken without careful preparation or by those not in peak health. There’s always a chance of harsh rain, wind, or fog and parts of the trail are closed during winter due to heavy snow. Kohechi is very isolated in parts with no convenience stores or places to buy food or supplies along the way. Only experienced hikers should consider attempting it.
Hiking the entire trail takes four days, so you’ll need to pack everything needed for that duration. There are inns along the way, but you’ll want to figure out your accommodation in advance just to be safe.