Kumano Kodo: Ohechi Route
Take the road less traveled on this coastal hiking trail once sought out by poets and painters for artistic inspiration.
Ohechi is perhaps the most unique route of the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails. Meandering over forested mountain passes and along the coastline of Wakayama’s Kii Peninsula, this hiking trail provides stunning views of the Pacific Ocean’s pristine waters. The landscape is so beautiful it once attracted writers and artists from all over Japan.
To see Japan through the eyes of poets of painters of old, hike Ohechi. You may find yourself inspired by the end.
Kumano Kodo’s Coastal Route
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Ohechi was used for both spiritual enlightenment and sightseeing along the southeastern coast of the Kansai Region. Most of the Kumano Kodo routes were made primarily for monks and the elite to make the pilgrimage to Kumano Sanzan (Three Grand Shrines of Kumano) which is considered the “Land of the Gods.” The Ohechi route, however, was taken by ordinary people. Writers and artists especially traveled these roads to enjoy the views of the sea, seeking inspiration for their works.
Historically, the Ohechi trail connected Wakayama Prefecture’s seaside town of Tanabe with Nachi Taisha, one of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano. However, the modern recommended route ends short of Nachi Taisha at Mirozu Station. This is because large sections of the trail’s latter half have been paved over by modern highways. You can, of course, continue on to Nachi Taisha, but it will involve walking across highways with no pedestrian footpaths, so be careful.
Though less popular these days (meaning you might be lucky enough to have the trail to yourself), Ohechi continues to provide a scenic refuge for anyone who wishes to visit.
Hiking the Ohechi trails
Hiking the full Ohechi trail takes about three days, but segments of the route can also be done as day hikes. A four-day trek is also an option. This longer itinerary includes walking along the highway, which can be unsafe, but also more sightseeing—including the famous Hashigui-iwa rock formation (approximately 40 large rocks rembling a bridge).
At the start of Ohechi, you’ll walk along paved roads and rice paddies. Subsequent days take you through forests with incredible ocean views and eventually along the seashore itself. You’ll also pass by a viewpoint with a Buddha statue overlooking the sea, ancient ruins of castles and teahouses, and small shrines dedicated to the sacred landscape.
The three passes that make up the hike are called Tonda-zaka, Hotoke-zaka, and Nagai-zaka. Whether completing the multi-day trek or doing shorter day hikes, the towns of Tanabe, Shirahama, and Susami are the best places to base yourself.
There are villages and train stations along the way where you can purchase food and beverages, but we still recommend carefully planning ahead and bringing all your supplies with you just in case.