Above: See of clouds in Kumano
The Kumano Kodo, an ancient and intricate network of six pilgrimage trails traversing Japan’s mountainous Kii Peninsula, spans three provinces and thousands of years in history. With its spectacular gorges and mysterious shrines and temples, the Kumano Kodo offers modern day pilgrims the opportunity to experience the physical and spiritual landscapes of Japan.
For thousands of years pilgrims ranging from members of the Imperial family to well-heeled commoners have journeyed along the Kumano Kodo to visit the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano.
Historically, the return journey from Kyoto took over a month and consisted of long days spent traversing the mountain paths, interspersed with relaxing baths in the purifying waters of the Kii Peninsula’s many hot springs. Travellers also marvelled at natural wonders such as the Nachi Waterfall and worshipped at the many shrines and temples found along the way.
Although pilgrims were undoubtedly glad to reach their destination, the journey along the weathered stone paths of the Kumano Kodo was an important part of their experience. Fittingly, the pilgrimage trail itself has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the sacred temple precinct of Mount Koya and the Yoishino Omine area in Nara.
These days, the Kumano Kodo has been made accessible by modern transport and the availability of maps detailing well-defined trails which are suited to all
ages and levels of fitness.
The trail meanders through the three prefectures of the Kii Peninsula: Wakayama extending down the western side to the southern tip, Nara in the north and Mie in the north east, enabling travellers to sample the distinctive culture and cuisine of each region.