Planning to Hike the Kumano Kodo Iseji
When we first began preparing to hike the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route, we had the safety net of knowing that the lion’s share of preparation and planning had been done by Mie Prefecture Tourism Board.
Even with all of that pre-planning done by locals, however, we were often blindsided by a particularly tough day’s hiking or the lack of signage that made hiking the Kumano Kodo Iseji such an adventure.
Over the course of two weeks and 170 kilometers, Adventures Around Asia and I both fell in love with Mie Prefecture and the stunning Iseji Route that saw us travel from Ise Jingu to Kumano Hayatama Taisha.
We wanted others to be able to experience the feeling of triumph that we felt when we stood atop Yakiyama, to utter the same ‘ahhhh’ of satisfaction when they slipped into a piping hot onsen after a frigid day’s hiking, and to savour the same delicious ryokan meals that started and ended each of our days.
While we fell in love, we realized that the hike isn’t easy to arrange without help. The lack of signage, the difficulty in booking your own accommodation, and the scarcity of information can make it difficult to plan your own hike.
But, with the aid of this detailed two week Kumano Kodo Iseji Route itinerary, the Kumano Kodo Iseji navigator site, and resources such as AirBnB and Japanese Guest Houses, it’s totally possible for you to check the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route off your Japanese bucket list.
The Ultimate Two Week Kumano Kodo Iseji Itinerary
What follows is a combination of the itinerary we were provided by the Mie Prefecture Tourism Board, the notes that were taken by Following the Arrows, and our own experiences hiking the trail.
While it’s perfectly possible to finish the hike in as few as seven days, we’ve designed this two-week Iseji Kumano Kodo itinerary to be an experience that is equal parts challenging and relaxing.
What good is there getting off the beaten path if you’re too exhausted to appreciate it?
Day 0: Getting to Ise
Distance: 0 kilometers. There’s no walking today!
Highlights: The ryokan experience.
As we’re going to need an early start on day one of our pilgrimage, you’re going to want to be in Ise at least the night before.
The easiest way to get to Ise is to take a train from a hub city such as Nagoya, which lies just ninety minutes away on a fast train.
We spent our first night at the lovely Hinode Ryokan (details above). Not only is this one walking distance from both the train station and the Geku portion of Ise Grand Shrine, but it also has lovely onsen facilities and does a fantastic breakfast.
It’s also walking distance to a number of great local restaurants, so be sure to treat yourself to a hearty meal ahead of your first day’s hike!
Day 1: Ise to Tamaru
Distance: 23 kilometers (or 13.5 kilometers without Futami Okitama Shrine)
Highlights: Sunrise at Futami Beach, Futami Okitama Shrine, Ise Grand Shrine, and shopping on Okage Yokocho.
Sunrise at Futami Beach
It’s a bright and early start for our first day on the Iseji Kumano Kodo, as we’re setting out to see the sunrise over Futami Beach.
Traditionally, pilgrims would start their long journey south by washing away their past misdeeds in the doubtlessly chilly waters of the Ise Bay, but we won’t be doing anything quite that drastic.
Instead, we’re going to grab a taxi out to Futami Beach and the neighbouring shrine. This is likely to be a $40 – $50 USD taxi ride, so you may wish to book accommodation close to the beach (Cho Ko En or Nishoken look decent at a glance) or take the train from Iseshi Station to Futamino-Ura Station, which will set you back around $2 USD.
If you time this right, you’ll get to witness a spectacular sunrise setting fire to the ocean and creating a startling silhouette behind the famous Meoto Iwa (wedded rocks) of Futami Okitama Shrine.
Futami Okitama Shrine
Once you’ve snapped your photos and soaked in the ambiance of the rising sun, you’re going to walk to the nearby Futamiokitama Shrine. You’ve doubtless seen plenty of it from afar during the sunrise, but this really is one of the most charming little shrines you’re going to encounter along the way.
The shrine is home to a number of figurines of frogs, who are seen as auspicious ahead of the long journey south to the Kumano Sanzan. While the shrine is dedicated to Toyoukehime, the goddess of food, many couples come here to pray for happy marriages. Pilgrims would also come here to pray for rebirth along the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route.
A particular highlight of this shrine, aside from its seaside location, is the famous Meoto Iwa (wedded rocks). A pair of rocks surrounded by churning ocean and ‘wedded’ by shimenawa rope, they not only symbolize marriage in the Shinto faith but are also representative of the marriage of Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess responsible for creating the Japanese islands.
How to Pray at a Shinto Shrine
As this may be your first visit to a traditional Shinto shrine, it’s important to know the proper way to pay your respects. The rules are pretty simple:
- When passing through a Torii gate, it is traditional to pause and bow.
- Walk on either the left or the right of the path. The centre is reserved for the gods.
- All shrines will have a place where you can wash your hands ahead of praying. To do this, take a dipper with your right hand and collect some water. Tip a little onto first your left hand and then your right. Finally, pour a little into your left hand and lift it to your mouth as if to drink.What water is left in your ladle should be emptied by lifting it upright so that it drains down the handle.
- Upon approaching a shrine, it is traditional to toss your monetary donation into the box.
- Bow twice, clap twice, and then bow once.
- As you exit the shrine, be sure to turn back towards the shrine and bow as you pass under the Torii gate.
There are variations on this practice, but the above ought to put you in good stead for your shrine visits. You can read a more comprehensive guide to praying at Shinto shrines here.
Ise Jingu Naiku
Once you’re done paying your respects at Futami Okitama, you have a decision to make. Do you want to start your day with a 9.5 km walk or take it easy by taking a taxi or the train to Ise Jingu Naiku?
We took the taxi, but the two-hour walk ought to be a good way to wake yourself up and work up an appetite for breakfast. If you time it right, you’ll arrive at Ise Jingu Naiku at around 9 am.
Regardless of how you approach Naiku Shrine, prepare to be amazed by the sheer scale and grandeur of one of Japan’s holiest sites. Home to more than 125 shrines, Ise Jingu is a twin shrine made up of the Naiku (Inner) and Geku (Outer) Shrines. It is visited by more than 7 million people every year, but its size means that it only really feels crowded on major holidays.
You’ll cross underneath the main Torii and then walk across a bridge which offers a stunning view of the river and the forested banks. It’s in the chill waters of the river that you’ll wash your hands and mouth ahead of praying, making for a different experience to Futami Okitama.
You’ll then continue on to the main shrine, which is dedicated to Amaterasu O-Mikami, the Sun Goddess. Here, you’ll make your monetary offering and pray.
All told, you can pay your respects in as little as half an hour, but you might wish to take your time as you stroll through the peaceful gardens that surround the shrines.
Breakfast on Okage Yokocho
Located just outside the entrance to Ise Jingu Naiku, the bustling shopping street of Okage Yokocho is a great place to grab a late breakfast or do a little souvenir shopping.
Designed to recreate the bustling little market that would have existed around the shrine during the Edo and Meiji periods, Okage Yokocho is a little window into a time when as much as 25% of Japan’s population visited the shrine each year.
While some if its stores tend to be a little touristy for my liking, the traditional architecture and the delicious food offerings along the road are worth a visit.
We especially enjoyed the sweet akafuku mochi and the flavourful croquettes from the 100-year-old Butasute butchery. For some more foodie inspiration, check out Dig Japan’s guide to what to eat in Ise.
Ise Jingu Geku
Our next stop is a relatively short 5 km walk away, as we’ll trade the Inner Shrine for the Outer Shrine. This isn’t an especially inspiring walk, as you’ll mostly be walking along the side of busy roads and down quiet side streets.
If you’re collecting teku teku (read more about them in the Ultimate Kumano Kodo Iseji Guide), you’ll find your first two along the way: one in a tourist information centre and one at a quiet little shrine where you might want to stop and pray.
The Geku (Outer) shrine is dedicated to Toyouke-no-O-mikami, who served as a kind of assistant to Amaterasu O-mikami, who is interred at the Naiku shrine.
As you did at the Naiku Shrine, you’ll pay your respects in the traditional way before continuing on your way.
Lunch: Ise Udon
You may be feeling a little peckish after your day’s walking and praying, so it’s not a bad time to stop and try one of Ise’s most famous culinary exports: Ise Udon.
There’s a great little udon joint not far from the entrance to Geku Shrine. While their site isn’t in English, they have a picture menu and everything we tried was exquisite.
Onwards to Tamaru!
The last 8.5 km of your day isn’t particularly scenic, but you’re now walking in the footsteps of countless thousands who carried their lives on their backs on the long walk towards Kumano Hayatama Taisha.
The road to Tamaru is mostly along the road and there isn’t much to show you that you’re treading an ancient pilgrimage, but it’s a great opportunity for you to reflect on your day and contemplate the fact you’ve tackled the first 1/17th of your long walk.
Overnight in Tamaru or Ise
As Tamaru and Ise are easy to travel between on a local train, you might wish to return to your accommodation in Ise tonight. This not only saves you having to lug your bag with you on a long day of visiting shrines, but also means you don’t need to try and find a place to stay in less popular Tamaru.
We opted to spend a second night in Hinode Ryokan, as it’s a long day to be hauling bags around, and Hinode has an amazing onsen that you’re going to want a second night with.
Day 2: Tamaru to Tochihara
Distance: 16 kilometers
Accommodation: Okajimaya Ryokan
Highlights: Tamaru Castle, Meki-Toge Pass, and dinner at Hinakaya.
It’s another early start today, as we’ve got a long day of walking ahead of us. The highlight? The very first toge (mountain pass) that lies along our path to Hayatama Taisha.
The good news is that today is a relatively easy day of walking, with just the one small mountain in between us and the sleepy little town of Odai.
Tamaru Castle (Optional)
Situated on the road between Tamaru Station and the Kumano Kodo Iseji route, Tamaru Castle is worth a look if you’ve got some time and want to soak in a bit of Edo history.
While the castle itself is little more than foundations atop a hill on the outskirts of the town, it does afford you a great view of the route you’ll be walking later in the day.
The lack of English signage makes it a bit difficult to appreciate the site’s history, but we were lucky enough to have a local guide who explained that the castle’s short life was the result of a thieving accountant who burned it down to cover his tracks.
Don’t worry, he got what he deserved.
The first real walking of the day takes us out of Tamaru and along a highway as it cuts through a tapestry of gold and green fields. The walk isn’t particularly spectacular, but it’s easy walking and you’ll soon begin to make your way up towards Meki-Toge pass for your first real ‘challenge’ of the trek.
I say ‘challenge’ because Meki-toge really is a pussycat when it comes to toge. Making its way through some pretty dense forest, the path and wagon trails seem to be perennially shady and cool as you make your way up.
Near the top, you’ll be faced with two options for completing your passage. You can make your way up to the scenic viewpoint for a better view of what lies ahead, or you can make your way through the cut-away pass where 1,000+ slabs of granite were carved away to make way for wagons and pilgrims.
(If you want to see both, it’s quite easy to head to the cut-away pass and then backtrack to make your way to the viewpoint)
Making your way down off Meki-toge is like passing into another world. The busy roads and urban sprawl that were your backdrop for the first two days give way to tea fields, rice paddies, and sleepy little villages. It’s a pretty spectacular transition.
Onwards to Odai!
The walk from Meki-Toge to Odai is a relatively easy one, and it’s made all the easier by the more serene environments we’ll be making our way through.
You’ll wander along the banks of the Miyagawa River, pass through idyllic little farm towns, pay your respects at the gorgeous Yanagiharakannonsenpuku Shrine, and even pass by the famous Gensaka sake distillery. While this distillery doesn’t conduct tours, you might want to duck in and grab a bottle of their sake. It’s amazing.
You’ll eventually finish in the nondescript little town of Odai, where you’ll overnight in an especially homey ryokan whose chatty owner puts together delicious meals. He’s also a font of knowledge when it comes to the Kumano Kodo Iseji, so don’t be shy about putting his (admittedly limited) English to the test!
Dinner at Hinagaya (Optional)
If you have a little extra cash and want to try something really spectacular, I can’t recommend Hinagaya highly enough.
One of the most famous restaurants in Mie Prefecture, this gorgeous little restaurant does traditional kaiseki cuisine that is likely to be the best thing you eat while you’re in Japan.
Without a word of hyperbole, I can say our meal at Hinagaya was far and away the best meal we had in our five weeks in Japan. It’s really that good.
It’s also expensive, so you may wish to avail yourself of your ryokan’s dinner instead.
Day 3: Tochihara to Misedani
Distance: 12 kilometers.
Accommodation: Guest House Mate Mate
Highlights: Deer burgers at Road Station Okuise. Optional SUP on Oku Ise.
Today is a considerably shorter and easier day than the previous two, but it’s a good opportunity to snatch a little extra sleep and let your legs get a little rest.
Not only does today not feature any toge, but you’ll actually have finished your walking by early afternoon. This gives you a great chance to relax, explore Misedani, or (as we did) try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding out on the gorgeous Oku Ise Dam.
Tochihara to Misedani
Today’s walking is some of the easiest you’ll do on the Kumano Kodo Iseji route, as you’ll be mostly walking along the side of the road and through quiet little towns.
It makes for a pretty day’s walking, and we remember it as one of the more pleasant days we had on the road. On a sunny day, these sleepy towns make for great photographs. The locals are all too happy to step out and wish you good morning as you go too.
Deer Burgers at Road Station Okuise
Road stations like the one at Okuise are a vital part of rural life in Mie Prefecture. Acting as tourist information centres, supermarkets, gas stations, and restaurants all at once – these bustling little community hubs are a common sight along the Kumano Kodo Iseji route and a great place to get a cheap meal.
Most road stations offer the standard Japanese cuisine: udon, ramen, miso soup, tonkatsu, curries etc. Okuise, however, is famous for its deer burgers on locally made green tea buns. They’re definitely worth stopping in for!
SUP on Oku Ise Dam (Optional)
If you’re not really keen to finish your day after lunch, the nearby Miyagawa River presents one of the most gorgeous SUP experiences you’re ever likely to have. Running from March to November, Verde offers SUP Tours that are a great way to take a break from the road and see a different side of Japan.
People don’t often associate SUP with rural Japan, but we absolutely loved our private afternoon exploration of the river. We may have been absolutely terrified of falling into the water on a 10C day, but damned if it wasn’t absolutely breathtaking.
Day 4: Misedani to Isekashiwazaki
Distance: 14.5 kilometers.
Accommodation: Kiseisou Ryokan.
Highlights: Takihara-jinja Shrine, Misesaka-Toge Pass, Takihara-no-miya Shrine, and Aso Hot Springs.
When I look back on my experience hiking the Kumano Kodo Iseji, this day might actually have been my favourite. Not necessarily because it’s the most visually spectacular or physically challenging, but because it was the first day Richelle and I were completely on our own and able to set our own pace.
While we were grateful to have the Mie Prefecture arranging our trip for us, it was definitely a nice experience to escape our minders for a day, carry our own packs, and just experience the Kumano Kodo Iseji as it was intended.
Your day will see you pass through a gorgeous toge, pay your respects at the sister shrine to Ise Jingu, and get naked with a bunch of old people. What’s not to love?
Setting off after breakfast, it’s a relatively short and peaceful walk to the unassuming Takihara-jinja Shrine. While it lies a little off the official Kumano Kodo Iseji route, this quaint little shrine is nestled in the woods on the edge of the Miyagawa River and was once serviced by a nearby ford that made it possible to cross the river.
Mythology states that a local man helped the goddess, Yamatohime cross the Miyagawa River here in years past, and has since been enshrined here. A small shrine here is also worth a look.
A slightly harder ascent than Meki-toge on day two, Misesaka-Toge is nonetheless a very achievable walk through some wonderfully undeveloped forest. Richelle and I were enchanted by the towering trees, the ratatat of woodpeckers, and the delicious cool of a forest after rain.
While the October typhoons had definitely knocked some trees down and carved a few precarious precipices into the path, it was a fun and only slightly challenging climb.
One of Japan’s most holy sites and a sister to the Ise Grand Shrine where we started our adventure, Takiharagu Shrine (more commonly known as just Takikara Shrine) undoubtedly shares a lot of similarities with the Naiku Shrine in particular.
Here, you’ll again wash your hands in the river before making your way through some unspoiled forest to the shrine to pay your respects.
If you thought Ise Jingu was quiet, you’ll be delighted by how utterly serene and silent Takihara Shrine feels.
A nearby road station is a good place to grab a quick curry or udon for lunch.
Aso Hot Springs
The remainder of your day’s walking is not especially interesting, as you’re back on the side of the highway or walking through some pretty dull towns.
To break up the monotony, it might be worth paying a visit to the Aso Hot Springs.
Located inside a former school, this is a very traditional onsen experience. Expect to see lots of naked old people who are not at all shy about letting it all hang out.
Still, there’s something surreal about soaking in an onsen and then having a cup of tea in what is clearly a former classroom.
From here, it’s a short walk to our accommodation for the evening!
Day 5: Isekashiwazaki to Kiinagashima
Distance: 18 kilometers.
Accommodation: Hotel Tokinoza.
Highlights: Nisaka-toge or Tsuzurato-toge.
Today is a big day of walking and one we had to do in the pouring rain and bitter cold. We were also stupid enough to tackle both of the toges on the route, but a sane person would just do the one.
Tsuzurato-toge is the original route that Kumano Kodo Iseji pilgrims would have taken, and it’s also the first World Heritage-listed pass you’ll encounter on your long walk to the Kumano Sanzan.
With that being said, the more modern (400 years old) Nisaka-toge is also World Heritage Listed, so it’s really about whether you want a tough hike or an easy downhill today.
As we were stupid enough to hike both, I can tell you all about both!
Considered to be one of the more difficult toge on the Kumano Kodo Iseji route, Tsuzurato-toge is also one of the most spectacular. Offering pilgrims their first view of the distant Kumano Sea, it marked an important landmark on the often perilous journey south.
For this reason alone, I think Tsuzurato-toge is a must see. Capturing that view at sunset after a long, wet, frigid day almost made our bleeding feet worth it.
There’s a steep ascent, a breathtaking view at the top, and a slippery descent down ancient stone paving. While the climb up will only take you about half an hour, the descent can take an hour, especially if recent rain has turned the downhill into a slide.
Arguably the easiest toge on the entire route, Nisaka-toge is all downhill. You literally start at its highest point and then make your way down to its completion.
A small detour does allow you to take in a view of the Kumano Sea, but it’s not quite as rewarding as the view from atop Tsuzurato-toge.
Still, if your legs are tired or if you’re collecting the all-important teku teku, the Nisaka-toge route boasts two teku-teku. Tsuzurato-toge, for all of its challenges, has just one.
A Note on Accommodation
Our accommodation for this particular night was the gorgeous, but not entirely affordable Tokinoza Hotel. Not only is this one probably not ideal for pilgrims on a budget, it’s also not on the Kumano Kodo Iseji route.
While we loved the combination of western luxury and ryokan style accommodation, I’m not sure I’d recommend this one unless you could arrange your own transfers to and from the hotel from the Kumano Kodo Iseji route.
Day 6: Kiinagashima to Aiga
Distance: 20 kilimeters.
Accommodation: Camp Inn Miyama
Uo-machi Fishing Village
It’s a leisurely morning of exploration today, as you’ll pay a visit to the fishing village of Uo-machi to learn more about how locals live.
A fishing town might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn more about the village and see how it has adapted to life after fishing. While fishing is undoubtedly still the primary industry, tourism is something the locals are embracing with enthusiasm.
There are English language maps available to help you form your own walking tour, or you can just pass through and soak in the ambiance (and that distinctive fishy smell) on your way to the first of four toges for the day.
A treble of toge to start your day, all three combine into one long but not especially challenging walk.
You’ll pass over three relatively low toges in three hours, with the latter two offering some pretty lovely views of the Kumano Sea and black pebble beaches.
Ikkoku-toge barely feels like a toge at all, as you basically pass through a local construction site before completing the short walk to the town of Furusato.
We actually overnighted at Minoshima in Furusato, which was a nice experience, but a bit unnecessary given how short the day’s walking was.
Hirakata-Miura toge makes for more challenging and more picturesque hiking, with some great viewpoints along the way and the cute Wakamiya Shrine at its conclusion.
The last pass of the day is a bit of a ‘choose your own adventure’ toge, as you’ve got the choice between the Edo or Meiji routes once you’ve reached the top of the pass.
Both are similarly difficult, with the Edo Route boasting some pretty lovely views of the Kumano Sea as the trade-off for the extra time it takes. We took the Edo route ourselves and found it to be a really pleasant walk.
Day 7: Aiga to Owase
Distance: 12.5 kilometers.
Accommodation: Hotel Viora
Highlights: Magose-toge, Binshiyama, and the Kumano Kodo Center.
Today is a day that can be either relatively relaxing or one of the tougher days hiking you’ll endure. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is the hardest day on the entire Kumano Kodo Iseji route if you opt to include Binshiyama.
Without this towering mountain, however, it’s a relatively peaceful day that finishes with you exploring the comprehensive Kumano Kodo Center to learn more about the route’s history.
A remarkably pleasant mountain pass, Magose-toge boasts some of the most well-preserved and visually stunning stone paths you’ll find on the Kumano Kodo Iseji route.
While the city of Owase is one of Japan’s rainiest cities, the cunningly wrought stone path somehow manages to avoid the worst of erosion by acting as a stunning waterfall on rainy days.
A number of intriguing landmarks lay along the path, including an impressive stone bridge and a monument to the poet, Karyoen Toitsu.
If you’re a sucker for punishment or just want to take a stunning photo atop Zou No Se (the elephant’s back), you can opt to veer to the right atop Magose-toge and make the long (two hour) trek to the top of Mt. Binshi.
I’m not going to mince words here, this is the hardest climb you’ll come across on the Kumano Kodo Iseji. All of the guidebooks will tell you how tough Yakiyama is, but it felt like a walk in the park after the seemingly endless uphill of Binshi-yama.
With that being said, the view from atop the Elephant’s Back is totally worth the pain you’re going to feel in your legs.
If you fancy a little extra hiking without putting yourself through the experience of climbing Binshiyama, the relatively easy ascent to Tengura-san is just thirty minutes from the top of Magose-toge and affords similarly spectacular views of the ocean and the surrounding land.
While we didn’t make this side trek, I’ve heard its quite lovely.
The Kumano Kodo Center
Regardless of how you choose to fill your day, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to the brand new Kumano Kodo Center at the end of your day’s hiking.
While much of the signage is only in Japanese, a free audio guide makes it possible for you to learn all about the Kumano Kodo Iseji route as well as the many historic sites that lie along its length.
An attached restaurant and onsen are also a good way to wrap up your long day on the road.
Day 8: Owase to Kata
Distance: 15 kilometers.
Accommodation: Mikiura Guesthouse (Also on Airbnb)
Highlights: Yakiyama (Mt. Yaki) and Miki-Hago-toge.
If you didn’t tackle Binshiyama (and I wouldn’t judge you for skipping it), then today is going to be your toughest day on the road. If you did head to the Elephant’s Back, however, you’ll find today a comparatively tolerable day of hiking.
Historically, Yakiyama marked the most treacherous portion of the Kumano Kodo Iseji route. A towering mountain whose stone paths seem to wind through a persistent twilight due to the dense forest, many pilgrims met an unfortunate end at the hands of wolves, bandits, and treacherous footing on this daunting obstacle.
Thankfully for modern hikers, Yakiyama is now a long but very achievable morning’s hiking. Taking 4-5 hours to cross completely, Yakiyama is also one of the most visually stunning portions of the route.
From crumbling temples to moss-shrouded gravestones to sun-dappled clearings, Yakiyama is sure to be a highlight of your hike.
After the thrill of making it over Yakiyama, Miki-Hago-toge might feel like a bit of a letdown. Still, its distinctive stone walls and the viewpoint atop Miki-toge are highlights.
Miki-toge is one of two passes I tackled on my own due to Richelle’s injury. It’s arguably the shortest toge of the entire hike, while Hago-toge is a slightly more substantial hike. Even combined, they’ll feel like a nice cooldown after Yakiyama.
Day 9: REST DAY
Distance: 0 kilometers.
Accommodation: Mikiura Guesthouse.
Highlights: Scuba diving, water sports, and relaxing!
After two tough days of hiking, I’ve suggested taking today as a rest day.
Mikiura Guesthouse, which was hands down our favourite ryokan from our trip to Japan, is a gorgeous little private house from which you can venture out for snorkeling, scuba diving, or hiking to what the owner dubbed ‘the Machu Pichu of Japan’.
While this last claim may be hubris, I can’t think of a better way to unwind after eight straight days of hiking than with a soak in the cedar tub of this lovely B&B.
Day 10: Kata to Kumano
Distance: 18.6 kilometers.
Accommodation: Hotel Nami
Highlights: Sone-jirozaka-tarozaka-toge, Nigishima-Okamizaka-toge, Hadasu-no-michi-toge, Obuki-toge, and Kannon-michie-toge.
Today is your last big day of hiking and its jam-packed with toge. After Yakiyama, this is considered the second hardest day of hiking on the entire Kumano Kodo Iseji route.
It’s certainly the longest day distance wise, and you’ll definitely feel the burn in your calves after crossing seven toges in the course of a single day.
The longest pass after Yakiyama, this daunting treble of toges is certainly a tough way to start your day. Poor Richelle, dealing with a sprained ankle, had a torrid time on this long stretch of stone path and an ominous number of graves.
Still, if you’ve survived Yakiyama (and possibly Binshiyama), this will be a tough, but totally achievable hike.
The second and final pass that I had to tackle on my own, the double-barrel Nigishima-toge and Okamizaka-toge is a moss covered, fairly long pair of toges that shouldn’t prove too challenging.
It’s undoubtedly a pretty stretch, but in a day over-full with mountain passes and forest trails, it tends to blend in with the others.
More path than actual mountain pass, Hadasu-no-michi has the honour of being home to the oldest stretch of path on the entire Kumano Kodo Iseji route.
It might seem unassuming as you walk along quiet village streets and even duck through people’s backyards, but the few hundred feet of stone path on this particular toge date back to the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), making them substantially older than the Edo & Meiji era paths that are predominant on the route.
Part one of a tiring two-part journey that also takes in Kannon-michi-toge, Obuki-toge is one of the more forgettable stretches of mountain pass you’re going to encounter.
While it possesses beautiful stone paths and remarkably well-preserved stone walls, it’s not something you haven’t seen before on the hike.
The real highlight? A surprisingly grueling off-road slog that sees you abandon the stone paths for a virtual goat track that connects this toge to the impressive Kannon-michi toge.
Once you’ve survived the occasionally torturous uphill climb through the undergrowth from Obuki-toge, you’ll arrive on Kannon-michi-toge. This is one of the more distinct toge on the Kumano Kodo Iseji, as it has great significance to the Kannon faith. Lined with 33 Kannon statues and sporting an impressive ruined temple, it is definitely worth the effort to reach.
In years gone by, people would choose Kannon-michi or Obuki-toge, and you’re perfectly welcome to do this yourself. My pick? Try Kannon-michi-toge.
If you’re a completionist or you’re collecting teku teku, you’ll need to tackle both.
Day 11: REST DAY
Distance: 0 kilometers.
Accommodation: Kumano Club.
Highlights: Scenic boat tour, outdoor activities, Tori-toge, or just relax!
After another hard day of hiking, this is a good chance to put your feet up and explore Kumano City.
Hugging the coast as it does, this city is a great place to check out the local flavour.
Our own experience in the area saw us hiking Tori-toge, taking a scenic boat ride out on the Pacific Ocean, and visiting a number of local attractions such as the Onigajyo Centre and the Kinan Tour Design Centre.
If you’re feeling like you need a little pampering, I’d recommend the lavish Kumano Club Resort. Not only does it have great food and a huge onsen, it can also arrange day trips to Tori-toge and the impressive Sagiri-no-sato rice terraces.
Day 12: Kumano to Kiho Town
Distance: 17 kilometers.
Accommodation: Hana Asobi Homestay.
Highlights: Matsumoto-toge, Onigajyo, Lion’s Head Rock, Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine, and the Hama-kaido Route.
Rise and shine, hikers! It’s our final toge day!
Just one relatively easy toge lies between you and the flat of the Hama-kaido Route. We’re on the home stretch!
After tackling scenic Matsumoto-toge after breakfast, you’ll wander along the black pebble beach of Hama-Kaido for the rest of the day. A number of impressive monuments and attractions lie along the path, so it’s a fun day.
It’s also our penultimate day of hiking!
One of the most popular passes on the entire Kumano Kodo Iseji, Matsumoto-toge is an easy and pretty morning hike. It’s especially so during the spring, when cherry blossoms colour the entire area like fragrant snow.
One of my most enduring memories from the trek was listening to our guide sing a traditional folk song atop the pass. As you take in the view, its a bittersweet feeling to know you’ve nearly reached your goal.
Translated as “The Monster’s Castle”, Onigajyo is a distinctive rock formation that is well worth the detour to experience.
While the official route instead follows the highway (for God knows what reason), this is a far more scenic option that brings you right out onto the long stretch of beach that marks the home stretch of the Kumano Kodo Iseji route.
Lion’s Head Rock (Shishiiwa)
One of the most beloved images from Mie Prefecture, Lion’s Head Rock certainly does have a leonine aspect from the right angle.
From other angles, it looks suspiciously like Donald Trump.
No need to take a detour here, as your route sees you walk right by the iconic rock formation.
One of the holiest sites in Mie Prefecture, Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine (the Cave of Flowers) is a visually distinctive shrine best known for the long rope that trails from an impressive cliff down to the road that runs by the shrine.
The oldest shrine in all of Japan, it is said that the creator goddess of Japan was buried along with her son, the God of Fire after they perished in childbirth.
It’s not hard to get swept up in Japan’s rich religious and mythological history as you stand at the foot of the 45-meter high cliff and pay your respects.
We’ll finish our last true day of hiking with a long slog along the black pebble beaches of Hama-Kaido. With the last of the mountain passes behind us, we’ll alternate between the beach and the roadside.
To be honest, it’s a less than spectacular way to finish your trek, but as the distance from Kumano Hayatama Taisha diminishes into single digits, you’ll not care how uninspiring the city is.
Day 13: Kiho Town to Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Distance: 4.5 kilometers.
Highlights: Hayatama Taisha.
You’re almost there! It’s just a short walk to your ultimate goal, Kumano Hayatama Taisha.
I won’t lie and say it’s an especially scenic hike, as you’re again alternating between busy streets and quaint village roads.
But when the bridge from Mie Prefecture to Wakayama Prefecture comes into view, you’ll be hard-pressed not to give a cry of excitement.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Once you’re across the bridge and into Wakayama Prefecture, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to Hayatama Taisha.
Once you pass under those bright Torii gates and round one last corner, you’re officially done!
Take your time to pay your respects and soak in the fact you’ve just achieved something pretty spectacular.
You can then choose to overnight nearby (I’d recommend returning to Hana Asobi or finding a hotel in the city) or take the afternoon train back to Nagoya or Ise.
Catching Hongu Taisha and/or Nachi Taisha
There’s also the option to extend your trip by heading to the other two Kumano Sanzan sites.
While you might not feel up to hiking all the way there today (or even the next day), you can always take a cab or make use of public transport to complete the trio.
Day 14: REST DAY
This day isn’t necessarily a day to rest at the end of your trip, but a ‘floating day’ you can inject into your itinerary should inclement weather, an injury, or general bone-tiredness interfere in your careful planning.
By budgeting this extra day + your two rest days, you’ll be prepared for any minor disasters that might interfere with your adventures.
Planning Your Kumano Kodo Iseji Trek
Are you planning to tackle the Kumano Kodo Iseji route yourself? Adventures Around Asia wrote the Ultimate Guide to the Kumano Kodo Iseji to help you get started!
Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have about the route, ryokans along the way, or anything else.
If you’re looking for a seven day Kumano Kodo Iseji itinerary, you can check out Following the Arrows’ itinerary.