The Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage trails linking the former capitals of Kyoto and Nara to three sacred sites in the mountainous, rugged and exceptionally scenic Kii Peninsula:
- Kumano Sanzan – made up of three grand shrines: Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha in the Kumano area.
- Koyasan – Mt Koya is the birthplace of the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism under Kobo Daishi (Kukai).
- Yoshino & Omine – Mt Omine and it’s mountain-top temple Ominesan-ji are considered holy sites of the Shugendo sect of Buddhism and a training ground for these mountain Buddhists. Surprisingly, still today, women are banned from climbing Mt Omine.
In 2004, these three sacred sites and the pilgrimage routes that connect them were given Unesco World Heritage Status under the title, “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”
These sacred sites and the connecting trails “reflect the fusion of Shinto, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism, which was introduced from China and the Korean Peninsula. The sites (495.3 ha) and their surrounding forest landscape reflect a persistent and extraordinarily well-documented tradition of sacred mountains over 1,200 years.” – Unesco site
The ancient pilgrimage trails connecting these 3 sacred sites are:
- Nakahechi – Traditionally, once pilgrims from Kyoto and western Japan reached Tanabe on the west coast of the Kii Peninsula, they would join the Nakahechi route and travel east to Hongu Taisha, then travel by boat down the Kumano river to Hayatama Taisha and then walk west to Nachi Taisha, thus visiting the three grand shrines of Kumano, otherwise known as the Kumano Sanzan.
- Kohechi – the shortest route linking Hongu and Koyasan, the Kohechi is a 70km north-south mountainous trail traversing 3 peaks over 1,000m.
- Choishimichi – this 24km trail from the base to the top of Mt Koya was built by Kobo Daishi and is called ‘Choishimichi’ after the stone markers (choishi) placed at intervals along the trail. This trail is also included in the World Heritage listing.
- Omine Okugake – considered the hardest of the pilgrimage trails, this trail links Hongu with Yoshino and was used as a training ground by Shugendo monks.
- Iseji – a 170km trail linking Ise Shrine in Mie prefecture with Hayatama Shrine and the Kumano Sanzan in Wakayama prefecture.
- Ohechi – a 130km coastal trail linking Tanabe with Nachi.
Follow me as I walk the Nakahechi, Kohechi, Choishimichi, Nyoninmichi, Iseji and Ohechi routes.
A huge thanks to Brad and the team at the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau for all of their help and terrific website.