In Japan, mountains and spirits go hand in hand. A land formed by seismic activity and shaped by millennia of spirituality, it’s no surprise that Japan’s craggy mountains are some of the country’s most sacred sites.
The Kumano Kodo, an ancient network of pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range just south of Osaka, has been traversed by ancient worshippers long before we arrived in our sunblock and Gore-Tex. For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have wended their way up mossy paths to Kumano Sanzan, or ‘the three grand shrines,’ offering prayers at smaller, homespun shrines, called oji, along the way.
The Kumano Kodo saw its heyday in feudal Japan, when imperial clans considered the pilgrimage an important religious duty. Today, following in these royal, ancient footsteps, you’ll discover timeworn oji nestled among the steep, dewy slopes, as well as amulets protecting the oldest and largest trees. We’re willing to wager you’ll be hushed into wonder by the pervading serenity of the forest.
Takijiri-oji, the starting point of the trek, is considered one of the five major oji along the route. Here, the Tonda and Ishiburi rivers converge, and devout pilgrims performed water purification rites to prepare for their journey. According to myth, one of these rivers separates the realm of the living from the realm of the dead. As you begin your trek, make sure you don’t let this myth haunt you as much as the surrounding beauty of the Kii Mountains.
At about the halfway point, the restorative powers of the hot springs at Yunomine village soothed the aching muscles of feudal pilgrims. Considered some of the oldest hot springs in Japan, these mineral waters are still flowing today. Steam rises from a canal running alongside the main street, and a little warren of family inns and public baths are happy to offer today’s weary travelers a soak.
Of course, this seems only natural. If it suited the needs of royal courtiers for centuries, it’ll probably suit our needs too.
If you’d like to learn about our locally guided tour of the Kumano Kodo, check out the tour on our website. . Or, if you’d prefer to plan a customized trek through Japan, contact one of our expert travel specialists to find out more.