Japan Travelogue Part 4: Kumano Kodo

Part 4 of several! See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5.

A special, quieter part of my trip was the Kumano Kodo, a set of ancient pilgrimage routes in the Kii Hantō peninsula south of Kyoto/Osaka. Travel required a local train from Osaka and buses. Known for three major destination shrines, the region offers wonderful hiking between mountain villages through dense forests of Japanese cypress. It was also a unique way to see cherry blossoms blanketing the side of a hill instead of lining a city canal.

Cool ferns and Japanese cypress

My first two nights were in Yunomine Onsen, a beautiful village bursting with hot springs. One tub was set up with extra-hot water where foods like eggs and sweet potatoes can be immersed and cooked. To be honest it wasn’t the best soft-boil I’ve had (not hot enough?), but it’s a novelty thing (and supposedly the minerals are good for you).

These look like living things, but they’re mineral deposits from high-quality hot spring water.

I had my first onsen experience here, which became a habit while I was in Japan. The water’s too hot for me to stay in for long, but it seems encouraged to get out, rinse off again with cool water at the seated bathing station, and go back in. Kind of like the ol’ roll-in-the-snow during a winter hot tub session!

Otorii at Kumano Hongū Taisha

The Kumano Hongū Taisha shrine has the largest torii gate in the world at 34 meters (111 feet) tall and 42 meters (139 feet) wide. It’s an incredible sight set amidst a river delta, forested mountains, and a rather unassuming town. I hiked up from the shrine for a distant view of this enormous object.

Go up! for this view of Otorii, the world’s largest torii gate.

Kumano Nachi Taisha was the other major shrine I visited. This was the end of a strenuous hike: 14km/8.7mi, 1260m/4130ft up, 930m/3050ft down! It was a spectacular complex of buildings overlooking the ocean and accompanied by Nachi Falls, Japan’s largest single-drop waterfall.

Nachi no Taki waterfall seen through a stone ornament of Kumano Nachi Taisha
850-year-old Sacred Camphor Tree at Kumano Nachi Taisha

I spent my last night in Katsuura, a fishing town on the west coast of the peninsula. My hotel room had tiny windows with minimal natural light, but supplemented this with a digital window! That was a first.

Katsuura also boasts one of the largest fish markets in Japan, to be detailed in a later post. After a ferry and interacting with terribly confused and polite proprietors, I found myself basically alone in a giant island hotel complex complete with an onsen in a cave overlooking the ocean.

Light was not my friend here, but you gotta see the ocean waves from the outer hot spring pool.

While it’s certainly still a tourist destination, Kumano Kodo was a great way to escape the hustle/bustle of most cities I visited, and it scratched my itch to hike wherever I go. Thanks to Jason for the tip and itinerary!