Kumano Kodo Tips: Helpful hints for walking the trail

Local guide Mike shares some pointers based on commonly-asked questions.

Mike guide photo

Kumano Kodo Tip #1: Dealing with garbage

“Mike, what do we do with our trash?”

I get this question a lot, either at the Tanabe Tourist Information Center or on the trail when I guide.

Visitors chow down on their boxed lunches at the station before they ride the bus and look about for a place to toss their garbage, but they can’t seem to find one anywhere.

Many people comment on how clean Japan is, how the streets (in most areas) seem to have minimal litter and how fastidious Japanese are at sweeping up or washing down the areas in front of their shops. But in reality, you will find very few public trash cans in Japan.

So what do you do with the trash that you accumulate on your trip?

The prevailing idea here is that people take their own garbage home or back to the office, without dumping it in a space used by everyone. It’s about taking personal responsibility not to create an inconvenience for others, an important Japanese value.

Certainly, you have seen the TV footage of Japanese fans at the World Cup or international venues picking up garbage (and not just theirs) after the event. Kids at Japanese schools even have “cleaning time” where they must wipe or sweep or sometimes even run a cloth across the floor. Though it may seem odd or inconvenient, it’s simply a cultural difference.

So when you visit the Kumano area, keep the hiker’s mantra of “pack in, pack out” close to heart. You are a guest here, and it goes a long way that you demonstrate good manners, or at least try your best to respect Japanese attitudes about personal trash while you are here. 

You may notice bins for plastic (PET) bottles and cans next to vending machines along the way, but keep in mind they are NOT for your lunch garbage. Keep your garbage in its plastic bag and take it back with you! Until you reach your next accommodation, you are responsible for whatever you walk out of the store with.

We all appreciate your effort in helping to keep this World Heritage environment and the communities that support it litter-free. Thanks!


Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes (World Heritage)

Kumano Kodo Overview
Kumano Grand Shrines
Oji Shrines
Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes
Kumano Kodo Name Variations

Kumano Kodo Tips: Helpful hints & pointers for walking the trail

Kumano Kodo Overview

kumano_kodo_map.gifFor over 1000 years people from all levels of society, including retired emperors and aristocrats, have made the arduous pilgrimage to Kumano. These pilgrims used a network of routes, now called the Kumano Kodo, which stretched across the mountainous Kii Peninsula.

The walk itself was an integral part of the pilgrimage process as they undertook rigorous religious rites of worship and purification. Walking the ancient Kumano Kodo is a fantastic way to experience the unique cultural landscape of Kumano's spiritual countryside.

In July 2004, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes were registered as UNESCO World Heritage as part of the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range" property.

Kumano Pilgrimage History >>
Kumano Kodo Audio Guide >>
Kumano Kodo Etiquette >>
Kumano Kodo Route Maps >>
Kumano Kodo Accommodation Reservations >>

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Kumano Grand Shrines

The focus of the Kumano pilgrimage is to worship at the three Grand Shrines of Kumano. As a set they are referred to as the Kumano Sanzan: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha.

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Oji Shrines

Hosshinmon-oji-2.jpgA distinctive characteristic of the Kumano Kodo are Oji, subsidiary shrines of the Kumano deity, which line the route. These were important sites of religious rites and offerings and are still essential elements of the Kumano pilgrimage.
more Oji Shrines >>

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Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes

Nakahechi | The Imperial Route to Kumano

nakahechi.jpgThe Nakahechi pilgrimage route starts from Tanabe on the western coast of the Kii Peninsula and traverses east into the mountains towards the Kumano grand shrines. It is the most popular route for pilgrims from western Japan. Starting in the 10th century, the Nakahechi route was extensively used by the imperial family on pilgrimage from Kyoto. This trail has traditional lodgings in isolated villages along the way and is excellent for multi-day walks.
more Nakahechi Route >>

Kohechi | The Mountainous Route to Kumano

Kumano-Kodo-Kohechi.jpgThe Kohechi route cuts through the center of the Kii Peninsula from north to south, linking the Buddhist temple complex of Koyasan and the Kumano Sanzan. It is characterized by steep trails that cross over three passes of over 1000 meters elevation along its 70 km length. The Kohechi is an isolated walk on its northern sections and hikers should be well prepared when attempting it.
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Ohechi | The Coastal Route to Kumano

Kumano-Kodo-Ohechi.jpgThe pilgrimage route runs south from Tanabe along the coast to Fudarakusan-ji Temple. The views from the well preserved passes offer expansive scenic vistas over the Pacific Ocean. During the Edo period (1603-1868), this route was used for both worship and sightseeing, and the beautiful landscape attracted many writers and artists.

Iseji | The Eastern Route to Kumano

Kumano-Kodo-Iseji.jpgThe Iseji route runs along the east coast of the Kii Peninsula between Ise-jingu Shrine and the Kumano Sanzan. The use of this trail rose dramatically in the Edo period (1603-1868) with the increasing number of pilgrims to the Ise-jingu Shrine. After paying homage in Ise, devotees would continue on the Iseji route to Kumano. To prevent erosion from heavy rains, extensive sections were paved with picturesque cobblestones. This route has a diversity of mountain passes, bamboo forests, terraced rice fields, and beaches.

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Kumano Kodo Name Variations

There are many variations and translations of the name "Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes". The following is a list of some of them.

  • Kumanokodo
  • Kumanokodou
  • Kumanokodoh
  • Kumano-kodo
  • Kumano Kodou
  • Kumano Kodoh
  • Kumano ancient road
  • Ancient road of Kumano
  • Kumano old road
  • Old road of Kumano
  • Kumano ancient path
  • Ancient path of Kumano
  • Kumano ancient trail
  • Ancient trail of Kumano
  • Kumano Sankeimichi
  • Kumano michi
  • Kumano Kodo ancient ways
  • Kumano Kaido

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