The Kumano Kodo is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that cross several of Japans prefectures. These sacred trails connect many temples and shrines. Today these routes are still in use as they have been for centuries.
Wakayama prefecture is an easy accessible area from Osaka. We started from Osaka and travelled south by bus and train. Mount Koya (Koya-san) is a famous location to start or end one of several Buddhist pilgrimages. The Kumano Kodo is only one of many pilgrimage routes starting here.
These sacred trails connect many temples and shrines. You can still hike these routes as they have been for centuries by the Japanese. Visiting mount Koya gives you the opportunity to spend a night at a Buddhist temple and witness Buddhist temple rituals as well.
If you travel in the Wakayama prefecture I recommend to visit the following site's:
- Koya san (Mount Koya)
- • Shojoshin-in temple
- • Okunoin cemetery
- • Danjo Garan temple complex
- • Kongobuji temple
- Ryujin Onsen (hot spring)
- Hongu village
- • Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine
- • Kumano Kodo (several trails)
- Shingu village
- • Hayatama Taisha shrine
- Katsuura city
- • Nachi waterfalls
- • Nachi Taisha shrine
After arriving at Kansai airport we set out for Osaka. Since we arrived late in Japan we mist the last train going to mount Koya-san. So the next morning we caught the train departing from Namba Station, Osaka. The Nankai Electric Railway takes you in a view hours to the base of mount Koya. A steep cable car transports you the remaining part up to the Koya-san mountain. On top of the mountain several bus services can take you to your final destination in our case the Shojoshin-in Temple.
We had booked a room well in advance for the night at the Shojoshin-in Temple. This Buddhist temple has simple rooms in traditional Japanese style to accommodate travellers. The stay includes a vegetarian dinner. In the morning we enjoyed a breakfast that is served after all guests participated in the Buddhist morning ceremony. We were lucky to be in the tourist low season and could enjoy our vegetarian meals privately in one of the large rooms of the temple.
Shojoshin-in Temple KoyaSan
Shojoshin-in Temple bedroom with futon
The temple is adjacent to the Okunoin cemetery. This cemetery has some impressive cypresses that must be centuries old. They add to the mysterious atmosphere that this place breathes. Many graves are very old but Okunoin is an active cemetery where still new graves are build. At the end of the cemetery you can find the Toro-do the lantern hall. I think this hall has been the inspiration for the Japanese building in opening dream of the movie Inception.
A mausoleum at the Okunoin cemetery on Mount Koya
At the center of the town is the Kongobu-ji the head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism,the temple has a very large garden the Banryutei rock garden.
Banryutei rock garden at the Kongobu-ji temple
After staying one night in Koyasan we took a bus from the Ryujin company to Ryujin Onsen (hot spring). It took several hours driving in the mountains to get there with this comfortable bus service. This is a good opportunity to see Japans mountain landscape.
At Ryujin Onsen we checked in at the Kamigoten Ryokan.
After a nice hot dip in the famous Onsen (just 1 minute walk from the guesthouse) we got back to the traditional tatami room to find the diner already being served. The owner explained all the dishes and brought additional warm dishes. From the window we could see a forest covered mountain and hear the river below rushing deep down in the gorge. This location makes you truly feel close to nature.
Traditional Japanese diner at the Kamigoten Ryokan
The next day we took the same bus service to get to the village of Hongu. There we checked in at the newly build Blue Sky Guesthouse that i highly recommend. Hongu is a good location to explore several parts of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. From here it is convenient to take a bus to a start point of a section and hike back to the village of Hongu. Hongu has a modern information center that can provide you with all information needed.
Hongu is also home to Japans tallest Torii made of concrete. But it is most famous for the UNESCO world heritage site of the Kumano Hongu Taisha Shinto temple.
Our visit coincided with the aftermath of a typhoon so it rained heavily during my Hongu visit and I was not able to make all planned hikes on the Kumano Kodo trail. The trail can be muddy and narrow and occasionally run alongside steep drops.
We did however manage to do some hikes and I recommend to visit the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Museum designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winning architects SANAA that is on one of the Kumano Kodo routes.
Kumanokodo Nakahechi Museum by Pritzker Architecture Prize winning architects SANAA. The typhoon blew all the leaves of the trees.
Katsuura & Shingu:
The village of Katsuura is a good spot from which to visit the famous Nachi Falls. The trail leading to the waterfall is one of te most photo genetic parts of the Kumano Kodo trail. Its stone pathway leading up the mountain is surrounded with massive old cypresses. The waterfall itself is surrounded by many Shinto and Buddhist temples. You can also find lots of (very touristy) shops and restaurants there to fresh up.
Kumano Kodo Cypresses lined pilgrim route going up to the waterfall
Katsuura Nashi waterfall
The Waterfall and the Kumano Kodo trail near Katsuura only took half a day. With time left we decided to visit the city Shingu its just a short bus ride. There you can visit the Hayatama Taisha shrine a large Shinto complex.
Shingu Shinto Hayatama Taisha shrine
Katsuura coastal view
Katsuura itself is a small fishing village you can take a boat trip along the coastline which is fun. Other then that there is not much to do so we left Katsuura after we stayed one night in a simple business hotel. We took the direct train to Osaka.