Walk part of the spiritual Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail and walk in the footsteps of thousands before you.
- Trip Outline
The ‘Kumano Kodo’ is a famous ancient pilgrimage path that connects the three Grand Shrines of Kumano (known as the Kumano Sanzen and designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites) to various parts of Japan. Stretching across the Southern Kii Peninsula, the Kumano Kodo consists of five main routes that start from Osaka, Wakayama, Koya, Yoshino and Ise respectively.
On this tour you’ll travel along the longest of the ancient Kumano paths. The Kumano Kodo Iseji Route connects Kumano Sanzen to Ise Grand Shrine (a complex that actually consists of 125 Shinto shrines as is often referred to as the ‘Soul of Japan’), which is said to be the most important shrine in Japan and home to the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami.
As you follow in the historic footsteps of pilgrims during your tour, you’ll have the opportunity to not only visit some of Japan’s most sacred sites, but also to experience the true beauty and natural heritage of the Japanese countryside. What’s more, this tour will also present plenty of opportunities for you to meet and interact with local residents, hearing their stories and getting hands-on with their culture.
Please note that this is Heartland JAPAN’s most physical and active tour, and may not be suitable for those without hiking experience or may have mobility issues. For more information, please get in touch.
- Take in a performance of Kagura, a traditional dance-based form of Shinto worship dating back over 1300 years
- Hike along the Kumano Kodo Iseji path, stopping to visit small towns and preserved locations as you walk
- Enjoy a special ceremonial performance of traditional Wadaiko Japanese drums at a Shinto shrine
- Travel by kayak for the opportunity to explore the countryside from a fresh new perspective
- Get hands-on with culture across the tour, with special opportunities such as a lesson in sushi-making and an ichigi cotton experience
- Explore the region by foot, boat and bus as you make memories that will last a lifetime
Your tour will start at Nagoya station with a chance to meet your guide and receive a quick briefing about your upcoming adventure. Travelling by train to Ise Station, you will then drop your luggage off at your accommodation before walking to Naiku, Ise Shrine’s “inner shrine”, to see the grounds and learn more about the shrine before watching a special performance of Kagura, a traditional dance-based form of worship dating back over 1300 years.
The group will then walk directly to nearby Oharaimachi for some time to explore the area before returning to your accommodation for dinner at a local restaurant.
The first full day of your trip will begin with you being driven to Futamigaura, passing through the ‘official’ starting point of the Iseji route, Tamaru. Here, you’ll be presented with the traditional white robes worn by pilgrims, which you can use throughout your tour. At Futamigaura, you’ll enjoy a walk through the town’s wooden inns and buildings as well as a stroll along the beach towards the well-known Meoto Iwa ‘Wedded’ Rocks.
The next stop of the morning will be a visit to the neighbouring Futami Okitama and Ryugu Shrines, after which you’ll be taken to the Tsuzurato Toge Trailhead, where the day’s hike will begin. This hike, which takes roughly three hours including a stop to enjoy a bento packed-lunch, will guide you past the preserved beauty of the region’s rural scenery and along a route once walked by ancient pilgrims as far as Kii-Nagashima, where the day’s hike will end.
The final activity of the day will be a leisurely stroll around Uomachi fishing village, a district of Kii-Nagashima. Here, you’ll have the chance to visit Nagashima Shrine, hear some folk tales about the famous ‘monster’ known as ‘Kappa’, and even watch a shadow theatre play before returning to your accommodation for dinner.
Today’s hike will begin at Magose Toge Trailhead, which you’ll reach via private bus. This time, your three hour hike will take you as far as the lovely town of Owase, where a guide will take you on a special ‘food walk’ to learn more about (and sample!) some delicious local delicacies.
Your food walk will be followed by a truly special and rare experience: the chance to attend and watch a special religious and ceremonial taiko drum performance at the nearby Owase shrine. The evening will be a leisurely one, with plenty of time to relax and make the most of your accommodation’s facilities both before and after dinner. Make sure to use this time to rest as much as possible, as there’s still plenty of adventure and excitement waiting ahead.
After breakfast on day four, the group will travel by private bus to Mikisato Beach. Here, you’ll be jumping into a waiting kayak in order to make your way to Kata Bay. Kayaking provides a unique and thrilling perspective from which to truly enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the Japanese landscape, so make sure to savour every moment before you eventually dock at the home of your new friend, Nishi-san.
At Nishi-san’s house you’ll have the chance to quickly shower and refresh before enjoying a delicious BBQ lunch, with plenty of time to relax, chat and ask any questions that you may have. Fully recuperated, the group will then make their way to Asuka shrine for the next visit of the day.
No pilgrimage is complete without some hiking, so you’ll then start along the Sone-jirozaka-tarozaka Toge pass to Nigishima, which should take around three hours. When you reach your destination, a private bus will be waiting to take you to your accommodation, where dinner will be served.
This morning’s hike will take you along the Matsumoto Toge to Hananoiwaya Shrine, and will take around two hours to complete. Upon reaching the shrine, the group will make a quick visit before stopping for some lunch and time to rest tired feet.
In the afternoon, you’ll visit an old, local house to enjoy a hands-on lesson on Ichigi Cotton, or a class in the art of Buddhist drawing, known as ‘shabutsu’. This slow, relaxed afternoon will then end with a sunset stroll along the UNESCO World Heritage Onigajo coastline near your accommodation before dinner.
Today you’ll hike along the Tori Toge Pass, passing through the rice fields that cloak the landscape of Maruyama-senmaida. Rice fields, and rice in general, have traditionally played an important role in the agricultural and culinary history of Japan, yet many visitors who stick to purely urban locations such as Tokyo won’t have an opportunity to actually see them. This is the authentic Japanese countryside at its best!
Transferring to Oroshian after your hike, you’ll be enjoying a hands-on experience once again in the form of a sushi-making lesson. Learn how to craft this iconic Japanese delicacy for yourself, then munch on your creations for lunch with your group.
The afternoon will provide another opportunity to explore rural Japan from a fresh perspective as you take to the waters on a Kumanogawa Sandanpo boat cruise.
Your final activity of the day will be a visit to the beautiful Hayatama Taisha Shrine (including an opportunity to try and learn about the art of ‘mandala’) before returning to your accommodation for some dinner and a well-earned rest.
The final hike of your tour will start at the nearby Daimonzaka Gate after breakfast (transfer by private bus), and take you to explore one of the best natural landmarks of the area, Nachi Falls. From there, your hike will lead you to Nachi Taisha Shrine and on to the final stop, the Seigantoji Buddhist Temple.
After a break for lunch, the group will then travel to Hongu by private bus in order to visit Hongu Taisha, the last shrine that you will visit on your tour and what is considered to be the “official” ending spot of the Iseji route.
The rest of the afternoon will be spent travelling, with a private bus ride from Hongu Taisha to Kii-tanabe Station followed by a train ride to Shin-Osaka. On the train, you’ll enjoy a special packed-lunch ‘bento’ dinner, in true Japanese style!
After one final breakfast on day eight, your adventure along the Kumano Kodo Iseji Trail will come to an end, and the group will disband. Wherever you go next, we hope you’ll take all of the memories of your adventure with you, and as always we’ll be waiting to welcome you back to Japan again someday!
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