Kumano Kodo Iseji connects two of Japan’s most important sacred sites, Ise Grand Shrine and Kumano Sanzan

Kumano Kodo – The Best Pilgrimage Destination in Japan!

The relatively unexplored mountains of the Kii Peninsula, located in central Japan, are home to three sacred sites: Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan, and Yoshino-Omine. These three sites have nurtured a variety of beliefs, including Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous belief which originated from a reverence for nature; Buddhism, introduced from China yet culturally reshaped in Japan, and Shugendo, which is a synthesis of both. In July 2004, these sites, the pilgrimage routes connecting them, and the cultural landscape formed over time by nature and human activity, were recognized by UNESCO as

What is the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage?

The Kumano Sanzan, located deep in the south of the Kii Peninsula, has long been revered as a sacred place where the gods live and where the spirits of the dead gather to be reborn. It was believed that by overcoming the harsh path and making a pilgrimage to Kumano, a place of rebirth in the midst of nature, one could entrust the happiness of the next life to the gods. This is the Kumano Pilgrimage.

The Story of Kumano Kodo

Kumano Sanzan is the collective name for Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha. The Kumano Kodo Ise-ji is a pilgrimage route that crosses a number of steep mountain passes from Ise Jingu, a place sacred to the Japanese, to Kumano Sanzan. It was a long-desired walking route for anyone wishing to visit.

Why You Should Walk Iseji?

There are several routes known collectively as the Kumano Kodo, a walking prayer path for pilgrims to the Kumano Sanzan. For example, there are the Nakahechi, Kobechi, Ohechi, Kiiji, and Iseji. Of these, the Iseji is known as the most varied route due to its location between the sea and in the mountains. It is also unique in that it offers a glimpse into the lifestyles of people in rural fishing and farming villages.

The History of Kumano Kodo

The western route, the Kii Road, was the path of the nobility, which flourished from the mid-Heian to the Kamakura periods. In contrast, the eastern route, Ise-ji, which became popular from the Edo period onwards, was the path of the common people, followed by travellers who had finished their Ise pilgrimage and pilgrims who had toured the 33 sacred places in the western part of the country. Travellers changed into pilgrim attire at Tamaru, the starting point of the Ise route, and crossed a number of steep mountain passes on their way to Kumano, a place they had longed to visit.

Our Mission for the Area

Guidebooks of the time say that common pilgrims in the Edo period wore a red “oizuru” over a pure white pilgrim costume. By reviving the “oizuru”, we are doing our best to recreate the experience of the pilgrimage in the Edo period. The oizuru is made of local fabric, hand-sewn by local craftsmen, and hand-written by a local calligrapher. Heartland Japan is committed to passing on these local traditions to future generations throughout the world. Come join us on a journey to relive the pilgrimage of the Edo period!

Tour Application Information

Application deadline: September 26, 2022, 18:00(JST) 

  *Both landing from Europe, Oceania and North America

Fee: Please see itinerary pages above 

Tour Leader: Ted Taylor

Language of Guides: English

Tour operator: Heartland Japan (Liberta Inc.)

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Location of the Kumano Kodo Iseji

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Feedback from our customers

My husband and I had an incredible week on a private tour in May. From the booking process to the end of the tour, we cannot recommend this trip highly enough.
Being lucky enough to have private tours of soy sauce factories, sake producers, blacksmiths and being able to meet with the owners, executives and their families enabled us to have incredibly informative discussions an gave us great insight and understanding into the effect of depopulation on rural Japan and the desire these passionate people have to revitalise their region.
Being greeted with a bunch of home grown flowers in the colours of the Japanese flag by the mother of our bright and breezy local guide Naoko before heading out on her grandfather’s fishing boat, followed by abalone and other fish on an open fire shows the thoughtfulness and consideration of these beautiful locals. The food was incredible, the passion and gentleness of the people, their willingness to share their time and culture, the tea ceremonies, the onsens, the temples, shrines, pagodas, camellia forest, kagura performance.
If you are looking for an “off the beaten track” experience with people who are real and passionate and who love their land, this trip is priceless.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any queries.

(Charmian Hayes/New Zealand/Apr,2019/Hagi&Tsuwano Waking Tour)

This is our fifth trip to Japan, previously having walked the Nakasendo and Kumano Kodo, gone snowshoeing in Nagano and gone from Tokyo to Hirado with a different tour company. We are so glad that this time, we booked a trip with Heartland Japan.

The whole experience can be described as a moveable feast. Every day brought a new experience, and showed us a different facet of Japan. Riding a fishing boat to catch the sunset, then riding with Naoko early in the morning to haul their catch for the day, feeling the force of nature at the Susa Hornfels, watching history unfold at the Samurai museum, walking in the footsteps of great, resolute men who shaped Japan in Hagi, tea degustation at Tsuwano, learning and making pottery with Seigan-sensei… it is impossible to choose a highlight. The whole trip was a joy from start to finish, and left us with some sadness that it had come to an end.

Kimura-san was an excellent guide- patient about my incessant questions, anticipating our needs and even arranging a surprise to celebrate our wedding anniversary at dinner.

Heartland Japan truly lives up to its aims of providing unique glimpses of Japan for its guests. We plan to travel with them in future!

(Jane Estrella/Australia/Dec,2019/Hagi&Tsuwano Waking Tour)

Photo Gallery of Kumano Kodo Iseji Pilgrimage Walking Tour

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