The Nakahechi pilgrimage route is the one that was used by emperors and nobles from the 10th century onwards, hence its name 'the Imperial Route'. This route is also the most popular route with foreign visitors and locals and best suited for self-guided trekking. The Nakahechi pilgrimage route starts from Kii-Tanabe on the western coast of the Kii-Peninsula and works its way east across the mountains towards the Kumano grand shrines at Hongu and then Nachisan. This trail has traditional lodgings in small, isolated villages along the route and is a trail very well suited for self-guided trekking.
The traditional pilgrimage circuit began in Kyoto at Jonan-gu shrine. Modern day pilgrims begin in Kii-Tanabe city, from where they take a 40-minute bus ride to Takijiri-oji, the start point for the Nakahechi route that cuts deep into the heart of the mountains. Takijiri-oji to Tsugizakura-oji passes through the communities of Takahara and Chikatsuyu. From Tsugizakura-oji there are many ups and downs on the trail before arriving at the Kumano Hongu Taisha (grand shrine) in the village of Hongu.
Once you reach the village of Hongu and the Kumano Hongu Taisha you also have an option for a shorter walk, the Dainichi-goe route, that runs between Hongu and Yunomine Onsen, a hot spring village with 1800 years of history. Traditionally people made hot water ablution rites here, purifying themselves before visiting the Kumano Hongu shrine.
After paying tribute at Kumano Hongu Taisha, pilgrims travelled by boat down the Kumano-gawa river to Kumano Hayatama Taisha. A visit to Kumano Nachi Taisha completed the pilgrimage journey to the three grand shrines, The Kumano Sanzan. On the return journey to Kyoto, pilgrims either retraced their steps or took the mountainous Ogumotori-goe and Kogumotori-goe passes back to Hongu. In the 5 day itinerary below we have continued on from Kumano Hongu Taisha over the Ogumotori-goe and Kogumotori-goe passes to show a continuous walking route to Kumano Nachi Taisha.
How Long?: Allow 7 days in total, which will include 4-5 days of walking for full route, rest day and arrival & departure days. Our Team at RAW travel can adapt some of the walking days to suit your timeframe and ability so that the trip matches your desired length.
Total distance: 68km
Daily distances: Vary from 13-22km depending on overnight options chosen and number of days walked
Difficulty: Strenuous hiking, best suited to active walkers
Highest points: Along the Ogumatori-goe section (Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha), highest point 868m
Accommodation: Takahara, Chikatsuyu, Tsugizakura/Nonaka, Hongu area (Hongu village, Yunomine Onsen, Kawayu Onsen), Koguchi, Nachisan, Kii-Katsuura
Transport: In through Kii-Tanabe rail station, then local bus to Takijri-Oji. Out through bus from Kumano Nachi Taisha (Nachisan) to Kii-Katsuura and train from Kii-Katsuura to your onwards destination.
There is also a domestic airport in Shirahama (Nanki-Shirahama) for limited domestic connections within Japan. The nearest international airport is Kansai International located just outside of Osaka.
7-day walking itinerary example
Day 1: Arrive in Kii-Tanabe
Day 2: Walk Takijiri-oji to Tsugizakura-oji (18km)
Day 3: Walk Tsugizakura-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha (21km)
Day 4: Rest Day in Hongu Area
Day 5: Walk Hongu Area to Koguchi (13km)
Day 6: Walk Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha (14.5km)
Day 7: Depart Kii-Katsuura
Once you reach the Hongu village and the Kumano Hongu Taisha you have the option of catching a bus or taking a traditional boat ride down the Kumano-gawa river to Shingu from where you continue by rail/bus to Kii-Katsuura and the Kumano Nachi Taisha (Nachisan) or your next destination.