||Kii Peninsula, Japan
||Hotel, Mountain Hut, Small Inn
||6 - 10
May 9, 2021 - May 22, 2021
|Single Supp Cost
Hiking Trip Summary
Extending out into the Pacific Ocean just south of Osaka and Kyoto, the southern mountainous region of the Kii Peninsula was once referred to as Kumano and regarded as a mystical “holy ground where gods dwell.” A region of spiritual and cultural significance, it was here at Gotobiki Rock that the three “spirits of nature”, or kami, were thought to have alighted from heaven to reside on earth. And, it was here that Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan and descendent of Amaterasu the sun goddess, is thought to have been guided through the mountains by the mythical three-legged crow of the Kumano on his quest to unite the country.
Over the centuries, the three Grand Shires of Hongu-Taisha, Hayatama-Taisha, and Nachi-Taisha were constructed to honor each of the kami and the Kumano faith evolved as an embracing of both a Shinto reverence for the sacred in nature and the arrival of Buddhist teaching. Imperial pilgrimages to the three grand shires, known collectively as the Kumano Sanzan, began in the 11th century. Starting in the ancient city of Kyoto, these journeys would often take 30 – 40 days and require an entourage of up to 800 people.
While the popularity and accessibly of these pilgrimage routes have ebbed and flowed throughout the ages, today the Kumano Kodo (Kodo meaning “old ways”) is recognized as one of only two UNESCO World Heritage-listed pilgrimage routes.
During this 14-day journey, beginning in Osaka and ending in Kyoto, we’ll experience the historical, cultural and spiritual significance of the Kii Peninsula as we follow the old imperial ways to the sacred sites of the Kumano region.
From Osaka, we’ll travel south to Mount Koya, the home of the Shingon (Pure Word) Sect of Esoteric Buddhism. After spending the night in one of the 117 temples in the area, we head south deeper into the Kii Mountains where we’ll hike the Nakahechi, one of the Kumano Kodo routes to the Three Grand Shrines. Heading north again, we’ll hike the famous Osugidani Valley canyon to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Odaigahara Plateau. After visiting the village of Yoshino home to the Kimpusenji Temple, we’ll head out of the mountains to the ancient capital city of Nara, stopping en route to hike along historic Yamanobe-no-Michi. Our journey will end with a day spent in the cosmopolitan and truly fascinating city of Kyoto.
Along the way, we’ll immerse of selves in the Japanese way of travel, staying in old-world traditional Japanese inns called ryokan, bathing in hot spring onsens, and perfecting our chopstick skills as we enjoy classic Japanese cuisine. Join us for an unforgettable journey through this remote and mystical corner Japan!
Day 1: Arrive Osaka
Rendezvous at our hotel in Central Osaka: Trip orientation. Welcome dinner.
Day 2: Osaka to Mount Koya
Following breakfast, we’ll travel south by train and funicular to Mount Koya, the home of the Shingon (Pure Word) Sect of Esoteric Buddhism. Founded in 816AD by Kobo Daishi, there are 117 temples on Mount Koya today. Kobo Daishi is believed to sit in eternal meditation here at the Okunoin Inner Sanctuary. After lunch, we’ll have a short hike along the Nyonindo, a route through the woods surrounding the temple area. We’ll spend the night in one of the 54 shukubo temples which accept lodgers.
Day 3: Mount Koya and Ryujin Onsen
We will rise early this morning to participate in a sutra recital ceremony conducted daily, primarily in memory of ancestors and previous generations of priests. After breakfast (all food in the temples here are vegetarian – shojin ryori), we’ll have a guided walk of the most important sites on Mount Koya, including the cemetery with its huge cedar trees and 200,000 or so stone memorials. In the afternoon we’ll travel south by road deeper into the Kii Mountains via the Ryujin Skyline. Our destination is Ryujin Onsen and our family-run ryokan for the night. We’ll have the opportunity to experience their delightful, natural hot spring baths.
Day 4: Ryujin Onsen to Yunomine Onsen
After breakfast, we travel to the start of the Nakahechi pilgrimage route, one of the ancient imperial routes to the Kumano Sanzen. After visiting the information center and small shop at Takejiri, we’ll continue the short distance by road to the start of our hike at Takahara Kumano Jinja Shrine. The trail today is through dense forest, following ridges and valleys, past small wayside shrines to the village of Chikatsuyu, from where we go by road to our family-run lodgings in Yunomine Onsen. Famous for its hot springs, the use of Yunomine Onsen, as a spot for purification rituals before continuing to the Hongu Taisha, is thought to date back 1,000 years. The hot springs here actually merge into the stream which runs through the village nestled in a narrow valley.
Day 5: Hosshinmon-Oji to Yunomine via Hongu
In the morning, we’ll rejoin the Nakahechi trail at Hosshinmon-Oji, one of the five major Oji, or smaller shires, along the route. It once marked the outermost boundary of Hongu Taisha scared precinct and was called “the gate of awaking of aspiration to enlightenment.”
Today our destination is Hongu Taisha, or Grand Shrine, the first of the three Kumano Sanzen. Our route takes us through isolated mountain settlements and dense cedar forests, occasionally along old flagstone ways, with short stretches of quiet road here and there. After visiting the shire and Heritage Center, we’ll hike over a low mountain, with a rather steep climb to the Dainichigoe Pass, and back to our lodging in Yunomine.
Day 6: Ukegawa to Koguchi
The hike today continues along the pilgrimage route from Ukegawa, near Hongu, to Koguchi. Our lodging here is a renovated schoolhouse. With an aging population and rural depopulation, schools in rural areas have been closing in recent times. Some, like this one at Koguchi, have been successfully repurposed. The tatami mat bedrooms are converted classrooms! Simple, but typically clean and tidy accommodation.
Day 7: Koguchi to Nachi Katsuura
A short road transfer to Nachi, via Hayatama Taisha, the second Grand Shrine we’ll visit, to Nachi Taisha and Nachi-san, the third. The hike to the wonderfully sited Nachi Taisha starts up steep flagstone steps. From the top, we’ll continue to ascend Myohozan to the temple at the top. On clear days there are views over the Pacific Ocean from here.
Day 8: Nachi Katsuura to Osugidani
Transfer by road to the start of our 2-day hike at the Osugidani trailhead. The off-road trail follows a gorge, with occasional small suspension bridges and narrower sections with chains, ascending past a series of beautiful waterfalls to our mountain lodge for the night. The forests here, unlike the cedar forests which predominate in Kumano, and mainly mixed forest.
For those who feel they’d rather not tackle this more challenging hike through the Osugidani Gorge, there is the option to visit and spend a night at nearby Ise Grand Shrine, the most important Shinto shire in Japan.
Day 9: Osugidani to Yoshinoyama The trail ascends steeply through deep forest further along the Osugidani Gorge as its heads for the highest point (about 5,000’) on the Odaigahara Plateau, in a UNESCO protected biosphere reserve. This is a demanding hike for stronger walkers. From the top, we’ll travel by road to our ryokan in the village of Yoshinoyama.
Day 10: Yoshinoyama to Sakurai
A morning walk from Priest Saigyo’s hut down along a quiet road along the ridge Yoshino is situated on to the imposing Kinpusenji, the head temple of the Shugendo Sect of ascetic mountain priests. An important trail, originally used by monks, starts from here and travels south into the mountains towards Kumano. Lunch featuring local Yoshino kuzu noodles. Travel to Asuka village in the afternoon where we’ll visit a couple of the many important historical sites dotted around the location where the first court and capital in Japan were established in the period 583-710AD.
Day 11: Sakurai to Nara
Today we’ll hike the Yamanobe-no-Michi trail (literally ‘the road along the foot of the mountains’ from important Omiwa Shrine to Isonokami Jingu Shrine. The trail is along prepared paths and quiet lanes through hamlets and persimmon orchards. From the end of the route, we’ll travel the short distance to Nara by road.
Day 12: Nara to Kyoto
Today we’ll be joined by a local guide, an expert in the history and culture of Nara. A full day exploring Nara, including visits to the Kasuga Taisha Shinto shrine, Nara Park, the great Todaiji Temple, and the old town. You’ll also enjoy a Japanese tea ceremony hosted by women in graceful kimonos. To Kyoto by train
in the afternoon.
Day 13: Kyoto
A full day exploring Kyoto, including the Ginkakuji Silver Pavilion and garden, the Philosophers Walk, and perhaps the Nishiki Koji indoor market and bustling shopping center, before our celebration farewell
Day 14: Depart - Onward travel
The tour ends after breakfast. Members will transfer for their flights home, or stay in Kyoto or continue their journey in Japan.
- All accommodations
- All meals
- All group transfers from start to end of the tour as described in the itinerary, by private vehicle or train
- Luggage transfers
- Entries and activities as specified in the itinerary
- Great hiking and happy memories!
Airfare, optional/individual transfers or excursions, items not on set dinner menu, beverages, insurance, tips to guides/leaders, items of personal nature (phone calls, laundry, excess baggage charge, passport fees, etc.).
The trip is vehicle supported. Each day, our luggage will be transported ahead to our night's accommodation. This means you will only need to carry a daypack with those items you will need during the day’s hike. Each day, our luggage will be transported ahead to our night's accommodation, with the exception of Day 8 when we will be staying in a mountain hut. We suggest a 30-liter pack or one large enough for those additional items you will need for our night in the hut. We ask that each participant bring one medium size piece of luggage, preferably with wheels. Japanese inns tend to have narrow corridors and steps rather than elevators, so bear this in mind.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FACILITIES
We plan to offer an interesting range of accommodations including hotels, a temple, ryokan, and inns. Some of our accommodations may be western-style others will be more traditional ryokans. When possible, we will stay in ryokans or accommodations with Japanese-style rooms. These rooms are usually spacious and double occupancy with woven tatami mat floors, low tables and futon beds with warm comforters. Most will have toilet facilities in the room, others will have them on the floor. Some hotels and ryokan may have baths or showers in the room, but most will have an onsen or ofuro (Japanese style bath). Most hotels and ryokans will provide yukata, simple cotton robes, used to wear to the onsen and to meals as well. Meals at the ryokans may be served at low tables with seating on the pillows on the floor. Slippers are provided at the entrance for use everywhere, except for in tatami rooms.
Rooms are basically twin occupancy unless a single is requested. Single rooms cannot always be guaranteed in temples and ryokan, but we will endeavor to secure these where possible.
Meals: The Japanese diet is very different from ours. Most meals, including traditional Japanese breakfasts, consist of rice, miso soup, tofu, fish and an amazing array of small dishes of pickled vegetables, and vegetables in broth. Sashimi, raw fish, or sushi may be served as well as other meat dishes. Western-style breakfasts may be available at some of our accommodations. Delicious Japanese food is definitely a highlight of this tour. Brush up your chopstick skills! We will also eat in rooms with tatami mats and low tables, again traditional in Japan
Osaka’s Kansai International Airport is most convenient to the start and end of the trip. It is also possible to fly in and out of Tokyo, you need only allow for additional travel time.
WHO WOULD LIKE THIS TRIP?
This trip is as much a cultural experience as it is a hiking and walking trip. It would be a fabulous experience for any fit, active traveler, but especially so for experienced hikers who have hiked in other parts of the world but have yet to travel to Japan. While the hiking routes may not feel as remote or landscapes as expansive as those in the Rockies or European Alps, the cultural aspect adds an intriguing and captivating dimension. Very basic things, like eating and sleeping, can be quite different in Japan. Breakfast might look very much like dinner, and getting up and down off a futon can be an interesting new exercise. The Japanese are generally extremely polite and respectful. Certain social etiquettes require more mindful attention and others, such as bathing at hot springs, less inhibition. An openness and willingness to try new things is an essential and rewarding part of this journey.
The group will meet at about 6:00 pm on Day 1 at our hotel in central Osaka.
The trip will end after breakfast at the hotel in Kyoto on the last day of the trip, Day 14. Rail transfer to Kansai International Airport from Kyoto is easy and direct, taking about 70 minutes. Access is more or less directly from the train platform into the airport.
WHAT MAKES THIS TRIP DIFFERENT
Many things! The tour is designed to give you great hiking experiences as well as insights into Japanese history and culture. The itinerary focuses on imperial pilgrimages, with visits to many of the most important sacred sites in the Kii Peninsula. The other destinations we’ll visit - Yoshino, Asuka, Nara, and Kyoto, are all significant in gaining a good understanding of pilgrimage routes in this part of Japan and how Japanese culture developed in the Yamato area around Asuka, Nara, and Kyoto. We’ll gain insights into Japanese culture other visitors rarely have. Highly experienced guides, carefully chosen lodgings, some with onsen - wonderful natural hot spring baths, delicious Japanese food, all contribute to making this tour really special.
Please contact us for a more detailed itinerary, for more information, or to register.
Reserving This Trip
A deposit of $500 along with your completed registration forms will reserve a space on your requested trip. We accept
MasterCard, Visa, and American Express card as well as personal checks. To make a deposit, you may either follow one
of the “Reserve a Trip” links below, give us a call at 1-888-845-5781, or include your payment information in the
area provided when completing your registration forms.
The balance is due 75 days prior to departure for most of our trips. When applying less than 75 days prior to
departure, full payment is due. For final payments, we accept MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, as well as
As confirmation of receipt of your deposit, we will send you a comprehensive packet of information
pertaining to your trip, an invoice for final payment and additional information including release agreement form,
medical information form, travel information, and packing list. Upon receipt of final payment and no later than 30 days prior to your trip start, you will receive trip
rendezvous information and a list of accommodations. Returning trip participants will receive a 5% discount on most
Receipt of all forms will finalize your registration.