Key information: Nakahechi Trail
- A network of old pilgrimage routes led to the Kumano Sanzan or Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, the spiritual heart of Japan.
- The Nakahechi Trail crosses the broken maze of the central Kii Peninsula to the great shrine at Hongu Taisha, then (not strictly the Nakahechi) winds on for two more days to the Nachi Taisha by Japan's highest waterfall.
- Fine forested landscape littered with evidence of an ancient, rich and indeed unique spiritual history. Stay in remote villages, steam in hot baths, and eat like a god.
- This can be tiring walking in a frequently wet area. Come prepared.
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest13
- Human interest18
- Negative points2
- Total rating90
- Length: 35km/2-3 days to Hongu -70km/5 days to Nachi
- Maximum Altitude: 863m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
The Kumano Kodo is a network of old pilgrimage routes on the Kii Peninsula, south of Kyoto and Osaka on Japan's largest island, Honshu, which lead to the Kumano Sanzan, the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, an area which, along with Koyasan to the north and Ise to the north-east, constitute the spiritual heart of Japan. See our Kumano Kodo page for detailed information on the Kumano Sanzan and the history of the pilgrimages here.
The Hongu Taisha is the northernmost of the three great Kumano shrines, a harmonious group of buildings perfect in its rich plainness. It stood for over 1,000 years on an island in the Kumano river valley and was subsequently rebuilt up the hillside. The base of the old shrine still sits quietly in its trees, by the largest torii gate in the world. Nachi Taisha lies south-east of Hongu, a shrine and busy complex on a steep slope near a spectacular 133m waterfall, the highest in Japan.
It is not just these great sites that were sacred, though: Kumano is a spiritual realm as well as a physical area. The routes are littered with oji (subsidiary shrines), statues, the remains of tea houses and other reminders of the routes' rich past. These were symbolic journeys through a sacred landscape. The pilgrim moved from the diamond realm of clear Buddha thought in the north to the womb realm of death and rebirth on Mt Myoho near Nachi, with purifications and other rituals on the way.
Most modern walkers follow the Nakahechi Trail from Takijiri-oji, across the broken maze of the Kii Peninsula's central mountains, for three days to Hongu Taisha, then continue on across two more days' worth of rough hills to Nachi Taisha, which is nowadays the most walked stretch (but often done in reverse). See William Mackesy's account of walking the Nakahechi Trail.
This is fine walking on numinous routes which are lined with oji, torii gates, stele inscribed with poems, the bases of teahouses evidence of the area's, and indeed Japan's, ancient, rich and indeed unique spiritual history. "Cultural landscape" indeed.
Most of your time will be in attractive, rugged forested landscape, although much of it is blanketed in planted conifers, which makes for limited variety and in the thicker areas almost a monoculture... but, most of the time, there are shrubs or low bamboo or ferns below, and in dappled sunlight or drifting mist it is very pretty. Every so often you pass into natural woodland of mixed trees and shrubs which make a welcome change.
A fascination of walking here is the view you get of rural Japan; rich remains of a tough but unique way of life are everywhere, even if the population is shrinking and rice terraces returning to forest. You will stay in remote villages and eat like gods, morning and evening (and like well provided humans at lunchtime).
SEE OUR KUMANO KODO PAGE FOR DETAILED INFORMATION ON THE KUMANO KODO AND ITS HISTORY AS WELL AS PRACTICAL INFORMATION AND MORE PHOTOS.
WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk
This is how the Nakahechi trail was for our group of 12 middle-agers in June 2015.
Day 1 - Koyasan
This is a slightly funny day’s walking, a steep clamber on the old womens’ route around the perimeter hills of one of Japan’s greatest Buddhist temple complexes, then a meander through its heart.
We begin with a big-hotel buffet breakfast, then potter to the central Osaka station for our train to Koyasan. An interesting rattle through endless Osaka suburbs then.....READ MORE
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