Blending Nature and History on the Ancient Kumano-kodo Pilgrimage Trail

Blending Nature and History on the Ancient Kumano-kodo Pilgrimage Trail

The Kumano-kodo trail is a sacred pilgrimage route and an official World Heritage Site. This extensive network of trails has been in use for over 1,000 years and offers numerous hiking options for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. For visitors who are looking for an active day in the natural beauty of Mie, the Sacred Kumano-kodo Trail Running and Cycling experience is a perfect choice. This full-day tour starts on an e-bike at 9:00 AM and finishes at 4:30 PM when the participants are taken back to their guesthouse. The experience is available year-round and each season provides a unique adventure for a cost of ¥10,000 per person. The price includes the e-bike rental and a lunch box of locally-sourced food to enjoy at the top of a mountain pass.

Written by Vern Begg
About the Author:
I believe travel is an opportunity to feed your soul and I will never stop exploring our amazing planet. Originally from Canada, I now live in Osaka with my family and have learned that Japan is an incredible place for discovering new experiences.

Caption: Ready to make our way to theTsuzurato-toge Pass with Nakamura-san.

I was excited to get going on the day of this experience. I had read about the Kumano-kodo trail and knew it would be a great chance to do some outdoor activities and learn more about this ancient pilgrimage route. This section of the trail is on the route from Ise Jingu to Kumano Sanzan, a set of three Grand Shrines in the southeastern part of the Kii Mountain Range.

To start the day, I jumped on an E-bike at my guesthouse and headed to Nishiki port. From there I finished the rest of the 20 km ride to Kii-Nagashima. Riding the bike through the winding streets of the small coastal town was perfect way to see this part of Japan from a new perspective. For me, cycling in Japan is one of the best ways to get around and see new places.

Caption: Cycling from my guesthouse to Kii-Nagashima was a great start to the day.

The E-bike was easy to ride and the electric assist allowed me to relax and feel the fresh seaside air on my face. After we arrived at Kii-Nagashima, I dropped off my bike and we moved to the mountain. My anticipation for our hiking started to grow as we entered the beautiful countryside.

This is a full-day tour experience that starts at 9:00 am and has a duration of 5.5 hours (1.5 hours of cycling and 4 hours of trail running). The price per person is ¥10,000, which includes the E-bike rental, a lunch box and a route map.

The Sacred Kumano-kodo Trail Running and Cyclingexperience is available in all seasons, so you can choose the time of year andweather that best suits you. The day I chose was perfect with a temperature of28C, a blue sky and no wind. After the cycling trip, I was ready to take on themountains and head over the Tsuzurato-toge Pass and Nisaka-toge Pass with myguides, Nakamura-san and Taka-san.

Caption: My guides smiling at the trailhead.

As we started our trek, I felt the welcome sense of wonder that always comes when I am about to experience something for the first time. This wasn’t my first hike in Japan, but the historical significance of the Kumano-kodo was not lost on me.

Before we started into the woods,Nakamura-san gave me an overview of the trail and its significance in Japanese history. Taka-san followed this up with some extra information in English andsome explanations for me to read about the specifics of the passes. With the introductions and history taken care of, we made our way along a mountain stream.

Caption: Nakamura-san leading the way to the Tsuzurato-toge Pass.

As we started, a sense of calm enveloped usand the only sounds were our footfalls and the murmur of the rushing water inthe river beside us. The air was fresh and clean as I felt the anticipation of making the ascent that lay ahead of us.

When we reached the trailhead of the firstpass, we quickly started moving up the mountain. As with most Japanese trails,steps were built into the steeper sections to help you choose your path. The right side of the path dropped away into the forest of tall thin trees.

Caption: The tall, straight trees seem togo on forever as you look out into the forest from the trail.

The start of the trail was steep and I hadto focus to avoid a misstep. The pass’ name comes from the Japanese word formany turns and it is aptly named. We rarely walked straight ahead for more thanten meters and I would often lose sight of Nakamura-san and find him waiting around the next corner on the ascent. This was also due to the thick ferns andother plant life covering the mountainside.

Caption: The steps built into the trail helped us find our footing.

One of the best parts of travel is theopportunity to see native creatures for the first time in their natural habitat. I love seeing animals by chance in the wild and Japan has an incredible array of animals, insects and birds that you can come across if you are in the right place at the right time.

Of course,I am always careful to respect their space and avoid approaching them. On this hike, we were lucky to see a snake at the base of a tree a few meters from thetrail and some tiny toads hopping among the twigs and leaves on the forest floor.

In one of the sections of the trail where the ground had given away, there was a man-made walkway. These additions to thetrail are so well done that they feel like part of the mountain. It's this extra care that makes trails like these passes accessible to all levels of hikers. Always well built and reliable, these elements add to the experience and feeling of safety on the trail.

Caption: A beautiful footbridge on a narrow section of the trail.

I love the feeling of being deep in a forest on the side of a mountain. When I look up and think about the age of the trees and all the people who have followed this path over the past 1000+ years,it is humbling. On this hike, there were so many beautiful spots that made mestop and just soak in the experience.

Caption: Looking up in awe at the beauty of the forest.

When we reached the top of the first pass,there was a weathered sign showing information in Japanese and you could just imagine all of the storms that sturdy old sign had with stood over the years. It wasn't a particularly hotday, but I had worked up a good sweat. Once at the top, I was glad to drop my pack, drink some cold water and towel off.

Caption: The top of the pass is marked with this weathered old sign.

For me, there are few things in life thatfeel as good as reaching the top of a trail and enjoying the view. It was a spectacular day when I reached the top of the Tsuzurato-toge Pass and the view was amazing. There was also the warm feeling of camaraderie that you share withyour group upon reaching a goal together.

Caption: My guides enjoying the moment after we reached the top of the pass.

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