Before moving to Japan, the one place in the world that I wanted to go to was India. I wanted to see the Taj Mahal. I was obsessed! I followed the Taj Mahal hashtag on Instagram. I spent hours looking at pictures. I envisioned myself in one of those pictures, and then one day I saw a group of travelers who were going there, and I jumped in on that trip. The Taj was as amazing as I had envisioned. It literally took my breath away. Now, you are probably wondering why this post is about the Kumano Kodō, yet, I am writing about the Taj Mahal, and the reason is that my Kumano Kodō experience was as magnificent as my Taj experience!
The difference between my Kumano Kodō experience and my Taj Mahal experience is that I expected the Taj to be amazing. On the other hand, I had no idea what to expect from the Kumano.
At one point in time, one of my hiking buddies said, “this is a spiritual experience,” and her words were exactly how I was feeling. I continue to struggle to find the words to explain WHY it felt like a spiritual experience. I think only those who are on the trail will understand why. I can go on and on about the beauty or the history of the trek, and I will share some pictures that will give you a glimpse of the beauty, but no pictures can do it justice. Once again, you have to be IN IT! I will also share a couple of links that will give you more background about the past pilgrimages that have taken place and the historical significance of the trail. However, I would love to use this time to write about our experience and to share some of the logistics of the trip, and I encourage ANYONE who loves an adventure, who loves physical activity, who loves a challenge, who loves Mother Nature, and who wants to experience Japan in the most incredible way to consider the pilgrimage too.
If you like to plan, then this is your trip. There was a lot of planning that went into this trip, and I am so grateful for friends who took the time to do the planning. There are various options; you can create your own pilgrimage. We chose to hike a 1/2 day (4 hours). Then we had 2 long hiking days (8 hours and 9 hours respectively.) Our fourth day was a boat trip, which I highly recommend. However, I know people who have hiked 4 full days. You can create a custom plan based on how many days you wish to be on the trail. Check out these sites as you begin your planning: https://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/kumano-kodo/?fbclid=IwAR2pW34IW1uZL0Lqr7PDZRA-1iXCp5YlNSp9pCKxn7Fr1P3TcTDNcumhXeA and https://www.kumano-travel.com/en?fbclid=IwAR2aP-FCtfNQTKmyNzFImc2ojsz_4lWcwulceH1lga1ZiPB8ioAgq3EyV28.
We left Okinawa in the late afternoon/early Sunday evening, and we flew to Osaka. We stayed in a hotel near the airport and near the train station, which we would be using Monday morning. On Monday, we took 2 trains and a bus to get to the beginning of our hike. We began the trek in Takijiri. We hiked for about 4 hours, and stayed in Takahara. Our guest house, Suzushiro, had the most amazing views, and the dinner that was served was outstanding. On Tuesday, we hiked about 8 hours to Tsugizakura, and we stayed at Minshuku 3rd Place. It was also fantastic, but we walked about 10 minutes past it because it was on a road that intersected with our route; it was not directly on the route. Fortunately, we loved the house and loved the host so much that we quickly forgot about our detour. The next day of hiking was the longest and the most challenging. We hiked 9 hours until we ended up in the village, Yunomine Onsen, and we stayed at the Ryokan Adumaya. This was my first visit to an onsen, and I was uncomfortable being in a public bath; yet, I also loved the natural hot springs. My body definitely needed it!!! The next morning included a bus ride to catch a boat which would take us down the Kumano River. It was rainy. It was windy. It was cold, and it was worth every minute of it. The views were incredible, and the experience is not to be missed. My legs also loved getting to hang out on a boat instead of hiking up another mountain. Once we got off the river, we found a shrine and a bus to our last village. We stayed at Yukai Resort Koshinoyu in Nachikatsuura. This was such a treat!!! The experience there was one that I will never forget. We stayed a night there, and I wish we could have stayed 2-3 nights in this beautiful resort, but the trip had come to an end, and it was time to return to reality. Friday morning, we took a cab to the train station, and we had a 3 hour train-ride back toward Osaka. We hopped on another train, and we ended up at the airport. Our flight left at 3:30, and we were back to Okinawa and back to reality by Friday evening. Being home with my guy and my pup is my favorite, but being in the woods with little to no cell phone reception for several days was needed. Sometimes, we just need to unplug from emails, social media, and adult responsibilities. If you can’t get on a trail for 4 days, I encourage you to unplug for at least one day. Your brain will thank you for it!
How was the actual hike?
I will be honest…I was not ready for 2 1/2 days of hiking. The elevation, the distance, and the back-to-back days was much more challenging than I expected. If you plan to be on the trail, I recommend training for it. I wish I would have put on my boots, put on a pack, and hit some trails on Okinawa before embarking on this adventure. Fortunately, I had endurance running under my belt. (I ran an ultra at the end of February.) The months of training for my 50 mile run and time on my feet definitely helped with this adventure; yet, I still felt under-prepared. One thing that helped was that we paid to have our luggage taken from one guest house to the next, and it saved our legs, shoulders, and our mindsets. The 3 of us put all of our belongings in 1 large suitcase, and for a minimal fee, a service took it from one place to the next so we only had to carry a day-pack which was so helpful. I highly recommend using the service, especially if you have not trained to carry a large pack.
How was the experience?
For those who know me, you know that I LOVE nature. I get out into nature daily, and as much as I loved the days on the trail and on the river, I would say that the other parts of the trip were my favorite parts. I loved enjoying different foods with my friends. I loved that one friend experienced Saki for the first time. I loved that our hosts were so accommodating and so kind. I loved seeing how the houses were set up to conserve water and power. I loved sleeping on tamami mats. I loved experiencing an onsen. I loved watching the ceremony as the chef at our hotel was cleaning the tuna and preparing the sushi. I loved having a beautiful dinner in a robe provided by the hotel. (Everyone wore robes to dinner.) I loved hearing the flute played by our tour guide on the river. I loved that my friends had a delicious cake prepared for us so we could celebrate my birthday. I loved enjoying all of these experiences with 2 beautiful, smart, talented, and amazing women.
I am so grateful to have found friends who are willing to embark on this type of journey, and I am so grateful to have a supportive spouse who will let me escape for a week. Being out in nature always allows me the time and space to be in the state of gratitude. I encourage you to go out in nature, to find gratitude, and to go on an adventure. You don’t have to be in Japan to experience the beauty world that we live in, but if you do live in Japan, I encourage you to consider enjoying this experience.