Of the many routes of the Kumano Kodo trail, the Nakahechi Route is by far the most popular. This path, dating back to the 10th century, was once travelled by Japan’s imperial family on their way from Kyoto to the venerable Kumano sanzan (three Grand shrines). Located on Wakayama’s Kii Peninsula, the Nakahechi crosses west to east from Tanabe to Kii-Katsuura, bringing travellers up close to ancient religious sites and beautiful vistas.
Getting to the Kumano Kodo’s Nakahechi Route
As it takes quite a few hours to get to the start of the Kumano Kodo’s Nakahechi Route, most people end up commencing their hike after lunch. Our group flew from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Nanki-Shirahama Airport in the morning which would put us right on schedule. When the weather is fine, a seat on the right-hand side of the plane makes for great Fuji views.
From Nanki-Shirahama Airport, you’ll need to get a local bus to Shirahama Station. Enter through the middle door, take a ticket and pay in cash at the end of the journey. At Shirahama Station, we decided to pre-book our JR train tickets for the end of the trip. We had the whole trip mapped out and knew that there was only one train which could get us from the end of the hike to the airport in time for our flight, so we didn’t want to risk missing it.
The next leg of the journey is to get to Takijiri—the start point of the Kumano Kodo trail. There is a direct bus going from Shirahama Station to Takijiri, however, it’s also possible to go by train via Kii-Tanabe Station. This is a great option for those who need some last-minute supplies, like maps of the Kumano Kodo trail or want to arrange a luggage shuttle service. Trains run every 30–45 minutes from Shirahama and take 10–15 minutes. There are also local buses which take a little longer.
At Kii-Tanabe Station, you’ll find a tourist information centre where you can peruse brochures and book your local bus ticket to Takijiri. Across the intersection is Kumano Travel (the tourism bureau for Kumano Kodo), where you can shuttle additional luggage to the end of the hike or to wherever in Japan you are heading after the hike. You can also shop for Kumano Kodo souvenirs, pick up the stamp passport and get your first stamp of the pilgrimage!
The bus from Tanabe to Takijiri departs from stop #2 and takes approximately 40 minutes. The staff were very helpful in connecting us to the correct bus. Again, enter through the middle door, take a ticket and pay the driver at the end.
The hike: Takijiri to Takahara
The first day just covers the 4km from Takijiri to Takahara. Takijiri is your last chance to rearrange your pack and use the facilities before you set off so make use of them! You can collect your next stamp at the Takijiri-Oji; mark the time and officially begin the Nakahechi route.
It’s 4km until the next town of Takahara, with an immediate elevation gain of around 300m—the perfect warm-up for the days to come. The guide recommends two to three hours for this stretch, as it involves a total elevation gain of 430m and a total elevation loss of 200m. The path begins with a steep rock and tree-root stair climb but gives way to leaf-strewn pathways and lush green ferns as you descend.
Aim to arrive in Takahara around 3 pm to take advantage of a warm welcome and a rest before sunset.
Takahara is a collection of farmhouses dotted across the mountainside. Small vegetable gardens are surrounded by electric fences to keep out the pesky deer. There are various accommodation options in and around Takahara, as well as a few roadside cafes with gorgeous views. Enjoy your night and get some rest, as day 2 of the Nakahechi Route is about three times longer.
Post by Japan Journeys.