Japan

Japan's Kumano Kodo

Trip code: W13JA

Guided group walking

13 nights,
hotel-to-hotel

Level: 3
Stretching

Operated by
Exodus Travels

SUMMARY

  • Operated by our sister company, Exodus
  • Explore beautiful and fascinating Kyoto Enjoy historic pilgrimage walks along the Kumano Kodo Immerse in Japanese culture off the beaten track Walk the Nakasendo Way from Tsumago to Magome Learn about the pearl-collecting Ama Divers while staying in Toba Stay in charming Kiso Fukushima

WHAT'S INCLUDED?

  • All breakfasts, six lunches and nine dinners All accommodation All transport and listed activities

TRIP DESCRIPTION

After uncovering ancient shrines and pathways in Kyoto, we head off the beaten track to the Kumano Kodo region, one of the most remote and rewarding pilgrimage routes in Japan. This moderate walking trip focuses on beautiful scenery, nature and rural life, while following some of the most historic walks in the country. Staying in traditional ryokans along the way, we fully immerse in authentic Japanese culture and way of life. After, we visit Toba to learn about the pearl-collecting Ama Divers and embark on one last pilgrimage walk on the Nakasendo Way, before re-entering modern civilisation in Tokyo.

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DAY-BY-DAY ITINERARY

 

Day 1: Start Kyoto

With about 2,000 temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is a treasure house of Japan’s cultural heritage and remains one of the most fascinating cities in Asia. Unlike many other Japanese cities, it escaped the ravages of both the Second World War and modern urban development, keeping intact much of the spirit and architecture of traditional Japan. You are free to arrive at the start hotel anytime today during the day. This evening, there is a briefing with your leader. Accommodation: Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho (or similar)

You stay at Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho.

hotel details

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Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho, Kyoto

WiFi
TV
Aircon
Safe


A comfortable hotel within walking distance of Kyoto's attractions and Nishiki Market. The 180 rooms all have deep soaking bathtubs, TVs and fridge.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 2: Hike to the Kibune shrine; onto Kurama temple; return to Kyoto

This morning, we set out on our first hike, visiting the northern mountains and the Kibune shrine, followed by the Kurama temple. Our first stop, however, is the Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). From here, we climb up to the Daimonji mountain for an excellent view of Kyoto, then take a short train ride north to Kibune-guchi, where the hike to Kibune and Kifune shrine begins. Kifune shrine was built upon the site where supposedly a goddess finished a long journey by boat. It’s dedicated to the deity of water and rain, so all those who seek protection and maritime safety come here to pray – especially seamen and fishermen. The charming town of Kibune is dotted with traditional restaurants and inns, with streams running beneath the restaurant platforms. It’s an excellent opportunity to relax, especially for those who wish to escape the Kyoto crowds. We then set out for Kurama town, renowned for its Kurama temple and special hot springs. The temple is deep in the woods and requires a fair bit of legwork to reach, but those who do venture there are rewarded with beautiful scenery along the path. We return to Kyoto for the evening, where you can choose to join an optional group dinner in the Gion district if you wish. Accommodation: Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho (or similar)

Day 3: Walk on the ancient Yamanobe-no-michi

Leaving the north of Kyoto, we enjoy a pleasant hike on the Yamanobe-no-michi. The path is believed to be the oldest still in existence connecting Edo (present day Tokyo) with the western parts of Japan with a history of more than 1,200 years. Starting in present-day Nara and spanning through what used to be Yamato – the cradle of Japanese civilisation – the trail takes us through more than 9mi (15km) of distance and two millennia of history. Along the way, we discover relics of a distant past, including the seventh-century BCE shrine of Omiwa, said to be the oldest still standing in Japan. There are also many temples and shrines dotting the trail and the trail itself runs through lush forests and comfortable paths. As we pass rural villages, we can experience true Japanese hospitality as fruit vendors often offer locally grown fresh produce to trail hikers as an energy booster. In the late afternoon, we return to Kyoto for an evening at leisure. Accommodation: Hotel Resol Kyoto Trinity Oike Fuyacho (or similar)

Day 4: Morning walk to the Fushimi Inari shrine; free time in Kyoto before train to Tanabe

We have an early start to visit the most iconic sight in Kyoto: the Shinto shrine known as Fushimi Inari-taisha. Working folk have worshipped Inari, the deity of good harvest and business, since the seventh century. Even today, businessmen and entrepreneurs from all corners of Japan donate a torii arch to the shrine in hope of gaining the deity’s favour. Although this custom is fairly recent, the mountain path has thousands of torii arches, making for a wonderful morning stroll at the break of dawn. We start early to beat the crowds, otherwise we must compete with the thousands of visitors Fushimi Inari-taisha attracts daily. After the hike, we return to the hotel. The rest of the morning is free for visiting the sites of Kyoto, such as the Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle or the Golden Pavilion. In the afternoon, we leave Kyoto by train and head to Kumano Kodo, a series of pilgrimage routes more than 1,000 years’ old, when the imperial ancestors of Japan made pilgrimage from Kyoto. In the Kii Peninsula, the largest in Japan, the trails along Kumano Kodo are incredible for hiking. Taking a train to the tip of the peninsula, we reach the rural coastal town of Tanabe, where we spend the night. Accommodation: Kamenoi Hotel Kii Tanabe/Azikuno Garuten (or similar)

You stay at Miyoshi Ryokan.

hotel details

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Miyoshi Ryokan, Tanabe City


This Ryokan (a traditional Japanese Inn) is conveniently located and offers an authentic experience. Rooms are basic, yet clean and comfortable and offer air-conditioning and TV. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 5: Start walking the Kumano Kodo. Bus transfer to Takajiri-oji; hike to Nonaka passing Takahara village

After an early breakfast, we take a bus to Takijiri-oji, the start point of the pilgrimage, from where we walk to Takahara. This is the steepest part of the trail, leading to Takahara Shrine, a Shinto shrine surrounded by ancient camphor trees. From here, we walk towards Takahara village, also called kiri-no-sato (village in the fog), a small, quiet town with rice terraces and surrounded by forests. The trail continues upwards until we reach the Uwadawa-jaya teahouse, where the trail begins to descend, passing ruin shrines and the small villages of Osakamoto-oji and Chikatsuyu-oji, crossing Kitano-bashi bridge, and following the road to Nonaka-no-Shimizu, a source of potable water. Around the Nonaka-no-Shimizu area, the group are accommodated in modern Japanese container style cottages, located not too far from the Kumano Kodo trail. As our hike tomorrow is a bit longer and more challenging, we highly recommend turning in early. Accommodation: Sen Retreat Chikatsuyu (or similar)

You stay at Minshuku Nonaka Sanso / Nakano.

hotel details

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Minshuku Nonaka Sanso / Nakano , Nonaka-no-Shimizu


A family-run guesthouse offering comfortable rooms with TV and Aircon.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 6: Walk in the forest, crossing rivers and ancient shrines; transfer by local bus to Yunomine Onsen

Today we start with a 10-minute bus ride to the start of our hike. We first start walking uphill, and head towards the woods to see Tsugizakura-oji, a sub-shrine at the top of steep stairs leading into a thick forest of huge cedar trees believed. Next to the entrance of Tsugizakura-oji, we find Toganoki-jaya, a replica of a traditional Japanese teahouse. We then continue with a slow ascent to Kobiro-toge pass, followed by a relatively downward trail along a series of paved and unpaved paths, passing Jagata-jizo, which is believed to protect travellers from evil spirits, a couple of river crossings and passing by thick forests of cedar and cypress until we reach Kumano Hongu Taisha, the head shrine of more than 3,000 Shinto shrines in the Kumano area. After visiting the shrine, we transfer by local bus to Yunomine Onsen, one of the oldest and most revered hot spring resorts in Japan as it used to be the place where pilgrims cleansed themselves before praying at Kumano Hongu Taisha. Tonight, we stay at a ryokan, another traditional Japanese-style inn, where we sleep on a futon, have access to the public onsen, and enjoy a Kaiseki-style dinner. Accommodation: Yunomineso Ryokan (or similar)

You stay at Iseya Ryokan.

hotel details

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Iseya Ryokan, Kumano Hongu Taisha


A traditional Japanese style Ryokan with comfortable rooms - all with tatami mat flooring and futon to give you that authentic experience.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 7: Follow the old spiritual path from Ukegawa to Koguchi; transfer to Kawayu Onsen; enjoy views of the Kumano mountains

After breakfast, we take a bus from Yunomine Onsen to Ukegawa where today’s hike (mainly along unpaved road) commences. We pass the remains of the Matsuhata-jaya teahouse and Hyakken-gura, one of the top spots in Wakayama to see the Kumano mountains, which consists of around 3,600 peaks. From here, we continue on a mainly level road towards the remains of the Sakura-jaya teahouse, before descending from the hills, along a path with cobblestones (which can be slippery, especially if wet or covered with moss). At the foot of the hill, we should find small prayer tablets left by other spiritual hikers as offerings. We continue onto Koguchi, the end of today’s walk, where we take a bus via Kanmaru to Kawayu onsen. This place is famous for the hot spring beside the river. Accommodation: Omuraya Ryokan (or similar)

You stay at Omuraya Ryokan.

hotel details

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Omuraya Ryokan , Kawayu Onsen


A family run guesthouse offering a friendly service. Many of the rooms boast river views and all have TV, Air conditioning and safe. Guests are welcome to enjoy the hot spring baths in the river at the front of the hotel.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 8: Walk past historic sites and enjoy wonderful views to Nachi Falls and Kumano Nachi Taisha

We rise very early and return to Koguchi to begin our hike. Today’s trail is one of the most challenging sections of Kumano Kodo, taking us through forested hills and along unpaved roads. However, a series of historic sites and wonderful views await as we pass Waroda-ishi rock (where the Kumano deities are believed to meet and chat over tea), through the woods of Irokawatsuji, and over Funami-toge Pass, where we glimpse the Pacific Ocean. After hiking for almost eight hours, we arrive in Nachi. Here, we see Nachi Falls, the highest waterfall in Japan, and pay a visit to Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine. Later in the afternoon, we take a local bus (approximately 30 minutes) to Katsuura, staying at a Japanese inn on the beautiful islet-dotted Katsuura Bay, where we can listen to the ocean waves and relax after completing our hikes along the memorable Kumano Kodo. Accommodation: Hotel Sunrise Katsuura/Pals Inn Katsuura (or similar)

You stay at Hotel Sunrise Katsuura.

hotel details

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Hotel Sunrise Katsuura, Katsuura


At the Sunrise Katsuura, a Japanese ryokan, all rooms include a flat-screen TV, desk and kettle. The hotel itself enjoys a terrace, shared lounge and sea views.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 9: Travel by train to Toba in the rural Mie prefecture; learn about the Ama Divers on Mikimoto Pearl Island

After breakfast, we get ready for a short walk to return to Katsuura station on foot (with luggage), where we begin our journey by train to Toba in the neighbouring Mie prefecture. The rural Mie prefecture has forested landscapes and Mediterranean-looking coastlines. The area is also known for producing some of the freshest seafood in Japan and, in its waters, pearl cultivation has become an important activity. Upon arrival in Toba, we store our luggage safely at the station before having lunch and walking a short distance to Mikimoto Pearl Island, where we learn about pearl cultivation and the life of the Ama Divers. These female divers are famous for their centuries-long tradition of diving for pearls without oxygen masks and here we witness an Ama Diver demonstration. After, we continue to the Osatsu area in Toba where we spend the next two nights at a ryokan in Japanese-style rooms. Accommodation: Ryokan Otaya (or similar)

You stay at Ryokan Otaya.

hotel details

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Ryokan Otaya, Toba


This comfortable ryokan offers comfortable air-conditioned rooms with TV. Free wi-fi is available at the property.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 10: Osatsu village followed by lunch at the Ama hut; visit Ise Shrine

This morning, we can relax in the ryokan or walk around the neighbourhood where there may be the chance to visit a local shrine and temple or, in warmer weather, enjoy a swim at the local sandy beach. Late morning, we take a short walk to visit the hut of an Ama Diver, who prepares us a grilled seafood meal. After lunch, we continue to the Ise Shrine by train, one of the most sacred areas for the Shinto religion and a favourite pilgrimage destination for Japanese people. Just a short walk away, the picturesque Okage-Yokocho district offers a great outlook on the traditional side of the area with quaint shops selling local arts and crafts and food before returning to our ryokan. Accommodation: Ryokan Otaya (or similar)

Day 11: Scenic train journey to Kiso Fukushima

A long and scenic train journey with one change takes us to Kiso Fukushima in about 4hr 30min. Upon arrival, we take a short orientation tour with our leader. Kiso Fukushima is a delightful town in the Nagano prefecture on the railway line between Nagoya and Matsumoto in central Japan, roughly half-way along the Nakasendo. Kiso Fukushima was an important checkpoint on the route, and its historic sekisho (barrier station) is one of only two on the Nakasendo. The Fukushima sekisho-ato (checkpoint) is where travellers on the Nakasendo were made to wait and present their passes to travel on the highway. The Tokugawa regime was on the lookout for guns and women travelling in disguise. Across the Kiso River from the Fukushima Sekisho-ato is Kozenji Temple with an attractive rock garden. Kozenji Temple is free to enter and lovely, especially in autumn. We spend the next two nights in Kiso Fukushima in Japanese-style rooms at a simple family-run ryokan. Accommodation: Ryokan Sarashinaya (or similar)

You stay at Ryokan Sarashinaya.

hotel details

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Ryokan Sarashinaya, Kiso Fukushima


Rooms at this 3 star ryokan come with kettle, TV and complimentary toiletries. The owners are extremely helpful and friendly and the breakfast is always very well received.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 12: Walk a section of the ancient Nakasendo Way from Tsumago to Magome

After an early breakfast, we travel by train to Nagiso in about 50 minutes. Upon arrival, we take a short ride on a local bus to Tsumago, a well-preserved post town. Tsumago had a golden era when merchants, nobles and other prominent people frequently passed through for trade and other formal appointments. From Tsumago, we start the journey to Magome, one of the post towns that flourished in the Edo period. The trail that runs from Tsumago to Magome is perhaps the most popular section of Nakasendo. This ancient trail can be completed in about three hours, including some quick breaks. After concluding the trail, we ride a bus to Nakatsugawa and then a train back to Kiso Fukushima in just over one hour. Accommodation: Ryokan Sarashinaya (or similar)

Day 13: Train to Tokyo; free time to explore

After breakfast, we embark on our last scenic train journey to Tokyo in a little over three hours with one change en route. We may catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on the way, if weather conditions permit. We recommend buying a bento on the way for lunch as the journey is about three hours –the leader can advise. After check-in at our hotel, you have a few hours to explore Tokyo before an optional farewell dinner. Accommodation: Hotel Dormy Inn Kodenmacho (or similar)

You stay at Shinjuku Washington Hotel.

hotel details

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Shinjuku Washington Hotel , Tokyo


Shinjuku Washington Hotel is conveniently located for Tokyo's main attractions. It's comfortable rooms all have air-conditioning, private bathroom with bathtubs and shower, a fridge and TV. There are lots of dining opportunities at the hotel and in the local area.

Should this hotel not be available, an alternative of the same standard will be used

Day 14: End Tokyo

The trip ends this morning after breakfast. For more information on returning home, see the Joining Instructions in the Trip Notes. Alternatively, if you’d like to spend a little longer exploring, speak to your sales representative about extending your stay.

CHOOSE A DEPARTURE DATE

Show prices including flights?  

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These tour only prices are based on two people sharing. Single supplement from £655.

These flight inclusive prices are based on two people sharing. Single supplement from £655.

Tour Only dates commence a day later than the Air Inclusive start date

TRAVEL DETAILS

Our aim is to provide holidays that are unbeatable for choice and flexibility. We've listed our most popular travel options below, however you aren't limited to these - we can tailor-make virtually any holiday to suit.

To find out more about the travel options available call our sales team on 01606 720199 or email sales@headwater.com

Transfers

2024 departures: Transfers are no longer available on this trip. Public transport in Japan is excellent, efficient and the expected mode of transport for both the local people and visitors. It is increasingly easy to use and there is English signage everywhere.

Transportation

Transport is by train, local buses and metro. It is worth mentioning that the trains in Japan are both highly efficient and very comfortable so punctuality is requested throughout. Please note, you are required to carry your own baggage on and off trains and buses and through stations. There are some days during the hiking days where luggage is transferred from one accommodation to the next so you do not have to carry your main luggage during any of the hikes. As this trip stays in many smaller, rural locations, there are short walks involved from stations/bus stops to accommodations where needed.

Joining Instructions

nKey information Start hotel: Hotel Resol Trinity Kyoto Japan, 〒604-0943 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Kamihakusancho, 249 Phone: +81 75-211-9269 Recommended arrival time: You can arrive at any time today. There will be a welcome briefing in the evening, but if you miss it the leader will update you separately Airport: Kansai International Airport (KIX) Arriving Kansai International Airport (KIX): The start hotel for this trip is a short subway ride on the Karasuma and Tozai lines from Kyoto train station and requires a total transfer time from KIX airport of approximately 2hr 30min. The easiest and fastest option when travelling between Kansai International Airport and Kyoto is by train. The Limited Express Haruka operated by JR West is the only rail service between Kansai International Airport station and Kyoto station and operates every 30 minutes (duration 80 minutes/6.30am-10.15pm daily). You can buy tickets (2,800-3,500 yen) at the Kansai Airport Tourist Information Centre (Terminal 1, first floor) after making your way through the arrivals hall. Upon arrival at Kyoto Station, follow signs to the Kyoto subway lines and take the Karasuma line (three stops/six minutes) to Karasuma Oike station. Upon arrival, change to the Tozai line and take the subway to Shiyakusho-mae station (one stop/one minute). Take exit nine at Shiyakusho-mae and the Hotel Resol Trinity Kyoto Oike Fuyacho is just a two-minute walk away. Tickets for the Kyoto subway can be purchased at Kyoto station. Please find further instructions on how to reach this hotel from KIX Airport and Kyoto station on the West JR and hotel websites. Private transfers are not available on this trip. n

REVIEWS

A Great two weeks in Japan. Great people friendly, very helpful and polite.

This was an excellent trip that we thoroughly enjoyed, giving an insight into contrasting landscapes/areas of Japan and to its culture and food. After initial exploration in and around Kyoto, the four days on the Kumano Kodo trail were quite demanding (particularly because it was so hot on our departure) but we got a fascinating insight into one of the more rural areas, staying in traditional Japanese hotels. A good proportion of the trail itself was in trees with occasional viewpoints and shrines, it also passed through villages and rural settings. The trails are well made and on some days the walking was long, as set out in the trip notes. The traditional Japanese food we ate every day was elaborate and carefully prepared – a bowl of sticky rice and an array of up to around 10 other small dishes of food for each person – at each meal, including breakfast; lunches were bento boxes. There was much fresh seafood by the sea. Travelling on the efficient Japanese public transport was interesting and enjoyable as it is indeed very punctual, but also uncrowded and generally very comfortable. The last couple of days in Tokyo were different again – a short time to get an impression, but as we are not really city people, this was fine.

Staff excellent. IT problems caused a lack of clarity in the quotation.

16 Nov 2023

Megan did a great job in booking our walking holiday in a very efficient manner.

9 Nov 2023

Excellent and rapid response from Jo Chaplin adapting to our dates and requirements.

Kym Bannister, 5 Jul 2023


Guided group walking

13 nights,
hotel-to-hotel

Level: 3
Stretching

Operated by
Exodus Travels

13 nights from £5799

CHOOSE A DEPARTURE

Call: 01606 720199