The Holy Trail of Kumano Kodō

The sacred trails of Kumano Kodō (熊野古道) are a series of ancient trails used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site Kumano Sanzan, the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano. The Kumano Kodō and Kumano Sanzan, along with Koyasan and Yoshino and Omine, are part of UNESCO’s designated World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range of Japan.

The Kodo (“old ways”), have been used by people who go on pilgrimage for more than a thousand years. The Kumano Kodō  and the Camino de Santiago are the only pilgrimage routes to be designated world heritage sites.

Kumano Kodo Trail. |David Gallagher

The pilgrimage routes were developed as a means for people to move between the sacred areas on the Kii Peninsula. By the 12 century, the popularity of the Kumano Sanzan  made the trails more than just a path to the Three Grand Shrines; they also became a religious experience with the pathways being difficult and quite dangerous mountain terrains.

The Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trails leading to Kumano are Kiji, Kohechi and Iseji. The Kiji  route runs along the city of Tanabe, by way of the west coast of the peninsula where it divides into a fork, Nakahechi and Ohechi.

Kumano Kodō mountans. | rurinoshima

The Nakahechi route progresses into the rugged depths of the mountains leading to Kumano Hongū Taisha while Ohechi moves southwards along the coast. The Nakahechi route is the most popular for pilrimages from Kyoto, the former ancient capital of Japan. The Kohechi route links Koyasan to the Kumano Sanzan. While the Iseji” route links Ise Jingū (Ise Grand Shrine) with the Kumano Sanzan.

Kumano Kodo trail. | rurinoshima

The earliest records of the routes can be traced back to the early 10th century. Many pilgrims with many different beliefs use the trails. This has led to mixed symbolism for many when going through the stages of the pilgrimage. Anyone can enjoy the beauty and solemnity of walking the course. Who knows what you may find along the way, you may even discover yourself.

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