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Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo: Our Japanese Hiking Adventure Part 1

Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo: Our Japanese Hiking Adventure Part 1

Our Gay Couple Pilgrimage Japan Kumano Kodo Part 1 – After our first days in Tokyo, we seriously wanted to go to our limits when making a Pilgrimage in Japan on the famous traditional Kumano Kodo route from Ki Tanabe to Nachi through the Wakayama mountains. Already during the preparation period back home in Amsterdam for our one-month trip to Japan, the 4-days trail through Japanese nature along centuries-old hiking paths went quickly upon our Japan bucket list, quite rightly. Because it truly was one of the hardest, most intense, and spiritually full-filling hiking trips we ever did on our gay travels around the world. Snakes, spiders, stunning views, and holy shrines in the middle of nowhere in the Japanese forest: the Kumano Kodo has it all. The first part of our gay couple hiking diary was all about getting in contact with nature, testing our condition, and getting to know Japanese people living in the countryside. See for yourselves! Join us now on our Gay Couple Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo Japan Part 1 and see the ancient spiritual Japanese pilgrimage route through a couple of men‘s eyes.

Our Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage in Japan

We are ready for our first gay couple pilgrimage in Japan ©
We are ready for our first gay couple pilgrimage in Japan ©

Book a Kumano Kodo hiking tour

But how to book a pilgrimage to Kumano Kodo in Japanese? Most of the websites we found had no English version available, even on requests in English. But one thing became clear rapidly while surfing through to the only few, overpriced British or American websites: An affordable trip would not be possible by booking on those websites. How to book a budget and payable Pilgrimage trip to Japan?

Our TIP: More or less accidentally, we discovered further back on page suggestions of Google an inconspicuous website, that turned out to be a true treasure for planning our trip: Kumano – Travel. Bull’s-eye!

Plan (and book) your Kumano-Kodo Trip online

Depending on your individual condition, the length of the day hiking distance, and special eating habits travelers can create their Pilgrimage tour in the Wakayama mountains of Japan. Select your personal favorite out of a list of different guest houses, hotels, and pensions, which afterward will be requested by the local tourism office. After confirming your selection you will be asked to pay via credit card. What if your requested accommodations won’t be available anymore? You will receive a matching alternative mostly within the next 24-48 hours via email. There is even more! You will find an overview of all possible hiking trails including maps and actually warnings or detours. Just download them and combine the matching maps to your guidebook. Perfect for our Gay Couple Pilgrimage Japan Kumano Kodo.

Chose Your Hiking Routes for 3 to 4 days

We planned 4 weeks in Japan in total. So a maximum of 1 week hiking through the Wakayama mountains was a good amount of time. We decided to hike the Nakahechi Route or the so-called Imperial Route from Kii-Tanabe on the west coast to Nachii in the East of the big Wakayama half-island. You will get a good overview of all the possible routes, highlights, and important things to know on the following link: an overview of the pilgrimage routes of Kumano Kodo.

Map for pilgrims and hikers of the Kumano Kodo
Map 1 for pilgrims and hikers of the Kumano Kodo

We decided on the Nakahechi Route, “The Imperial Route to Kumano”, which was most matching to our conditions and time frames… well, at least we thought it will. Already since the 10th century AD the tradition of making a pilgrimage started by the Japanese Imperial ancestors. The Nakahechi Route starts in Kii-Tanabe heading East via Takijiri-Oji, Takahara, Hongu, Yunomine Onsen to Nachi with an altitude difference of up to 800 meters. A challenge, undoubtedly, but a nature trip we were very much looking forward to it.

Map 2 for pilgrims and hikers of the Kumano Kodo
Map 2 for pilgrims and hikers of the Kumano Kodo

Handle your luggage during the hikes

Luggage-Service! Are you seriously thinking of doing a Pilgrimage to Kumano Kodo in Japan? Then please do not despair when thinking of your luggage you might have to carry the whole hike up and downhill. Japan has a super handy system to solve your luggage problems already before you will have them: a luggage-delivery service all over the country. Almost all accommodations offer this service, where you simply can ask and proceed with your luggage at the hotel reception for a payable amount of your holiday money. The only thing you need to know is the destination address. That’s it.

Our Tip: You simply have to check your luggage at your last accommodation before the hike and tell them, when and where you want to have it delivered to. Depending on how much weight and delivery distance, you have to pay between €15 – €25 per piece (that is at least what we had to pay). Our suggestion: if you need to have it in between your hike, just half the tour and send it again after the first half for instance.

The night before the Pilgrimage in Kii-Tanabe

Harvest Hotel Nanki Tanabe | Kii-Tanabe | West Wakayama

Our first hiking destination of the Nakahechi Route is Takijiri-Oji. But before our big pilgrimage of the Kumano Kodo should have started, we arrived in the early afternoon at the vintage coast hotel in Kii-Tanabe, the Harvest Hotel Nanki Tanabe. Clean, Japanese cool with a fantastic view over the bay combined with a huge Onsen area and a glass-roofed indoor Pool with Sauna. Wearing a swim cap is mandatory, but if you don’t have one, you can rent them at the pool reception. Do not forget: you have to be naked in the washing area and while relaxing in the hot Onsen water and to follow the exact instructions of how to use the public baths in Japan. The Harvest Hotel Nankitanabe on booking >

Our Tip 1 for the Harvest Hotel Nanki Tanabe: In the changing room the hotel has a really old-school massage chair and foot massage device. We were sitting there for about an hour with nonstop laughing… Simply hilarious! 😀

Our Tip 2 for Kii-Tanabe: Only a 5-minute walk away from the hotel you will find the small Italian restaurant らんず full of Porcelain and cheesy fun interior, but delicious pasta 😉 Vegetarians: pay attention and better ask 3 times more for meat-free food (be precisely about chicken, fish, etc..). This is advice for a trip to Japan in general, but even more for our Gay Couple Pilgrimage Japan Kumano Kodo.

らんず Italien Restaurant in Kii-Tanabe ©
らんず Italian Restaurant in Kii-Tanabe ©

Pilgrimage Japan Kumano Kodo Part 1

The next morning after a good sleep in comfortable hotel beds, breakfast, and checking in our luggage to send it out to Hongu, we took a taxi to Kii-Tanabe bus station. From here we jumped on a real vintage and almost empty bus in the direction Takijiri-Oji. If you are not certain, which bus to take, just ask at the help desk for the Kumano Kodo Trail. The girls working there were really friendly and helpful.

The weather was not the best: sky falls, and some rain showers guided our way along a wide riverbed deep inside the mountains. Exciting! After approximately 40 minutes by bus, we reached the Pilgrimage Center for the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Route at Takijiri- Oji. In the middle of a deep but narrow valley directly next to the riverbed and the mountain street, a small path marked with special pilgrimage and praying flags led us to a round building, the Pilgrimage Center. Inside the center, we found a little shop for hiking equipment and a part built as a history museum about the tradition to make a pilgrimage along the Kumano Kodo trails. A really friendly and young Japanese woman dressed in traditional clothing presented each of us with a tiny sweet cookie as a traditional Pilgrimage cookie for our following hike. We didn’t know, at this point, how hard it would be.

Uphill in tropical humidity on our way to Takahara

This is the beginning. Equipped with one transparent umbrella each, 2 extra bottles of water from the soft drink machine, and a towel to wipe the sweat away we started our hike. But wait: of course, we couldn’t miss the happy selfie moment before the first steps uphill on our holy hike through the Wakayama mountains. Due to the high humidity and still, rainy showers, the stairs, and ancient stones became really slippery. Carefully steps through untouched nature.

Wow moments for nature-lovers in the Wakayama Mountains ©
Wow moments for nature-lovers in the Wakayama Mountains ©

After half an hour of non-stop walking, we reached the first plateau in between the climb. Here we recognized for the first time, how high we already climbed. Incredible. Unexpected huge spider webs with huge and colorful 8-legged friends in the middle lined our way through a noisy surrounding full of unidentified insect sounds. What a spectacular natural environment.

Daan hiking through the forest on the paths of the Kumano Kodo ©
Daan hiking through the forest on the paths of the Kumano Kodo ©

Stunning View from the Wakayama Mountain Tops

After 2 hours of almost non-stop walking, we reached our first stop in between, Takahara. What a stunning view over the mountains and rice fields of the small mountain municipality Takahara. The cloudy cover opens up and the sun with warm wind started to dry our clothes. And there it was: the perfect spot! Apparently used as a parking area, this empty plateau with benches offered us a moment to take a breath, drink, and enjoy the stunning view. These moments are worth all the planning for this trip and the difficult way uphill. Adding a Gay Couple Pilgrimage Japan Kumano Kodo to our gay travel itinerary, was the absolutely correct decision.gay_couple_making_a_pilgrimage_in_japan_07

Legs up for break with a view | Gay Couple Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo Japan ©
Legs up for break with a view | Gay Couple Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo Japan ©

Happy & hand-in-hand for 8 hours, right?

We feel great, happy, and full of positive energy. Although the uphill hiking can be difficult, the view, fresh air, and the feeling of pure nature paid off. Especially the view over the juicy green and never-ending mountains and valleys gave us a feeling of such happiness. Hand in hand we kept on walking in the sunshine.

Trails over the Mountain tops in Wakayama ©
Trails over the Mountain tops in Wakayama ©

Signs, Snakes & carefully steps further

But then, out of a sudden, in the middle of our way: a huge rattlesnake rattling its tail right in front of us. We didn’t know that there are snakes on the Kumano Kodo Trail in Japan, never read anything like that about poisonous snakes in the Wakayama mountains. A scream shattered the quiet forest and mountain harmony and two gay guys running backward downhill. What was that?! Incredulous and confused, we tried to calm ourselves down. Let’s have a careful look again. With opened umbrellas, we took careful steps toward the monster. And there it is again: the rattling of the tail. Not in the middle of the street anymore, but still close enough, that we passed by slowly protecting ourselves behind our see-through umbrellas. Apparently, we disturbed the mountain snake while having a lunch nap in the sun. From one moment to the other our happiness was gone. We had to be careful. There are poisonous snakes on the Kumano Kodo, never read about them. What do we do now?

Hiking strategically on security

We really needed some minutes to calm down from this shocking moment, after recognizing how careless we were hiking the last couple of hours through rough and wild nature. Paying attention and have a more careful look where we set our feet. Walking so happy hand in handmade us quite incautiously. Karl took the lead swinging his umbrella in front of him. Daan followed stomping behind his man. The idea: the snake had a nice sunbath… So, we paid special attention to the shadow-sun-mix parts of the way. After some scary minutes, we could so slowly focus again on the beauty of the landscape and the repeating overwhelming views over the Wakayama mountains.

Stunning mountains views | Gay Couple Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo Japan ©

Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo: Overnight Stop 1

Before Darkness: Minshuku Tsugizakura till 6 pm

Breathtaking views, uncountable moss-covered shrines, and small temple lining the small path through rapidly changing flora and fauna in lower and higher parts of the mountains. In front of every shrine, we started to bow and pay tribute commemorating the tradition of hundreds of years of Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage history. It truly became an intense feeling to be part of this history.

Map 3 for pilgrims and hikers of the Kumano Kodo
Map 3 for pilgrims and hikers of the Kumano Kodo

Our way guided us slowly downhill in a wide valley with a typical mountain village. Again a shy snake crossed our way. But away less scary than the first one. Shy inhabitants, vintage houses, and Japanese gardens welcome us after crossing a huge iron bridge. Following the Pilgrimage signs, we should be quite close to our first goal of our Gay Couple Pilgrimage Japan Kumano Kodo, the Minshuku Tsugizakura in Tsugizakura-Oji in Chikatsuyu. After passing a school area we had to take an extremely steep way uphill for almost a kilometer. And so, the end of our hike became literally the hardest part of day one.

Tsugizakura-Oji in Chikatsuyu from the Kumano Kodo trail
Tsugizakura-Oji in Chikatsuyu from the Kumano Kodo trail

Be aware, that we already hiked for almost 8 hours. This part was pure torture! And the dawn here in Japan comes quickly. So don’t forget: Every evening at around 6 pm it is dark in Japan, at least in September. But it was almost 6 pm, and we were still not at the Minshuku. Lucky us and thanks to our great organization of the daily hike time, at exactly 6 pm we entered our private guest house. Done, with the day, the world, and every snake in these mountains!

Warm welcome at Minshuku Tsugizakura

What a wonderful lovely welcome by the Yuba family! Think about every possible way to say welcome, the Yuba family tried to think about everything! Our 2 rooms were really comfortable: one room for our equipment, backpacks, and clothes and a really comfortable sleeping room with a Japanese shrine. After using the small but amazingly equipped bathroom, we dressed in the traditional Japanese clothes offered by the Yuba family, and then: the feast started! Fresh vegetarian dishes, rice, fresh fish, Miso soup, and self-made soy… Even Daan the vegetarian tried the fresh tuna. Heavenly good!

And it seemed it won’t stop until we said several times: STOP! The final dish, a family-made plum schnapps, was simply delicious. Filled with all these fresh dishes and after our 8 hours hike, we laid down in our traditional Japanese beds, set the clock for an early morning start, and fell asleep within minutes. We call that the first day of our Gay Couple Pilgrimage in Japan around the Kumano Kodo.

Gay Couple Pilgrimage Kumano Kodo Japan Part 1

Our sleeping was dreamless and deep through the whole night, closely cuddled and without any noise of cars, trains or anything like that in the middle of Japan‘s nature. After a fresh made traditional Japanese breakfast with rice, green tea, and Miso soup, we packed our backpacks and put on our hiking shoes again! Time for some photos with the whole Minshuku family, seriously wonderful first hosts of our hiking adventure through the Wakayama mountains. But it was time to say Goodbye! Yuba family, and thank you for everything! Especially thank you for the bar of Japanese Chocolate for our Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Part 2.

Private Onsen, beautiful nature, and just us with uncountable Buddha shrines. Curious? Stay tuned on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and Instagram. See you around in Japan!

Karl & Daan.