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Kumano Kodo is considered one of the most sacred – and well–visited – attractions in Japan. Located in the Kii Mountain Range on the island of Kyoto, Kumano Kodo is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that go across Kii Hanto, the country’s largest peninsula. Each year, tens and thousands of Japanese (as well as tourists) make the pilgrimage to the three sacred shrines of Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. If you are planning a trip to Japan, you will most likely want to know when is the best time of year to walk Kumano Kodo.
Two, one or half-day hike?
Depending on how much time you have, you may want to hike for two days, one day or even just a few hours. If you’re planning on a two-day excursion, Takijiri-Oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha or Hongu area to Kumano Nachi Taisha is your best options. Keep in mind that the trails have varying levels of difficulty that you may find challenging depending on how experienced you are as a hiker. For one – day walks, it is suggested that you do the Hongu Loop. If you’re only going for half a day or even a few hours, Hosshinmon-Oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha (Daimon-zaka section) are considered the best trails.
Weather & when to go
Although the trails can be walked year-round, most travelers who’ve spent time in Kumano Kodo will tell you that the best times to visit the pilgrimage site are either in spring (March/April) or autumn (September/October/November). While the scenery is lush and verdant during the summer months, you may not enjoy the high heat and humidity and heavy rainfall. The winter months can be downright chilly and snowfall has been recorded at higher elevations.
Due to its location on the Kii Peninsula (one of the wettest areas in Japan), Kumano Kodo experiences rain during most months of the year. August to October is typhoon season. If a typhoon does hit the mainland, all transport shuts down and you may be forced to reschedule your trip to the mountains.
Gear and clothes to pack
Hiking Kumano Kodo is not unlike walking any multi-day trail. Although accommodations are never that far away, it is wise to bring along sufficient gear just in case you do become stranded in the heavily forested area.
Recommended gear includes blister kit, rehydration salts, first aid kit, any personal medication you use and mosquito repellant. Furthermore, if you are traveling in the summer months, it is highly advisable to bring along sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV sunglasses. For autumn and winter, take a warm fleece jacket, sweater, gloves, and toque.
Regardless of which season you visit Kumano Kodo, always have a waterproof and breathable jacket, high-quality hiking boots and walking poles. Other useless items to pack into your backpack are an alarm clock, LED head torch/flashlight and waterproof bags for rain protection while hiking.
A word about etiquette
During your visit to Kumano Kodo, you will most likely be interacting with locals. Some people will even invite you into their homes. There are a few basic etiquette rules you should know. These include always leaving your shoes outside of a person’s home before entering as well as remembering to change into slippers that are usually provided.
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