Spiritual Awakening via River, Bath and Cobblestone Path

Nature, Treks, Traditional Stay, Onsen, Spiritual, Cruise, Flowers, Birds


The cobblestone paths and mountain trails that form the Nakahechi section of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route have been well trodden by Japanese emperors and aristocrats. Follow in their illustrious footsteps on this three-day course of spiritual adventure visiting grand shrines and natural gods via river boats, walking paths, and hot baths.


Follow in pilgrims’ footsteps

Take the cobblestoned Daimon-zaka staircase up to the grand shrine of Nachi Taisha and trek the trails that snake through the mountains with the spiritual signposts of oji-shrines—smaller, supplementary shrines—to guide you.


Traditional Stay

Rest your head in deep tradition

Book into tradition when you reserve a spot at one of the ancient hot spring resorts and dip into an age-old culture at one of the many natural onsen baths.

Azumaya Ryokan


Relax in caves or under the stars

Heat up body and soul in ancient caves or under the stars—alfresco hot spring bathing is guaranteed to add some warmth and relaxation to your trip.

Kawayu Onsen


Enlightenment awaits at grand shrines

Stand in the presence of the gods, as you reach the grand shrines of the Kumano Sanzan and the natural gods.

Kumano Hongu Taisha


Imperial cruises and roaring waterfalls

The power of water is never far away as you boat an ancient river-route down the Kumano-gawa and stand in water’s powerful presence at the Nachi Falls.

Nachi Falls


Abundant and vibrant flora and fauna

Look out for a wide array of trees, flowers and wildlife thriving in their natural habitat.

Useful Information

JAL Japan Explorer Pass

Fly to Nanki-Shirahama airport to begin your exploration of Wakayama. Japan Airlines offers affordable domestic fares with the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. The easy-to-use English website makes booking flights very easy.

Nanki-Shirahama Airport

There are three direct flights a day from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Wakayama’s Nanki-Shirahama Airport. Booking flights is easy and flying into the area is a time-efficient and cost-effective option.

To access the Shirahama and Kii-Tanabe area, take the Kuroshio Limited Express. Hugging Wakayama’s scenic coastline as it passes through the major access points of the area, the train rolls out of Kyoto Station, through Shin-Osaka and Tennoji, reaching the area in just over two and a half hours. The service is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

From there, buses are your best option. A bus from Shirahama Airport—stopping off and sometimes starting from Kii-Tanabe Station—runs to the onsen resort areas of Kawayu, Yunomine and Watarase Onsen.

Tips: Other travel options from throughout Japan are available.

1 Overnight

Kawayu: The Oto-gawa River is the focal point of the Kawayu Onsen town. Geothermal water bubbles up to the surface of the river providing one big river-sized hot spring.

Yunomine: A tiny hamlet tucked up in the Kumano mountains, Yunomine Onsen is home to one of the oldest hot spring resorts in all of Japan.

Wataze: Large outdoor baths are the star attraction in the hot spring area of Wataze Onsen.

Take the local bus to the Hosshinmon-oji stop. The bus takes between twenty and thirty minutes depending on where you alight. Check with the front desk of your chosen hotel because some accommodation spots run a shuttle-bus service to the area. From here, take the half-day trek through forest trails and mountaintop villages stopping off at the spiritual signposts on the way to Kumano Hongu.

2 Hosshinmon-oji

Secure a spiritual awakening by a visit to one of the most important sites on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route. Hosshinmon-oji Shrine marks the outermost entrance to the divine precinct of the grand shrine of Kumano Hongu Taisha.

1 h ~

3 Fushiogami-oji

When you reach Fushiogami-oji Shrine you will get your first sight of the grand shrine as well as a view of all six of the subsidiary oji-shrines.

20 min ~

4 Sangen-jaya

When you arrive at Sangen-jaya, you have made it to an old woodland crossroads, where you can see old tea house remains and an Edo period (1603 - 1868) stone signpost pointing you in the direction of the Buddhist complex of Koyasan and Kimiidera Temple—close to Wakayama City.

40 min ~

5 Hongu Taisha

A final athletic challenge stands in your way before reaching your goal of Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine—a long stone staircase. Once you reach the summit, you will be greeted by the striking wooden structure of the shrine, blending in beautifully with its natural surroundings.

6 Overnight in Hongu

There are clusters of small hotels, guesthouses and other places to stay near and around Kumano Hongu Taisha. It is also possible to return back to the onsen resort areas from Hongu Taisha-mae bus stop. Make sure to check the bus schedule carefully as the last buses are relatively early—around 16:30.

A variety of local buses servicing the Hongu area will take you to down to the Hitari bus stop, from where you can begin your Kumano-gawa River Boat Tour. The bus trip will take between 25 and 45 minutes depending on which one you choose to take. There is only one boat tour in the morning starting at 10:00, so make sure to check the bus timetable because you need to arrive by 9:30 to take the tour.

25 min ~

7 Kumano-gawa Boat Tour

Take the weight off your feet and travel in comfort to the grand shrine of Kumano Hayatama. The 90-minute boat tour takes you down the only part of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route that is located on water. English tour guides are available if requested when you make a reservation.

Tips: Reservations required. In the event of a cancellation, inform the center by 12:00 the day before you are planning to ride. Cancellations after this time will incur a 100% cancellation charge for all members of the party.

1 h 30 min ~

8 Hayatama Taisha

Kumano Hayatama Taisha is the only grand shrine located riverside. The striking vermillion red of the shrine's facade houses a treasure hall packed with over a thousand items of historical, artistic and spiritual significance. The grounds host the natural god of an 800-year-old Nagi-no-Ki tree.

20 min ~

Option: Kamikura-jinja

Venture further into the mountains and scramble up the steep stone incline to be faced with a giant rock—said to be the landing point for the Kumano deities as they entered the mortal world. The shrine of Kamikura-jinja Shrine is perched perilously on the cliff-side with great panoramic views of Shingu and the Pacific Ocean.

Once you have been suitably spiritually refreshed, take the local bus from nearby Gongen-mae Station for your final journey of the day to Kii-Katsuura—around 30 minutes.

If you still have the energy, you can walk a little further to Shingu train station and board the Kinokuni Line bound for Kushimoto. You will arrive in Kii-Katsuura in around 20 minutes.

9 Overnight in Katsuura

The retro fishing town of Katsuura is known for its hot springs offering you the chance to unwind after your day of spiritual adventure. A number of large hotels with onsen located in uniquely natural settings are available, along with smaller hostels and guesthouses.

Walking refreshed after your evening of hot-spring relaxation, hop back on the bus from Kii-Katsuura Station to the spiritual hotbed of Nachisan. Get off at the Daimonzaka Chushajo-mae stop to start your day at the bottom of a spiritual stone staircase. The bus journey takes around 25 minutes.

25 min ~

10 Daimon-zaka

The 600-meter long, 267 steps of the Daimon-zaka cobblestone staircase guides you up to the grand shrine of Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine. Dense Japanese cedar trees create a natural canopy, sheltering you from the elements. Rent Heian period (794-1185) kimonos to enhance your experience and arrive at the shrine in style.

40 min ~

11 Nachi Taisha

The mountain shrine of Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three grand shrines known as the Kumano Sanzan. The focus of the shrine is the thundering sacred waterfall located nearby.

12 Seiganto-ji

In a striking symbol of religious harmony, Seiganto-ji Temple sits side by side with the shrine. The vibrant red pagoda of the temple, in front of the roaring Nachi Waterfall, offers photographers a stunning shot of Japanese spirituality.

20 min ~

13 Nachi Waterfall

The Nachi waterfall is more than just water tumbling down from a great height. It is home to a Shinto god and people have worshipped since before recorded time. Get closer to the life-prolonging water by viewing the waterfall from the viewing platform—a small fee is required.

The Nachi-no-Taki-mae bus stop is conveniently located near the waterfall. You can take this local bus back to Kii-Katsuura, where it is possible to continue your journey on the connecting trains at JR Kii-Katsuura station. The Kuroshio Express will take you back to Shin-Osaka and Kyoto, along with the main Wakayama hubs along the way.