Friday 9th April 2021 - Tuesday 13th April 2021

2021年4月9日(金) 2021年4月13日(火)まで

Me and my friend Seiya began our Kumano Kodo adventure, trekking “Kohechi”, a pilgrimage network that links two sacred sites in the Kii Peninsula: Koyasan and Kumano. The Kohechi route is the most remote and strenuous of the four main Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails. The route crosses over three mountain passes, reaching over 1,000 meters in elevation, and spanning over 65 km (40 miles) in length.


We departed Osaka early Friday morning by train, heading to where our hike begins at the famous Koyasan in Wakayama prefecture, also known as Mount Koya. Mount Koya is one of Japan’s most sacred sites. It’s home to the nation’s largest graveyard, Okunoin, where you’ll find the grave of Kobo Daishi—the founder of Shingon Buddhism. This network was formulated between the 13th-14th centuries and served as a transportation and pilgrimage route as it was the shortest way connecting Koyasan and Kumano Hongu Taisha. Historically, Kohechi was used by Buddhist monks living on Mount Koya. They would travel across the treacherous mountains on foot to pay homage to the sacred Grand Shrines of Kumano.



I’ve climbed a lot of mountains in Japan but this was my (and Seiya’s) first trekking experience in this country. We both didn’t know what to expect and we were struck with nerves and excitement all rolled into one before starting our journey. This is a documentary of our pilgrimage, all captured on 35mm from start to finish.



Day 1 - 1日目 

Kumano Kodō Kohechi Pilgrimage  熊野古道 小辺路(こへち)トレイル

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We left Osaka and departed for the start point of our trek at Mount Koya. It was such a beautiful sunny day, the weather was perfect for what was going to be the toughest part of our trek. 





The scenery and surroundings were unbelievably beautiful and it felt so great to be back outside. There really isn't anything better than breathing that fresh mountain air. Although once we did begin trekking higher and higher through the mountains, the temperature dropped significantly. We trekked 23km over 3 peaks until we reached our first campsite at 1230m, just before sunset. Even whilst carrying all of our equipment (17kg) there was no way we could ever warm up in that temperature, it was just way too cold (so much colder than we ever anticipated).



Luckily for us, there was an emergency shelter at the top of the mountain which enabled us to escape the icy winds coming in from the south. We set up my tent inside the shelter but didn't sleep a wink all night. The howling winds and below freezing temperature was enough to keep anyone awake. I'd never been in this kind of situation before and began to get really worried at one point. Before we knew it 9 or so hours had passed and it was beginning to get light again. As soon as the sun began to rise we knew we had to pack up as quickly as possible and get down off this mountain. To put into context how cold it was; I began to boil some water in the morning and it just froze inside the kettle. It's something you hear a lot, but this was a prime example; never underestimate the mountains. The photos below were taken around 6am from inside and outside of our shelter.


A message written on the inside of the shelter made us laugh. 










Our second day saw us descend down from Omata heading towards Miura-guchi along the Obako-toge pass. After zero hours of sleep and a strenuous 23km trek yesterday my body wasn't in the greatest condition but the adrenaline kept me going. We left the hut around 7am. As we began moving slowly down the pass our bodies finally warmed up and we started to feel somewhat normal again. The scenery again was incredible, with not another soul in sight. Just me and Seiya in the wild.



Day 2 - 2日目

Eventually, we made it to our next camping spot early in the afternoon - Miura-guchi. We arrived in the village just after 12pm. Our initial plan for this day was to hike up the next mountain and camp again but after the wildness of the night before plus low energy and sleep deprivation we decided to camp in the village and tackle the mountain early the next morning. 


This specific part of the village had only 7 or so houses and only 1 resident living there. We got chatting with him (Masaru San) and he told us how he was only visiting this house (the house he was born in) for maintenance purposes. He explained that the temperatures will drop significantly again at night so he kindly gave us 2 カイロ (heat warmers) each and a hand-drawn map to the nearest vending machine (though, he did allow us to use his freshwater supply in his garden). Kindness goes a long way, his energy warmed my heart and soul and meeting him was definitely a highlight of the trip.

この村には家が7軒しかなく、住人は1人しかいなかった。彼と話をしていると、彼はこの家(自分の生まれた家)にはメンテナンスのためにしか来ないのだという。また、夜になると気温がぐっと下がるとのことで、カイロを2個ずつと手書きの自動販売機の地図をくれました(ただし、庭の真水は使わせてくれました)。彼のエネルギーは私の心を温かくしてくれ、彼との出会いは間違いなくこの旅のハイライトでした。優(まさる) さんありがとうございました。

We took a much needed afternoon nap. I woke up to the sound of twigs snapping and the smell of fire. Seiya was making a bonfire. An impressive one at that! We cooked our dinner and sat talking for a couple of hours before calling it a day. Tomorrow was going to be another tough day of hiking.


Day 3 - 3日目

We woke up in the shaded part of the valley, greeted by blue skies and a perfectly reflected view of the forest and mountains in the river water. I made breakfast from the comfort of my sleeping bag. I felt well-rested from the days before and was excited for this next part of our pilgrimage. 


We packed up and left our camping spot just before 8 am. A short walk through the village and over the bridge before heading back into the forest and beginning our ascent up the Miura-toge Pass. This next part of the pilgrimage would see us reach the Totsukawa Onsen area 18km away up and over this steep pass. A cute handwritten message on a notice board read, "みなさん、がんばってください" which translates to "everyone please do your best" made me smile.


We reached the summit of the Miura-toge Pass a lot quicker than I first expected we would. The climb lead us along a steep path through the forest and opened up to the most incredible views over the valley and beyond. I think it took us around 2 and a half hours in total. We ate an early lunch at the top, admiring the scenery, before making our descent down towards Totsukawa Onsen.

私たちは三浦峠の山頂に、最初に予想していたよりもずっと早く到着した。森の中の急な道を登っていくと、谷間やその先の素晴らしい景色が広がっていた。 トータルで2時間半くらいかかったと思う。景色を眺めながらランチを食べて、十津川温泉に向かって下山した。


Our descent towards Totsukawa Onsen presented us with more breathtaking views, I think maybe some of my favourite from the whole trip. Each forest we entered had a different face, a different feeling, different energy. Yes, I've hiked a lot and seen a lot of forests in my time here but this was special; to experience so many different types in a short space of time was truly magical. At this point we were deep in nature and all its wonderfulness, the city life we'd left just a few days ago felt like a million miles away.


We arrived in the beautiful Totsukawa Onsen village, located close to the border of Wakayama in south Nara. Our initial plan was to camp in this area but knowing we needed a good nights rest before our final day of trekking tomorrow (the longest part of the journey so far), we decided to book ourselves into a local B&B. The village was quiet but it was the most people we'd seen in days. Totsu River was an interesting blue/green/grey colour and was giving off some kind of Amazonian energy. I've never seen a river this colour before, nor have I seen the Amazon River (in person) but I imagined this is how it looks. We walked through the village until we arrived at our B&B for the night.


We found ourselves being the only people staying at this B&B, except for one other person who was also trekking the Kohechi trail. It was traditional Japanese style, with tatami, futons, a balcony looking over Totsu River and to our surprise a private rooftop onsen! This onsen experience was unmatched and I fully enjoyed bathing on the roof after 3 days of trekking through the mountains. 



Day 4 - 4日目

Today was our final day of walking the pilgrimage. Starting from Totsukawa Onsen heading over the Hatenashi-toge Pass to our final destination Kumano Hongu Taisha, 15.5km away. It was another early start as we had about 7-9 hours of walking left to do. I was feeling completely rejuvenated after both the outdoor and indoor onsen experiences at our B&B and ready to tackle the last day of our trek! Again, we saw some absolutely incredible scenes during this leg of the pilgrimage. It's a wonder we got anywhere on the whole trail as we were constantly stopping to take photos and videos the whole way. 


Shortly after leaving, we arrived at Hatenashi Settlement, a place I'd been really excited to see along this trail. The Hatenashi settlement is located in a high place, approx. 400m above sea level in Totsukawa Village. In this settlement remains rural Japanese scenery, beautiful stone-paved paths and rice paddies. The fields at the settlement are brimmed with cherry blossom, hydrangea, narcissus and green rice plants every season. It is called the Village in the Sky because of its beauty. It really was so beautiful.


出発して間もなく、私がこのトレイルでぜひ見たいと思っていた果無集落に到着しました。 畑梨集落は、十津川村の標高約400mの高台にあります。この集落には日本の田舎の風景が残っていて、美しい石畳の道や田んぼがあります。 集落の田んぼには、季節ごとに桜、紫陽花、水仙、緑の稲が咲き乱れます。その美しさから「天空の村」と呼ばれています。本当に美しかったですね。


We reached the summit of the Hatenashi-toge pass around 11:30am, 4 and a half hours after leaving our B&B. Standing at 1075m high, it was the final mountain peak we had to cross before descending to our end destination of the entire pilgrimage. The final push to the summit had been the most difficult, for me personally, of the whole trip. It was steep and my rucksack felt the heaviest it had felt since leaving Osaka. It was clear that I was definitely pushing my body to its limit at this point. We found ourselves in a low-lying cloud at the summit and the temperature dropped significantly. It was very eerie and made a great set for a horror movie scene. Due to the temperature drop and our cold, sweaty clothes against our skin, it was proving difficult to warm up, so we ate something quickly, took some photos and began our descent towards Kumano Hongu Taisha. The final destination!



We made it! We arrived at our final destination of the whole pilgrimage, Kumano Hongu Taisha, just after 4pm. We walked around the shrine, watching preparations ahead of the start of tomorrows festival; The Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival. Our goal when planning this trek was to arrive here before the start of the festival and we did just that. A huge sense of accomplishment filled us both with joy and pride. It's such an amazing feeling and I feel very proud to say that I've walked this world-famous pilgrimage with one of my dear friends. 


For our final night, we had booked to stay in a small onsen village called, Yunomine.

"Yunomine is a quaint little collection of inns tucked into a small valley deep in the heart of the sacred mountains of Kumano. The waters here are said to change colour seven times over the course of a day. Yunomine Onsen was discovered about 1,800 years ago, and it is thought to be one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. Yunomine Onsen is an integral part of the over 1000-year-old Kumano pilgrimage tradition. Pilgrims performed hot water purification rituals in these piping-hot mineral waters after their long journey in preparation to worship at Kumano Hongu Taisha. The Onsen culture in Japan is very rich, but the strong connection with the spiritual culture found in Yunomine is unprecedented. Two sections of the Kumano Kodo have trailheads here, the Akagi-goe and Dainichi-goe, making it a popular place to stay for walkers. Hot water ablutions are still performed to this day during the spring festival of Kumano Hongu Taisha." -

So we waited for the bus and headed to Yunomine. It was here that I had my first "onsen tomago" experience. Onsen tamago (Japanese: 温泉卵 or 温泉玉子) is a traditional Japanese low-temperature egg which is slow-cooked in the hot waters of onsen in Japan. It's fair to say it didn't turn out to be great, but I did enjoy the process.




というわけで、バスを待って湯の峰に向かいました。ここで私は初めて「温泉卵」を体験した。 結果的には美味しくなかったのですが、その過程を楽しむことができました。

Seiya had made a reservation at the local hostel, which was beautiful and also had both indoor and outdoor onsens that we couldn't wait to try out. We freshened up, ate some food and had an early night. It felt so good to sleep in an actual bed on an actual mattress; probably the best nights sleep I'd had all year. 



Day 5 - 5日目

Today was our final day which meant it was the start of the Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine’s Reitai-sai Festival, which begins with the ceremony of “Yunobori-shinji”. We were lucky as the starting point was in Yunomine, the small village we were staying in.


Before the ceremony started we walked around the village, which didn't take long due to its size. It was also the first time it had rained during our whole trek, but it made for a nice change of scenery which we both embraced. We found a cute cafe and ordered some food just before the festival procession began.





In the Yunobori-shinji, young boys who have been purified by the spring water of Yunomine Onsen are carried on the shoulders of their fathers along the Kumano Kodo and Dainichi-goe Section to Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine. There was a small crowd of locals, presumably family and friends of those in the ceremony and press photographers from local news stations. 

湯の峰温泉の泉水で清められた少年たちが、父親の肩に担がれて熊野古道や大日詣りの区間を通り、熊野本宮大社に向かう「湯のぼり神事」です。この日は、参列者の家族や友人と思われる地元の人たちや、地元の報道機関のカメラマンなど、少数の人たちが集まっていました。 。 


I never imaged that I would trek a pilgrimage trail, Kohechi was one of the best experiences I've ever done. If anyone finds themselves contemplating doing this trek, I couldn't recommend it more. Doing this pilgrimage gave us an opportunity to have some quiet time away from city life and time to reflect. It definitely gave me a fresh perspective and again I surprised myself and my own capabilities. Anything is truly possible if you're in the right mindset. I want to say a huge thank you to my friend Seiya for planting the seed about doing this together and organising pretty much the whole trip. I couldn't have wished for a better person to share this experience with. Heres to more trekking and spending more time in the great outdoors with my loved ones.

巡礼の道を歩くことになるとは想像もしていませんでした。しかし、Kohechiは私がこれまでに経験した中で最高のものでした。もし、このトレッキングをしようと考えている人がいたら、絶対にお勧めします。この巡礼をすることで、私たちは都会の生活から離れて静かな時間を過ごし、自分自身を見つめ直すことができました。 この巡礼は、私に新鮮な視点を与えてくれましたし、また、自分自身と自分の能力に驚かされました。正しい考え方をすれば、どんなことでも本当に可能なのです。一緒にやろうという種を蒔いてくれて、旅のほとんどすべてを手配してくれた友人のSeiyaに心から感謝しています。この経験を共有するのに、これ以上の人はいないと思うほどです。これからも、愛する人たちと一緒に、大自然の中でトレッキングを楽しみたいと思います。

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