Kumano Kodo, Japan’s Camino, celebrates 10 years as a UNESCO-listed heritage trail today. Similarly to the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims have been following the journey to Kumano for over 1000 years, taking a network of routes across the forests, rivers, mountains and valleys of the Kii Peninsula. It was here Kyoto’s emperors came to as a spiritual retreat: they would purify themselves in some of the natural hot springs (including Yunomine Onsen, Japan’s oldest spa village), walk in the deep forest and pray at one of the three sacred sites, known as Kumano Sanzan: Hongu, Hayatama and Nachi.
In 2004, UNESCO added the various Kumano Kodo routes to its prestigious World Heritage list, recognising the cultural and spiritual importance of Japan’s Camino.
Since they share a history and tradition of pilgrimage, Santiago de Compostela and Tanabe City tourism officials have been working in recent years to promote both trails together and both UNESCO pilgrimage routes have been twinned since 1998. Following a recent visit to the Camino de Santiago by Japan’s Prince Naruhito, Galician representatives walked part of the Kumano Kodo ancient trail a few weeks ago. It is also possible to get a dual Kumano Kodo-Camino de Santiago pilgrim passport to get stamped along both trails.
The Kumano region has been a sacred place for centuries and is regarded as the cradle of Japanese culture and spirituality. A pristine land of outstanding natural beauty, located south of Osaka and Kyoto, the Kii Peninsula is home to a unique mix of Shinto and Buddhist temples, testament to the peaceful exchange of cultures and religions in Japan. For more information about the Kumano Kodo, contact the Kumano Travel Centre.
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