Nakahechi Trail

  • Hongu grand Torii gate  - © William Mackesy
  • Starting the Nakahechi at Takijiri-oji  - © William Mackesy
  • Oji near Takahara  - © William Mackesy
  • Terrace at Takahara  - © William Mackesy
  • Old, terraced path  - © William Mackesy
  • Ridgetop  - © William Mackesy
  • Nature as art - © William Mackesy
  • Modest oji and C12 stupa - © William Mackesy
  • Old teahouse roof - © William Mackesy
  • Beers on Tsugizakura guesthouse steps  - © William Mackesy
  • Wet village - © William Mackesy
  • Classic mists  - © William Mackesy
  • Fine old trail  - © William Mackesy
  • Hongu Torii gate on classic misty day  - © William Mackesy
  • Schoolchildren  - © William Mackesy
  • Hongu Taisha  - © William Mackesy
  • Brollies at Hongu  - © William Mackesy
  • Yunomine valley from room  - © William Mackesy
  • Leaving Hongu  - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Rest in snake country  - © William Mackesy
  • Last glimpse of Hongu basin in Kii mountains - © William Mackesy
  • Pass-top oji, Kii mountains behind - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • modesty of the oji - © William Mackesy
  • Illuminated ferns  - © William Mackesy
  • Nature as art, gothic cathedral  - © William Mackesy
  • Across Koguchi basin  - © William Mackesy
  • River at Kogichi  - © William Mackesy
  • Beer time, Koguchi former school  - © William Mackesy
  • Waroda-Ishi Rock  - © William Mackesy
  • Ancient path  - © William Mackesy
  • Chest Bursting Slope  - © William Mackesy
  • Boulder - © William Mackesy
  • Nachi waterfall - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • At Nachi Tiasha  - © William Mackesy

Key information: Nakahechi Trail

  • A network of old pilgrimage routes led to the Kumano Sanzan or Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, the spiritual heart of Japan.

  • The Nakahechi Trail crosses the broken maze of the central Kii Peninsula to the great shrine at Hongu Taisha, then (not strictly the Nakahechi) winds on for two more days to the Nachi Taisha by Japan's highest waterfall.

  • Fine forested landscape littered with evidence of an ancient, rich and indeed unique spiritual history. Stay in remote villages, steam in hot baths, and eat like a god.

  • This can be tiring walking in a frequently wet area. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating90
  • Beauty30
  • Natural interest13
  • Human interest18
  • Charisma31
  • Negative points2
  • Total rating90

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 35km/2-3 days to Hongu -70km/5 days to Nachi
  • Maximum Altitude: 863m
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
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Pass-top oji, Kii mountains behind - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

The Kumano Kodo is a network of old pilgrimage routes on the Kii Peninsula, south of Kyoto and Osaka on Japan's largest island, Honshu, which lead to the Kumano Sanzan, the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano,  an area which, along with Koyasan to the north and Ise to the north-east, constitute the spiritual heart of Japan. See our Kumano Kodo page for detailed information on the Kumano Sanzan and the history of the pilgrimages here.

The Hongu Taisha is the northernmost of the three great Kumano shrines, a harmonious group of buildings perfect in its rich plainness. It stood for over 1,000 years on an island in the Kumano river valley and was subsequently rebuilt up the hillside. The base of the old shrine still sits quietly in its trees, by the largest torii gate in the world. Nachi Taisha lies south-east of Hongu, a shrine and busy complex on a steep slope near a spectacular 133m waterfall, the highest in Japan.

It is not just these great sites that were sacred, though:  Kumano is a spiritual realm as well as a physical area. The routes are littered with oji (subsidiary shrines), statues, the remains of tea houses and other reminders of the routes' rich past. These were symbolic journeys through a sacred landscape. The pilgrim moved from the diamond realm of clear Buddha thought in the north to the womb realm of death and rebirth on Mt Myoho near Nachi, with purifications and other rituals on the way.

Most modern walkers follow the Nakahechi Trail from Takijiri-oji, across the broken maze of the Kii Peninsula's central mountains, for three days to Hongu Taisha, then continue on across two more days' worth of rough hills to Nachi Taisha, which is nowadays the most walked stretch (but often done in reverse).  See William Mackesy's account of walking the Nakahechi Trail.

This is fine walking on numinous routes which are lined with oji, torii gates, stele inscribed with poems, the bases of teahouses evidence of the area's, and indeed Japan's, ancient, rich and indeed unique spiritual history. "Cultural landscape" indeed.

 Most of  your time will be in attractive, rugged forested landscape, although much of it is blanketed in planted conifers, which makes for limited variety and in the thicker areas almost a monoculture... but, most of the time, there are shrubs or low bamboo or ferns below, and in dappled sunlight or drifting mist it is very pretty. Every so often you pass into natural woodland of mixed trees and shrubs which make a welcome change.

A fascination of walking here is the view you get of rural Japan; rich remains of a tough but unique way of life are everywhere, even if the population is shrinking and rice terraces returning to forest. You will stay in remote villages and eat like gods, morning and evening (and like well provided humans at lunchtime).

SEE OUR KUMANO KODO PAGE FOR DETAILED INFORMATION ON THE KUMANO KODO AND ITS HISTORY AS WELL AS PRACTICAL INFORMATION AND MORE PHOTOS.

WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk

This is how the Nakahechi trail was for our group of 12 middle-agers in June 2015.

Day 1 - Koyasan

This is a slightly funny day’s walking, a steep clamber on the old womens’ route around the perimeter hills of one of Japan’s greatest Buddhist temple complexes, then a meander through its heart.

We begin with a big-hotel buffet breakfast, then potter to the central Osaka station for our train to Koyasan. An interesting rattle through endless Osaka suburbs then.....

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Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

Nature as art, gothic cathedral  - © William Mackesy

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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River at Kogichi  - © William Mackesy...
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