Walk Japan, the pioneer of off-the-beaten-track tours of Japan, announces the launch of the Kumano Wayfarer. The latest in their series of Wayfarer Self-guided Tours, these tours provide independent visitors to Japan with the means and support for an enjoyable journey exploring at their own pace.

This is an unescorted walking tour following the Kumano Kodo, an ancient route travelled on foot by emperors, pilgrims and ascetic monks for over a thousand years. Drawn to Kumano’s message of universal acceptance, the devout would hope to attain spiritual rebirth in a landscape deeply connected to the Kojiki, Japan’s myth of creation. Today, pilgrims are few in number, but the route still remains an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage, cared for by those who live and work aside it. UNESCO has awarded the Kumano Kodo World Heritage status and, alongside Spain’s Camino de Santiago, it is one of only two pilgrimages in the world afforded this distinction.

Starting in Kyoto, customers are transported to the start of the Kumano Kodo’s Nakahechi route in deepest rural Japan. This follows a hilly, winding path primarily through verdant forests that leads to the Kumano Sanzan; namely, Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha. All are sacred grand shrines at the core of the pilgrimage; the first is known for its scenery-dominating, immense torii shrine gate and the second for the iconic setting of its pagoda and waterfall.

The path, which passes through charming villages, is lined with a multitude of oji sub-shrines, carved deities and other testaments to the historical and spiritual significance of the Kumano Kodo. Occasionally, the forest opens up to reveal expansive, scenic mountain views, some over neatly tended tea fields and others to the Pacific Ocean.

Accommodation is mostly in family-run inns, some with the distinctive and traditional Japanese surroundings of paper screens and straw mat tatami flooring. One resort hotel, interestingly located on an island within a harbour rounds off the tour. Japanese baths, sometimes with hot waters sourced from onsen thermal hot springs, are an excellent way to relax and luxuriate at the end of each day. A special treat is a night at Yunomine Onsen, one of the most venerable hot spring villages found in Japan. Everywhere, hosts provide a warm welcome and feasts of home- cooked, regional cuisine, many of the ingredients of which they or their neighbours have grown or sourced from the surrounding forests.

The Kumano Wayfarer includes some steep, rocky climbs over uneven ground. The materials provided utilise Walk Japan’s extensive research of the Kumano Kodo and its expertise derived from nearly 25 years of leading guided walking tours throughout Japan. Walk Japan is confident that its Kumano Wayfarer provides a enjoyable and unique experience of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, as well as an intimate experience of Japan and its people.

The Kumano Wayfarer includes easy-to-follow, detailed instructions on how to join and prepare for the tour. Options are provided to lengthen or shorten the daily itinerary to suit energy levels.

The Kumano Wayfarer is a seven-day, six-night self-guided walking tour for up to 6 participants. This Level 4 tour is suitable for anyone who can walk at a gentle pace for four to six hours in comfort.