Follow in the footsteps of 10th-century emperors.
An ancient pilgrimage trail winds through the mountains of Japan’s Kii Peninsula, a densely forested region south of Osaka and Kyoto. It is the Kumano Kodo, a sacred passage of immense natural beauty that has been in use since the 10th century and yet is remote enough that it stays off the beaten path.
That is one of the reasons the trek feels otherworldly—you might walk through the woods for an entire day without seeing another person. It is a stark contrast from the crowds of tourists hiking Mount Fuji, nearly 300 miles away.
It’s impossible to forget the Shinto origins of this route when every couple hundred yards is another crumbling stone deity or Oji shrine. From moss-covered stones forming makeshift stairs on the mountainside to wooden bridges smooth with decades of use, not much has changed on the trail. There are early recorded visits to this region by Emperor Uda (907) and Emperor Kazan (986 and 987) but the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage became more broadly popular in the 11th century.