Stairway to heaven: hiking ancient pilgrimage trails in southern Japan

Mountainous Kumano is the holy ground of Japan and pilgrims have been trekking there for centuries. Shrines, mist, forests and waterfalls combine to create an entrancing hike

Normally I am not given to praying but the occasion demands it. After bowing twice and clapping twice, I make a silent entreaty that my trek will go well. My obeisance is taking place in front of a small wooden building, rather like a summerhouse. It is a shrine in the town of Takijiri-oji, a starting point for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails.

Kumano is the traditional name for the southern part of Japan’s Kii peninsula. It contains pilgrimage routes dating back more than a millennium. The first pilgrims were adherents of Shinto who travelled to worship beside the natural wonders of the sacred Kii mountains. Later pilgrims followed an amalgam of Shinto and Buddhism.

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