Several hundred thousand people climb Japan’s Mount Fuji every year, many of them in the peak period of July and August. But for an altogether more secluded and spiritual hiking experience, the Kumano Kodo region four hours south of Osaka offers an ancient network of pilgrimage trails and majestic shrines set among the densely forested mountains of the Kii Peninsula.
The Kumano Kodo—meaning “Kumano old roads”—includes the Buddhist retreat of Mt. Koya and the temple area of Yoshino, sites that are relatively well-visited because of their proximity to Kyoto and Osaka. It also includes the three grand Shinto shrines, or “sanzen,” near the southern tip of the peninsula—an appendage of the main Japanese island of Honshu—and the pilgrimage pathways that link all these locations.
The sanzen and their accompanying trails have largely been forgotten in Japanese collective memory as the locus of national culture shifted north to Tokyo. The region draws about 15 million visitors a year, although much smaller numbers trickle into the sanzen area, which never feels crowded. By comparison, more than 100 million people a year visit the country’s most popular national park, Fuji-Hakone-Izu.
Read the rest of the story: Japan’s Old Roads