Embarking on a hiking adventure is always exciting, but when your hiking partner is an 83-year-old certified Forest Bathing guide—your own mom, no less—it becomes an extraordinary journey filled with wisdom, determination, and a deep connection to nature.
The Kumano Kodo hike in Japan started in the 9th century as a spiritual trek. UNESCO recognized it as the only certified pilgrimage hike beside the Camino de Santiago. My Mom and I have now completed both hikes and received our dual pilgrimage certificate. We are among the less than 5,000 people worldwide (600 in the United States) who have received this certificate.
The Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes in Japan, known for its rich spiritual and cultural significance. These routes have been traveled by pilgrims for over a thousand years, leading to sacred shrines nestled amidst the lush forests of the Kii Peninsula. The Nakahechi route, one of the most popular among them, promised an authentic and immersive experience. The experience in Japan encompassed five days of negotiating challenging terrains and tackling unimaginable inclines while enjoying breathtaking views. Join us as we recount our 5-day trek along the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi route, a challenging adventure through rugged terrain, and explore each section of the route in detail.
Day 1: Takijiri-oji to Tsugizakura-oji
Our journey began at Takijiri-oji, where we were greeted by towering cedar trees and the promise of adventure. The path was steep and rocky, but the excitement was palpable as we delved deeper into the forest. Mom’s knowledge of forest therapy became immediately evident as she encouraged us to engage our senses. We marveled at the ancient trees; their roots seemingly intertwined with centuries of history. This initial section was a testament to our enthusiasm and the power of nature’s embrace.
Day 2: Tsugizakura-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha
This leg of the journey was undoubtedly the most challenging. The terrain grew rougher, and the steep inclines seemed relentless. However, my mom’s unwavering determination was a beacon of inspiration. Her forest therapy practices helped us find solace amid the struggles, whether it was through mindful breathing or simply sitting in quiet contemplation by a murmuring stream. As we pressed on, the sense of accomplishment and the anticipation of reaching Kumano Hongu Taisha kept us moving forward.
Day 3: Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen
Our arrival at Kumano Hongu Taisha was a momentous occasion. The grandeur of the shrine, nestled among ancient cedar trees, was awe-inspiring. With mom as our guide, we participated in a forest bathing session, allowing the tranquility of the sacred surroundings to seep into our souls. Energized and spiritually enriched, we continued our journey to Yunomine Onsen, where a soothing soak in the natural hot springs awaited us—an exquisite reward after our physically demanding day.
Day 4: Yunomine Onsen to Koguchi
The trail from Yunomine Onsen to Koguchi brought a new set of challenges. Steep descents, precarious bridges, and dense forests surrounded us. Mom’s forest therapy wisdom came to the forefront again, offering moments of respite amidst the relentless terrain. We encountered fellow pilgrims along the way, sharing stories of our unique journey and the deep connection we were forging with nature. The rugged beauty of the Koguchi area was both humbling and awe-inspiring.
Day 5: Koguchi to Nachi Taisha
Our final day was a culmination of all that we had experienced on the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Route. The trail led us to Nachi Taisha, where the powerful Nachi Falls greeted us with their thunderous beauty. As we offered our prayers and reflections, the sense of accomplishment and the bond formed with my mom on this incredible journey felt overwhelming. We had completed our pilgrimage, not only to sacred shrines but to the depths of our own spirits.
Hiking the Kumano Kodo with my mom was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure filled with unforgettable moments and profound experiences. Each section of the trail presented its own unique challenges and rewards, and it was my mom’s expertise in forest therapy that made this journey even more special. This trek was a testament to the power of nature to heal, inspire, and deepen our connection to the world around us.
As we concluded our 5-day adventure, we carried with us the memories of rugged terrain, serene forests, ancient shrines, and, most importantly, the enduring bond between a mother and her child. This experience will forever hold a special place in our hearts, reminding us of the incredible resilience and wisdom that age and nature can bestow upon us. Here are a few of amazing observations about my mom that I gleaned during during each phase of the trek……
1: Preparations and Excitement: Our journey began with careful preparations, ensuring we had the right gear, adequate supplies, and a positive mindset. The excitement was palpable as we set foot on the trail, each step taking us further into the heart of nature. With my mom’s knowledge of forest therapy, we were both attuned to the therapeutic benefits of the lush green surroundings and the calming sounds of the forest.
2: Uphill Battles and Unwavering Determination: The terrain grew rougher, and the steep inclines challenged our endurance. However, my mom’s unwavering determination and positive attitude were infectious. She reminded me that each challenging step brought us closer to the sense of accomplishment we sought. We paused to meditate amidst ancient trees and cascading waterfalls, rejuvenating our spirits.
3: Forest Bathing and Deep Connection: As we delved deeper into the forest, my mom’s expertise in forest bathing came into play – once again. We engaged in invitations, allowing ourselves to fully immerse in the natural world. The therapeutic benefits of the forest were undeniable; the sense of peace and serenity enveloped us. Sharing this experience with my mom, who has dedicated many years to this practice, was incredibly special.
4: The Power of Resilience: The trail continued to challenge us, but our resilience grew stronger with each passing day. We encountered fellow trekkers along the way, sharing stories of our journeys and the spiritual significance of the Kumano Kodo. My mom’s wisdom, empathy, and compassion left a lasting impression on those we met, inspiring others to appreciate the healing power of nature.
5: The Arrival: The final day of our journey brought us to Kumano Hongu Taisha, a sacred shrine and the culmination of our journey. As we approached the shrine, the sense of achievement and connection to the spiritual heritage of the Kumano Kodo overwhelmed us. We offered our prayers, grateful for the profound experiences we had shared along the trail.
Hiking the Kumano Kodo was an unforgettable adventure that transcended physical challenges. It was a journey of self-discovery, resilience, and deep connection with nature. My mom’s expertise in forest bathing added a profound layer of meaning to our trek, highlighting the therapeutic benefits of immersing oneself in the natural world. As we looked back on our five days of adventure, we knew that this was not just a trek but a journey of a lifetime—one that we would cherish forever!