Monday, June 5, 2017

Getting to Tanabe City -- Jump off point for the Kumano Kodo's Nakahechi Route

It took me nearly a year to really plan out how to do the Kumano Kodo and still there were a few things I missed along the way.  If I can get you interested in walking this venerable, time honoured pilgrimage then let me give you a few tips on how to get yourself there.
In planning this trip, I used a local tour operator which simplified everything particularly since most of the reservations had to be made in Japanese.
There are various tour companies specialising in the Kumano Kodo and other hikes in Japan but I chose a community based organisation based in Tanabe City.
I also worked with Mi-Kumano, a local group of  english speaking guides who can likewise help with  accommodations, luggage transfers and tours.  

The Kumano Kodo is in the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture -- just a couple of hours away from Kansai International Airport but seemingly worlds and years away.  Landing at KIX is a most convenient way to reach the area.
We chose to walk the parts of the Nakahechi Route which starts at Takijiri.
There are no trains for that area so we had to take a train to Tanabe City and from there, a bus to Takijiri.

The lady at the JR Ticket Counter in KIX was very helpful -- she got us on the Rapid Express headed for Osaka with instructions to get off at Hineno Station, just two stops away.

Hineno station is one of the few stops of the Limited Express Kuroshio,  headed for Tanabe City and beyond.  We barely had time for a photo before our ride pulled into the station.  All aboard!

The Kuroshio Limited Express is a JR train that links Kyoto and Osaka with the towns and cities in Wakayama Prefecture.  We had reserved seats but after Wakayama station where most of the passengers got off, we had the car to ourselves.

The scenery outside my train window alternated between views of mountains, small villages and the waters of the Pacific Ocean.  I wish I had taken views of the coastline as we sped through.

Less than two hours later, we arrived at Kii Tanabe station.  There were a few taxis waiting for passengers but our hotel was just a few blocks walk away.
I thought the station had a quaint slightly European air -- particularly with the cut outs and designs of witches, pigs, farmers and little children.  Had we stumbled into the world of the Brothers Grimm?

Here are the Amigos -- we call ourselves this since most of us had walked the Camino de Santiago together in 2015
Tanabe City is a long long way from Santiago de Compostela but here we were again -- ready for another hike, another adventure. 

Hotel Hanaya, our lodgings for the one night we were in Tanabe City was small but clean and personally run by the  hard working owners.
As we checked out the next day, I was surprised to see them cleaning the rooms and taking out the laundry.   It was certainly an efficient "mom and pop" operation.

Hotel Hanaya does not serve dinner -- only breakfast.  Surprisingly, Tanabe City has a lively food scene.  Across the station is an area called Akikoji where there are bars, izakayas, restaurants and cafes.  I didn't know it but we were probably in the Food Capital of Wakayama Prefecture!  
Our innkeeper recommended a place called Ichiyoshi -- a gastro-pub of sorts with an english menu.

Ichiyoshi's food was ichiban oishii!  I had a set dinner of beef and prawns donburi which came with a tasty little pasta salad -- all for just 800 yen!  

The next morning, Day 1 of our walk, Jay and I went to the Tourist Center right beside the train station.
It offers a wealth of information on places to see and things to do in Wakayama Prefecture.  
And since Tanabe City is the starting point for those setting out on the Nakahechi Route, the centre has reams and reams of maps, bus and train timetables, brochures and everything you would need to know to help you along the way.
Right in front of the Center is the bus stop where everyone takes the bus to Takijiri, the gateway to the Kumano Kodo.

The Tourist Centre is staffed by very helpful, English speaking ladies who are only too happy to answer all questions and offer assistance for any last minute pilgrim's needs.  They can also connect you to the network of tourist facilities all throughout the Kii Peninsula  - truly an invaluable resource.

At the Tourist Centre there is a scale model of the various Kumano Kodo routes.  Encircled in red is the first leg of our walk, from Takajiri to Takahara Village.  It looks deceptively short but I always say that looks can be deceiving.  

For the Nakahechi Route, Takijiri is also called the "Gateway into the Sacred Mountains" and the official start of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.  The only way to get there is by local bus and this being rural Japan, they are few and far in between.   Make sure that you do not miss your bus!

Lesson Learned -  Tanabe City has a number of places of interest.  Aside from the vibrant food street Akikoji, there is a temple, a shrine and a beach, all within walking distance from the station. 
It's also the birthplace of Aikido.  If you are interested in any of these, it might be good to spend an extra day exploring Tanabe's charms.

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