According to the tourism bureau, Kumano is the ancient name for this southern part of the Kii Peninsula, the largest in Japan, and is a spiritual hot spot containing the Ise-jingu shrine, Yoshino and Omine, Koyasan and the sacred Kumano Sanzan Shrines. Kumano is associated not only with Yomi-no-Kuni, the mythical land of the dead, but also Buddhist celestial paradises.
As this was my first visit to Japan, and in retrospect was unnecessarily concerned about communication issues, I opted for one of the ‘model itineraries’ offered by the tourism bureau in Tanabe, the starting point on the hike. ‘The Nakahechi’ or ‘The Imperial Route to Kumano’ is promoted as a five-night, six-day trail but in reality you are only walking longer distances for four of these. The average distance is about 15km, with the longest day at 21km. There is ample time for quiet contemplation, to admire the natural splendour, bathe in a brook and rest at the modest, moss-covered Oji shrines.