A spiritual awakening along Japan’s trails: Whether you’re trekking for fun or spirituality, the rewards are many

Travel almost anywhere in Japan and you’re bound to find yourself at a shrine or two. They’re everywhere, from massive ones like the Meiji shrine in Tokyo to tiny ones in small-town parks.

But there’s a part of the country where visiting shrines is as much about the journey as the destination.

The Kumano Kodo is Japan’s answer to Spain’s Camino de Santiago. It’s a network of trails leading to temples and shrines through the forested hills of the Wakayama district, south of Osaka, that has been a pilgrimage route for more than 1,000 years.

Japanese followers of Shintoism make the pilgrimage to seek healing and salvation by getting in touch with their spirituality. It shares with the Camino de Santiago the distinction of being one of the only two such routes in the world to make the UNESCO World Heritage list. Even if your reason for trekking the Kumano Kodo is more about tourism than spiritualism, its rewards are many.

Some trails run through rural villages and include rest stops where you can grab a drink and chat with other travellers. Others delve deep into the forest, where you’re more likely to hear bird calls than the footsteps of other visitors.

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