The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, which for over a millennium has been integral to the country’s different religious communities, is as sacred to Shinto as it is to followers of Buddha. During your stay you will see the three Grand Shrines of Kumano Hongu, Kumano Hayatama and Kumano Nachi, in an area dotted with the steaming, bubbling Japanese hot-springs - known locally as onsen. Each night you will stay in either a luxurious hotel or in the serene surroundings of Shukubo (guest rooms provided by monks for temple guests and pilgrims). The trail is of such cultural importance that in 2004, UNESCO registered the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage as part of "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range", and is an experience to be savored whichever way your spiritual leanings lie.
Touch down at Haneda-Shirahama airport for your transfer to the Hongu area, and a briefing session at the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center to learn the details of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage. You will then head to Fujiya Ryokan, one of the most impressive accommodations in Kawayu Onsen, where you can reinvigorate your body and mind with a dip in the bubbles of the hot-spring bath, and relax in your choice of traditional or contemporary Japanese-styled interiors.
Awake restored and refreshed, and drive out to Hosshinmon-oji - the entrance to the divine precincts of the Kumano Hongu Taisha. Passing through the gate acts as a metaphor for your re-birth as you enter the sacred regions and begin the four-mile trek to Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine; this is the most spiritually significant part of the pilgrimage. Upon arrival at the Shrine, there is time to absorb the serene atmosphere of the Shinto temple - constructed entirely of Japanese Cypress - before a 40-minute drive along the Kumano-gawa river, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, towards Shingo. Here you have the option of taking a boat down the river, or go directly to Katsuura - and your lodgings for the night at Hotel Nakanoshima - located on its own private island just ten minutes from shore.
Today starts with a short 30-minute drive to Nachi, home to Kumano Nachi Taisha, the third sacred shrine of your journey, and the crashing waters of the Nachi Falls. After lunch you will travel to Shirahama Onsen - one of the oldest hot springs in Japan - taking in dramatic views of the North Pacific as you drive along on the ocean road. These onsen appear like natural infinity pools, seeming to almost merge with the ocean as they create a one-of-a-kind setting, highly prized as a romantic setting for wedding proposals and honeymoons. This evening you will stay in the beautiful town of Kaishu.
Head out to Koyasan, just three hours from Shirahama, and arrive in time for lunch and an afternoon touring the local shrines of Mount Koya. Here you will pass through the Daimon (Great Gate) of the mountain to visit the temples of Danjo-garan, Okunoin and Kongobuji - noted for its modern BanryÅ«tei rock garden; covering more than 25,180 square feet, it is Japan’s largest example and features a representation of two dragons, created from over 140 artfully placed granite stones. Shukubo is available at all of these sites.
Another early morning is recommended for your final day, in order to experience the Otsutome ceremony. This Buddhist dawn prayer service is the ideal way to end your stay on the mountain before checking out and making your way back to Osaka or Kyoto, and onto your next port of call.
Just steps away from the popular streets of Gion, Kawaramachi and Pontocho, the hotel is the perfect gateway for seeing Kyoto’s fabulous sights. The large meeting facilities and services also make the hotel ideal for business. Respecting the ancient traditions and culture of Kyoto, the extravagant space is inspired from the natural surroundings and traditional architecture. Famous for Zen Temples, palaces and gardens, the Kyoto atmosphere is incorporated in the Ritz-Carlton’s design. Built in the style of a traditional Meiji House and courtyard, this is truly a cultural experience. A four-story waterfall is featured in the hotel entrance amidst patterned motifs. Guests are always guaranteed world-famous luxury at Ritz-Carlton, and Kyoto is no exception: guests enjoy high-thread count linens, plush Japanese “IMABARI” robes and towels, complimentary WiFi, Kyoto soap and seasonal bath salts, LED TVs and touch-panel environmental controls for automatic drape closure. Accommodation amenities include a concierge service, swimming pool, banquet room, babysitting service, four delicious dining options and a spa for any pampering needs.