The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage is an ancient, sacred pilgrimage that takes travelers to some of the most important shrines in the Shinto religion. Last time, we walked on the part of Kiiji from Kainan to Yuasa, crossing a couple of small mountains along the way. This time, the Kiiji Trail goes up another mountain again and crosses the Shishigase Pass. While the Shishigase Pass is said to be the hardest part of the Kiiji Trail, overall it is really good for a day hike!
Note: See here for the other entries of our Kiiji and Kumano Kodo series!
Kumano Kodo Kiiji Trail
Yuasa to Gobo
We resumed our journey on the Kiiji Trail from Yuasa, which is 30 minutes from Wakayama by train. Yuasa is famous as the birthplace of soy sauce and has quite a large historic district near the station. However, when we got there many of the shops were closed—I guess we arrived too early in the morning. Yuasa is one of the biggest towns in central Wakayama but for some reason, there are no convenience stores near the station, so make sure to buy some snacks before you head out!
From Kumezaki Oji, the Kiiji Trail goes across the Hirokawa River and then goes to Hirokawa city. As is the case with other parts in Wakayama, there were many tangerine groves in Hirokawa City. If you are lucky enough, you can find a vendor on the side road selling those fresh tangerines. These bags of tangerines are really cheap (like 100 yen for 5 oranges!), so you should definitely try to pick some up if you can find them!
Izeki Oji is hard to find. It is currently near the entrance of a highway, but it has been moved around many times throughout the course of history. We lucked out here and were able to find a convenience store near Izeki Oji. If you don’t have any me snacks and drinks at this point you’d better stop here before you enter the Shishigase Pass. Once you get to the pass there are no other convenience stores for the next 5 hours or so until Gobo Station. It is really rare to see a convenience store in Wakayama, but I guess this is probably because it is near the highway entrance.
After Kawase Oji, the Kiiji Trail y starts heading into the Shishigase Pass. Many people think this pass is one of the toughest parts of the Kiiji Trail. Certainly, the mountains staring us down were somewhat daunting. If you feel nervous, go pay a visit to Jizo-ji Temple just before Shishigase Pass. The jizo in that temple will allegedly help push you up the steep hill!
All set to hike up the Shishigase Pass!
Shishigase Pass: The Hardest Part of the Kiiji Trail?
Shishigase Pass is paved almost all the way to the top. The most likely reason is probably that tangerine farmers drive their trucks up this pass. This also means that the pass is not too steep, but it is an endless climb for 2km (roughly one mile)!! Every now and then, you can find several places with the great scenery of the mountains.
The top of the Shishigase Pass is 300m high. Unfortunately, there is nothing but a large clearing with a little jizo and a pagoda standing in the forest. A while back, this clearing had a couple of old tea houses for people hiking the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage. However, after the train and major roads were made, almost nobody hikes this road anymore, so the tea houses quickly went out of business.
Also, on the top of the pass there used to be an old mountain castle called Shihisgase Castle. Much of this castle is a mystery and sadly, we simply didn’t have the time to check it out.
As the trail starts to descend we were quite surprised to see that a 500m section of the original stone road was still intact. While it was great to see part of the original trial, it wasn’t easy to walk. Parts of this road were either partly collapsed or covered with moss, making it rather slippery. After Gobo, the trail follows along the ocean, so this is the last mountainous section of the Kiiji Trail.
After clearing the seemingly endless Shishigase Pass, we started down to Kii Uchihara Station. The trail here goes through some beautiful countryside. There isn’t too much here but there are several oji shrines along the way, so don’t miss them!
About an hour after the pass, just near Kii-Uchihara Station is Taie Oji. While many oji up to this point were just little stone markers, this shrine has a building called Uchihara Oji Shrine. We have seen more than 50 oji, but only a handful of these kinds of shrines remain.
Kii Uchihara Station is quite close to Uchihara Oji Shrine, but we deiced to just walk the rest of the way to Gobo. It is only an hour to Gobo Station and from there you can take limited express Kuroshio for Wakayama and Osaka.
The path leading to Aitokusan Oji is registered as a historic national site because it preserves the atmosphere of the ancient Kumano Kodo. The path is a bit hard to find, but it is located just north of Aitokusan Oji. It looks like just an ordinary road where people walk their dogs, to be honest.
After Yoshida Hachiman Shrine is Kuama Oji, which has a little shrine. Gobo Station is only 20 minutes away from Kuama Oji, but if you have time, stop by Dojo-ji, the most famous temple in Wakayama! It is only 15 minutes from Kuama Oji.
At long last, we arrived in Gobo. It was 7 hours hike from Yuasa! Gobo is the biggest city in central Wakayama, but there is almost nothing near the station. From Gobo Station, limited express Kuroshio will take you to Osaka in one hour!