Minami-okugake

Minami-okugake

Off the Tourist Track is not about the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. Instead it’s about little-known places such as Omine-okugake Trail spanning Nara and Wakayama Prefectures.

This 170-km trail connects Mt. Yoshino with Kumano-hongu Taisha Shrine, the most difficult route among the pilgrimage spots in the Kii Mountains, and designated a World Heritage site. In the Nara Period (710 - 784) this trail was used for training by a founder of the Shugendo Buddhist sect and became popular on the journey to Kumano Shrine during the Edo Period (1600 - 1867).

The most famous part of the Omine-okugake Trail is the first half, from Sanjou-gatake to Hakkyou-gatake. The two-night, three-day course from Horakawa to Zenki is popular and is introduced in Lonely Planet’s Hiking in Japan. Women are still prohibited on Sanjou-gatake, while Hakkyou-gatake is one of Japan’s hundred famous peaks, and the highest point in the Kansai area at 1,914 meters.

I recently walked Minami-okugake, the last half of the trail. The first half is quite challenging, and there are few people on this low altitude section. The top is covered with trees so there is no panoramic view, and with no mountain huts, you have to carry in your camping gear.

But the real reward is as you approach Tamaoki Shrine; you will be shocked to see such a distinctive ancient shrine deep in the mountains, and there is a huge Japanese cedar over 1,000 years old. Here you can enjoy piece of history and have the woods all by yourself. You’ll be glad you chose Minami-okugake—the path less traveled.

The entire trip will take four nights and five days and cost about ¥58,000.

Ryo Sumikawa (aka boss monkey) is an editor at BE-PAL as well as the travel magazine b*p. Website: http://bp.way-nifty.com

TRIP PLAN

Trip Length: 4 nights & 5 days
Approximate Trip Cost: ¥58,000(self catering)
DAY 1: Arrive Zenki Shimokiyama Village. (Nara) and stay at Konakabou(reservation necessary). Price: ¥4,000 (self-catering); Tel: 072-834-1074
DAY 2: Zenki to Minami-okugake path. Stay at Heiji-no-Yado(unattended hut).
DAY 3: To Hanaorizuka and Tamaoki Shrine.
DAY 4: To Kumano. Stay at Oguriya Inn at Yunomine hot spring. Price: ¥8,000 with meal (reservation necessary). Tel: (0735) 42-0103
DAY 5: Visit Kumano-hongu-taisha Shrine in the morning. Take a bus to Shirahama Airport and return.