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All roads lead to Kumano Nachi - Japan


©Sharanya Subramaniam

Right from childhood, the country of Japan, encompassing everything from its Strawberry KitKat to cat cafes, had always influenced my life in subtle yet profound ways. As a high school student, I watched a Japanese show about the restoration of a Shinto Buddhist shrine done by a British Architect. Exposing myself to the nitty-gritty of Architecture for the first time in my short life, I was impressed by the enduring human spirit. It turned out to be one of the reasons why I eventually ended up becoming an Architect. Back in middle school, one of our language classes had a story about the famous tea ceremony and its culture practised by the Japanese. Being a tea lover myself, I vowed to experience this at least once, to satiate my taste buds and my soul. As a trekking enthusiast, things came to a head, when I discovered the Kumano Kodo trails, one of the famous treks of Japan. The inevitable push came when I landed a flight deal that gave me significant savings on the international leg of my flight, connecting Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai to Narita Airport in Japan. That's how the story of my journey to the land of the Sakura blossoms began in August 2019.

Being my first solo international trip, a lot of planning took place over a course of 8 months, along with a year of frugal living to save up for the trip. The itinerary was mainly centred around the Nachi San trail, and the dates I could get the cheapest flights. After countless hours of research, the last itinerary crossed 3 major cities and 2 hot spring villages, by the means of their brilliant public transportation system with my trusty 50L backpack. It also satisfied a wide range of my interests, ranging from cultural activities, visiting main Architectural sights (Ancient and Modern), treks, Japanese cuisine and teas.

My impressions of Japan, like thousands of travellers before me, was overwhelmingly positive. There was something for everyone, from the old to the young, from those with vanilla tastes to the unique. There seems to be a seamless balance between their ancient traditions and history, and their present modern lifestyle. Their ancient Architecture boasts of wondrous wooden joinery, while the minimalism of their modern Architecture impresses. Their everyday design is specifically utilitarian while also maintaining their playful aesthetics. A case in point was the tsunami warning pamphlet on a public train, which had illustrations of a cutesy anime panda. Another one being the sewer covers that had special engravings on them based on their purpose and place. Their public transportation was a revelation for someone like me, who grew up with public transport in my home city and loves to people-watch. Lastly, the lifestyle of the people is commendable in so many ways which makes the country what it is. Their communal spirit ensures the society progresses together, instead of individual action. To illustrate this, a local friend I made here brought me a face mask as a gift, as she found out I was leaving Japan the next day and would be subsequently exposed to a lot of people in the airports (initial stages of Covid outside India). Life is infinitely better as a friendly unit! Just like all other countries, Japan seems to have its own issues, but that is vastly outnumbered by its positive aspects.

In the course of my 9-day tour, the highlight turned out to be the trek to Kumano Nachi. Recognized by UNESCO as one of the two ancient pilgrimage paths in the world (the other being Camino de Santiago in Spain), the Kumano Kodo trails are a series of paths, connected by trekking trails, ferries and roadways. As a designer, the process of building up suspense until the ultimate reveal blew my mind. The first day of the (moderate) trek ended in an isolated village with a maximum of 5-6 buildings in the area. Due to incessant rains the next day, I ended up finding myself alone on the trail to the shrine. To think back on it, the strenuous 14km trek started with 2000+ mossy, spherical rocks which led me into a field of blonde yellow prairie grass, which changed into another mossy green forest and finally breaking out into the first sign of civilization, with the bright orange coloured shrine framed by the Nachi falls, in tow. To sum it up, a tiring trek with thick, lush green vegetation accompanied by rains and brooks transformed into a Murakami-esque yellow alien field, which changed into a green forest to ultimately reveal itself as an orange-coloured shrine! The sight was mesmerising, to say the least. I would gladly do this another time in my life. Consequently, an important item was crossed off my bucket list!

Now that I look back on my journey, it definitely opened up new perspectives, gave new insights into my personal thoughts on design, changed some notions of mine, and of course, helped me to make some new friends! Considering it in the light of the recent waves of the pandemic, I'm glad I got the chance to be able to experience a different world before the "new normal". Life is so short, yet we seem to take it for granted. Post covid, I'm eager to see how the concept of travel changes, and can't wait for the roads to exploration to be opened to normal mortals like me. As for Japan, I encourage designers to visit and as for me, I'm hopeful of returning to experience some of the wonderful things I missed on this trip! In conclusion, like the Japanese say, Sha Matane!


22 Jan 2020

Bangalore to Mumbai, Mumbai to Narita Airport

  • Mode of transport - Domestic airline, ANA airways

  • Stay - K's House Kyoto- Backpacker's hostel

  • Food - Inflight meals

Travel to Kyoto via Tokyo from Narita.

  • Mode of transport - Narita Express 4, Shinkansen Nozomi 219

Night stroll around Higashiyama area.

  • Mode of transport - Walk

  • Food - Rice with seaweed

23 Jan 2020

Tea ceremony and matcha tea class, walk through Higashiyama district, Kodaji temple, Kennin-ji temple. Lunch-Gion area

  • Mode of transport - Walk

  • Stay - K's House Kyoto- Backpacker's hostel

  • Food - Matcha tea, Rice flour and bean paste sweets breakfast

Maruyama park, Chionin temple, Nanzenji temple, Eikando temple. Evening trek Fushimi Inari Shrine. Night at hotel.

  • Mode of transport - Walk /Trek

  • Food - French toast

24 Jan 2020

Morning visit Kiyomizudera shrine. Travel from Kyoto to Kawayuonsen in Wakayama through Osaka. Reach by 05.00pm

  • Mode of transport - Shinkansen Nozomi 21, Ltd. Express Kuroshio 9, local bus

  • Stay - Minshuku Omuraya (Oto river-side Homestay)

  • Food - Matcha latte, Japanese buffet dinner.

Visit public bath (onsen). Night at hotel.

25 Jan 2020

Visit Kumano Hongu Shrine. Take a bus to Ukegawa (trail head) by 08.30am

  • Mode of transport - Trekking

  • Stay - KoguchiShizen-no-Ie (A rural school converted to lodging)

  • Food - Japanese buffet breakfast

Trek Ogumotori-goe section between Ukegawa and Koguchi. (13km-6hrs trek). Check in at hotel

  • Food - Japanese buffet dinner

26 Jan 2020

Check out from hotel. Trek Kogumotori-goe section- Koguchi to Nachisan.(14km,9 hrs trek) and Diamonzaka trail (1km)

  • Mode of transport - Trekking

  • Stay - Hotel Charmant

  • Food - Japanese buffet breakfast

Visit Seiganto-ji temple and Nachi falls. Travel to Kii-katsura and check in at hotel at 5.30pm.

  • Mode of transport - Bus

27 Jan 2020

Travel fromKii-katsura to Tokyo via Nagoya Check in at hotel.

  • Mode of transport - (Ltd. Exp. Nanki 4, Shinkansen Nozomi 18)

  • Stay - Nine Hours Asakusa (capsule hotel)

  • Food - English breakfast

Take a night tour to visit Tokyo skytree, Nihonbashi Bridge, Tokyo skytree, Azumbashi bridge and Sensouji temple in E bikes. Night at capsule hotel.

28 Jan 2020

Start early, visit Architecture by famous Architects in Omotesando region. The Audi Forum,Tokyu Plaza, Gyre, Dior Building,Prada Building, Mosaic Building and Nezu Museum.

  • Mode of transport - Tour guide

  • Stay - Nine Hours Asakusa (capsule hotel)

Evening souvenir shopping at Don Quijote shop, Asakusa area.

  • Mode of transport - Walk

29 Jan 2020

Travel to Narita Airport from Tokyo. Narita to Mumbai. Mumbai to Bangalore

  • Mode of transport - Narita Express, ANA Airway, Domestic flight

  • Food - In flight meals


  • Strawberry Kitkats

  • Plushies

  • Japanese fan

  • Stationery

  • Perfume

  • Chocolates

  • Incense sticks

  • Matcha tea

  • Souvenir Chopsticks

  • Bookmarks

  • Electronics




A young Architect based in Bangalore, India. Loves trekking and reading books. Striving to become an Architectural Engineer and a mountaineering guide in the near future.


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