Scenes from along the Ise-ji

Ise-ji: Walk With Me

Notes on the coastal pilgrimage route in Mie Prefecture, Japan

An Explorers Club Special Project


Introduction

Allow me to share what I love about a good walk in Japan: I love the small villages, coming across a rusted and worn down kissa, sipping a ¥200 cup of the dankest coffee around, listening to an 80 year old mama relay debauched stories of love lost over a slice of pizza toast. I love the Japan-walking clichés, those moments in the forest, alone, uguisu birdsong above, winds shifting the bamboo treetops like a Ghibli film loop, stopping to catch my breath next to a grave marking the spot where a loyal horse conked out two hundred years ago. I love coming across the remnants of teahouses at mountain passes, foundation stones blocking off volume for the mind to fill in. I love cutting through rice fields, greeting suspicious farmers in all their various stages of planting or prepping or harvesting depending on season, photographing their weather-gouged faces, dubious dentistry, the clockwork movements of steam-punk planters dropping seedlings into the shallow ponds of their fields. I love walking past an abandoned and roofless forest shrine in May, returning in December only to find it glowing with fresh hinoki wood — Whoa, someone still cares. And I love the plainness of life on display: The bedsheets and museum-grade underwear drying in the sun, cars washed before jagged mountain backdrops, the maintenance on homes, plaster walls, kayabuki thatched roofs, the squat pulling of weeds from moss gardens. I love all these seemingly insignificant details, but details that, en masse, form the fullness of a time and place, both in the historical aggregate and of that very moment in which you're stepping. It's a helluva thing, the gift of walking the world.


Let me emphasize that this is not a guide, but it's also not not a guide. It's a collection of notes, tips, and, I guess, "travelogue" entries about walking the Ise-ji route of the Kumano Kodō. I wrote this because I love the Ise-ji, and want you, also, to think: Damn, that looks like a fine hike.

So consider this a persuasion or seduction, a thing to bookmark and return to, for when you decide to give this walk a go. Consider it a playful dare, for when we can all go out and walk again.

— , April 2020

P.S., My walks and this site — it's production, refinement, hosting, et cetera — are all made possible by the generous support of members of my Explorers Club. This is our first so-called "Special Project." Many, many thanks to that kind crew.

The Route

The Ise-ji is a 1200+ year old historic route full of life being lived and having been lived. It connects the cities of Ise-Shi and Shingu along the eastern coast of the Kii Peninsula, crossing between Mie and Wakayama Prefectures. In the northern half it bisects rice fields and wends through valleys funneling the walker or pilgrim slowly towards the ocean. The southern half is almost entirely coastal, with each day requiring, sometimes, the crossing of several mountain passes, almost all with rewarding views into and beyond the cove-tucked hamlets of soon-to-be-strolled fishing villages, many with local train stations, attendantless, cute, seemingly abandoned, adorned only with sun-bleached wanted posters and posters of missing children and other posters, still, imploring teenagers not to do drugs. But, despite appearances, the trains do come — several times each day — and that presence of infrastructure in and out, up and down the coast, plays a big role in imbuing the path with an ambient vitality and makes it accessible to any level of walker or hiker.

Despite 30km or so of the Ise-ji receiving a UNESCO World Heritage listing, the Ise-ji is mostly, strangely, ignored by tourists, and so at the time of my writing this (January 2020 (but finished in April 2020, amidst the backdrop of the global COVID19 pandemic, during which, obviously, nobody is walking the Ise-ji)), one could conceivably walk the entire length and see only one or two other walkers. In fact, I walked the full length, the 170-odd-kilometers, in both May and December of 2019, over eight days, and didn’t see a single other foreigner. It was only around Owase and Magose Tōge that I finally encountered another walker of any sort, and then it was only a handful of Japanese day-hikers. Owase seems to be the "epicenter" of any kind of tourist activity along the Ise-ji. Otherwise: Bupkis.

This is in stark contrast to the Nakahechi or Kohechi routes of the Kumano Kodō, both of which are now so heavily trafficked a walker often has to book their accommodations months (if not a year!) in advance. When folks talk about having “hiked Kumano Kodō” they are almost always talking about the Nakahechi, a route whose marketing has been masterfully spearheaded by Tanabe City in Wakayama Prefecture. The Nakahechi is indeed a fairly accessible route, but one with limited lodging and rather onerous bus transportation into and out of its land-locked location.

And so for would-be Kumano Kodō visitors, I highly recommend considering the Ise-ji. The Nakahechi and Kohechi have delights all of their own, but I believe the Ise-ji is a path deserving far more attention than it has gotten. As I said — I adore it. I find its blend of both the spiritual and everyday, of mountains and coast, of agrarian and fish-based economies, of empty wilderness and sometimes bustling, sometimes very much depopulated villages, to be rewarding and delightful.

Below is a series of notes and diary entries compiled from several walks I’ve taken on the Ise-ji, pivoting around my eight day walk in December 2019. I’ve tried to make this a one-stop comprehensive single-page of English-language information on the route. I suggest to those non-Japanese readers looking to walk in earnest that they dig through Mie Prefecture’s English literature, too. All linked below. If you find any errors (invariably there will be many) or have other suggestions for links or additional material, please feel free to email [email protected].

Getting There, Budget, and Resources

Access

The Ise-ji is easily accessible by rail from Nagoya Station (which is easily accessible by Shinkansen from Tokyo or Kyoto or Osaka).

From Nagoya Station you can take:

  • the Kintetsu Limited express to Ise-shi (that's Ise-shi not "Ise-ji" station)
  • or the the Nanki Express — a train with excellent coastal views — all the way to Shingu, to start the walk from the south.

You can also, of course, walk down from Nagoya over the course of a few days.


Budget

Camping is possible on much of the route, so one could get by on a budget close to zero. My eight day walk ran up a total of ¥108,500, or about $1000 USD, but only because I was seeing what some of the best inns on the route offered. So think of that as an upper bounds. You can easily get by on $100 or less a day, inclusive of good lodging and meals.

Travel to and from will depend on your starting point. From Tokyo, on trains, it's about ¥20,000 one way.

Mie Prefecture Resources
walkkumano.com Resources

GPX Data / Maps

Iseji route on a black and white map
Map Applications

I recommend the GaiaGPS app for iOS and Android smartphones. It's free to use but the paid version allows for downloading more comprehensive hiking and topology maps. I find the value in paying to be honest and clear.

If you're looking to make your own tracks, you can produce them with Gaia on your smartphone, but I find using a Garmin Instinct watch to be simpler and more accurate and saves phone battery. The Instinct strikes an excellent balance of price, functionality, and data collection capabilities.

GPX Data

Below are GPS tracks (.gpx files) which can be loaded into Gaia and other GPS applications. Having the route appear as a line on a map can be of great help when signage or other wayfinding markers aren't explicit or obvious.

walkkumano.com Resources

Walk Introduction

In December of 2019 I walked the full length of the Ise-ji path starting at Ise Grand Shrine up north, ending some eight days later at Hayatama Shrine in Shingu down south. November and December are superb months to walk in central or southern Japan, and aside from some rain on the first morning, my December walk was mostly what could be called "glorious," bright and blue-skied, classic Japan early-winter weather.

Earlier in the year, in late May, I had walked the route in reverse and because of some unseasonably warm weather, found myself drinking no fewer than four liters of water each day, many of the days cresting 30℃.

I do not recommend walking anywhere in Japan (except, perhaps, Hokkaido) in July or August or September, when you have to contend with typhoons, the rainy season, and sometimes leeches; dear God, the leeches. From mid-October to January, and from March to June, much of Japan is a walker's paradise.


A note on audio: At the start of each day is an audio clip. I recommend you put on headphones and hit play. The audio is of ambient binaural recordings of certain spots along the walk. It makes for a very good background reading buzz, and the binaural recording process is like virtual reality for your ears.

Looking out over the valley back towards Ise-Shi

Day 1

Ise-Shi to Kawazoe (.gpx)

  • Distance: 31.75km
  • Moving time: 06:10:00
  • Total time: 07:22:00
  • Elevation gain: 337m
  • Passes: Meki Tōge (.pdf map)
  • Elevation profile
    Elevation data for day one

Goodbye business hotel. Carbo-loaded on pizza the night before. Body feels good and strong. Heavy morning rain. I hide in Cafe Bianca for an hour longer than anticipated waiting for the torrent to switch to drizzle. It doesn’t. I buy a cheap, giant umbrella at a conbini with the intent of donating it later in the day and get going.

A quick visit to the Ise Grand Shrine's Geku, a bright ohayō to the dour guards, coins in, bow bow, clap clap, wishes for a good walk, another bow and we’re off. The first few kilometers along roadsides, over bridges, heavy traffic nearby. Very little signage for the route, and the illustrated maps provided by Mie Prefecture are a bit too abstract to be useful for wayfinding. Relying on anonymous GPS data I found online to keep me on path.

Farmland begins to appear backed by mountains: The range of the Kii Peninsula. At the highest passes along the inner Kumano routes like the Nakahechi or Kohechi, you're shown sweeping views of the range as a whole, like crumpled tinfoil, roiling in slow-motion to the horizon. The Ise-ji is without these macro-level vistas, but comes with its own unique flavor of seaside mountains, hamlets and working villages; features the other routes lack.


If you’re not a walking completionist, consider taking the train from Ise-Shi to Tamaru Station and beginning the Ise-ji there — pop up to the castle ruins as an early morning excursion. This slices off a huge portion of neither here-nor-there roadside walking. This is also the point where Ise-ji signs begin to appear with more frequency and utility.

That said, you'll miss some big chain drug stores. And it's in one of those I stop and buy some fancy toothpaste.


Tree in a garden near Ise-ji
Intersection lookingout onto farmland
A river with winterbare trees along the Ise-ji
Looking out from Meki Tōge with sunlight spilling out from a post-rain cloudy sky.
Ramshackle garden on the side of the highway with the word farm spraypainted on lending a delightfully apocolytic air to the scene.

A few kilometers past Tamaru I peel off and record this walk's first episode of SW945 at Higashitokida Shrine, tucked between some rice fields and an elementary school. Crows cawing overhead, children playing in the background.

If you look at my GPS data, my route sometimes cuts parallel from the main Ise-ji route, simply to get off the busy road. I think this is an acceptable trade-off — more visually interesting, comfortable rural walking vs keeping on the “official” old route that has, in parts, been co-opted into a highway. This "co-opting" applies to many old roads in Japan — they served the template for Meiji era roads (as you'd expect) and from those Meiji era roads, they became the modern roads we see today. Very little of the Tōkaidō or Nakasendō is as it was 400 years ago. The trick is to roll with this if you have no other choice — to roll with the "Pachinko Road" quality of the landscape in those areas, to be delighted by the chain shops, the pachinko parlors, the chaos, the sadness, the decrepitude of long abandoned strip clubs and roadside diners.

But you can often avoid the nastier highway walking by shimmying one street back. And from there: Photographing funky drainage pipes, canals, small gardens that have the word “FARM” spray painted on them.


A striped pipe poking out of the bushes on a path just off the main Ise-ji route, farmland peeking through in the background.
In the forest, that cliched dappled light coming through the thin capony catching on other leaves off to the sides of the path.
A dam, sunlit earthen edge cutting down the center of the field of view.
Boarded up farmhouse inthe distance, beyond a possibly neglected rice field.

Finally, Meki Tōge, the first and only pass of the day. My data shows a climb of 337 meters. The route’s well marked, clean paths, easy climb. At the pass there’s an additional route to the “lookout.” I take it. It’s stunning, absolutely worth the extra climbing, with a bench. Snack break.

Descending, I photograph a small dam, the valley below. The route now feels much more agrarian and remote, and the bland suburbia on the outskirts of Ise-Shi is far behind. The villages on the south side of the pass — Okase and Sendai and Yanagihara pulse with a gentle humming of life; what I was hoping for on this walk.

I photograph an abandoned playground, a roadside mirror. Clouds roll in and the evening light is suddenly sandwiched between the darkness of the earth and the darkness of the sky. The golden hour holds; I photograph train tracks and earth diggers sat atop hillsides, and just before making my way into Kawazoe, the sky cycles through a rich gradient of oranges and yellows and I stop for a second, farmland and mountains in the distance, and enjoy the show before reaching the day’s inn.


Just before twilight, glancing late-winter sun lighting up a railroad crossing.
Earth mover sitting atop hill bright in the last of the day's light, dark stormy skies behind.
Empty playground, two dogs, upon which one could in theory sit, doesn't look like they bounce, swingset and small tire tunnel in the background.
A roadside mirror, facing up towards the sky, reflecting nothing in particular, rice paddy in background.
Minka roof detail, with small statues, possible of Ebisu, on the roof crown.
Bicycles lashed to a fence between bushes.

Day 2

Kawazoe to Isekashiwazaki (.gpx)

  • Distance: 29.07km
  • Moving time: 05:45:00
  • Total time: 06:50:00
  • Elevation gain: 460m
  • Passes: Misesaka Tōge (265m, .pdf)
  • Elevation profile
    elevation graph for day 2

The day begins by learning how things become other things. At the home (not really an inn, more a house, a so-called minshuku or Japanese-style bed and breakfast; it was not unlike staying with your friend's grandparents) last night an elderly couple served me more food than anyone should ever be served. Stuffed beyond stuffed. I may not need to eat for the rest of the walk.

Morning, sunny but cold, winter winds finally here?

About 800m before the town of Misedani are the remains of a kind of fort, once with excellent visibility: Mise-toride Ato. It requires a little detour but I believe it’s worth it. I found the space to be, as they say, something of a “power spot” — a perfect little grove capped by a small shinto shrine alongside the Miya River. As I had "morning tea" (sipping coffee from my thermos and eating chocolate almonds), I noticed the grounds thrummed with an energy that made me happy to be there, felt welcomed by those who had walked here before.

Technically you can call a number, someone will answer, and if you ask far enough in advance, you can hire a boat to take you across the river at around this point. This slices off a few km of road walking, gets you straight to the trail head of Misesaka Tōge. But the longer walk around itself isn’t that bad. And the area surrounding Misedani station is weirdly replete with small cafes and food and convenience stores. I didn’t eat there, but Cafe Muku looks fantastic.

By walking via Misedani, you get the additional pleasure of walking over one of the most frighteningly low-barriered bridges I’ve ever seen: Funaki Bashi. The bridge itself is a registered cultural asset. Despite the fact that you could very easily tumble over the two foot tall “guard rails,” the bridge is subdued but gorgeous, built during a more reckless era, and worth the risk (a vertigo-prone walker can take the newer bridge a few meters further down). Originally built in 1902, the bridge was soon washed away and rebuilt in 1904. The latticework was wooden until 1934, when they rebuilt using steel and concrete. The pillars, made of brick, however, remain original, and the effect of the whole thing looking north up the river is that of floating above a gorge.


Two figures walking through a rice field, photographed from an elevated road, the walkways of the fields lit golden by early morning sun.
A derelect warehouse or shop or factory for color tvs, signage faded and falling off, weeds in front.
A building with a lopsided roof collapsing in a delightful way.
Looking out over Funaki Bridge back north up Miya River, blue skies, warm light.
An abandoned Volkswagen Beetle, the roof of which is rusted in a total and extremly pleasing manner, just pure rust, through and through; the whole thing looking like it's hiding in the weeds.

After crossing Funaki Bridge I make my way on the road, doubling back on the other side of the river for thirty minutes or so, en route to the trail head for Misesaka Tōge. The pass is easy enough to find. At the entrance I see an old woman carrying a pipe. I imagine she had just escaped from a female prison. I yell a spritely konnnichiwa! to get into her good graces. Nobody is young. I haven’t seen someone under the age of 60 in two days.

Misesake Tōge itself is a well-maintained pushover, a steep but easy climb. At a scant 256 meters I'm up it before I knew what was what, propelled in part by my imagined scenario of octogenarian prison escapee.


Down the south side of the pass you find yourself easing into the small-village of Takihara. A few kilometers later and Takihara-no-Miya Shrine appears on your left, a subsidiary of Ise Grand Shrine. Do not miss. I have never been before, and so am delighted by the extended procession into the inner shrines atop fine gravel. Inside, I record the second episode of this walk’s SW945 — the sounds of pilgrims offering up prayers.

Just south of the shrine is a great looking cafe which I don’t quite have time to go into but mark to visit at a later date: Konpeito. It's not that I'm rushing but rather I keep taking little coffee and snack breaks, assuming that nothing will be open. That there are this many cafes and signs of life is a great surprise of the walk.

The last few hours of the day are a combination of small towns and highway walking. The vibe of the town of Aso feels archetypically of a shutter town — once cute and thriving, now cute and abandoned. I pass through Taki and the path veers off onto backroads once again, taking me into Ise-Kashiwazaki, where I’ll spend the night. Before the inn I stop at a small liquor shop and pick up a can of non-alcoholic beer and some potato chips.

Day 3

Ise-Kashiwazaki to Furusato Onsen (.gpx)

  • Distance: 25.20km
  • Moving time: 05:14:00
  • Total time: 07:44:00
  • Elevation gain: 293m via Nisaka Tōge, xxxm via Tsuzorato
  • Passes, two options:
    • 1) Nisaka Tōge (241m, .pdf) + two small passes
    • or 2) Tsuzurato Tōge (357m, .pdf) + two small passes
  • Elevation profile
    (for Nisaka Tōge + two small (< 100m) passes)
    elevation data for day 3

The food at Kiseso was delicious. A so-called "ryouri ryokan" — food ryokan — where the emphasis is, above all, on the meals, dinner and breakfast. Nothing fancy, grilled fish and sashimi but all done with delicacy and refinement, despite the low sticker price. The room, a simple 8-mat tatami affair. Perfect.

Today is “Pop-Up Walk 001” day, where I am doing a full futon-to-futon account of the day of walking for members of my Explorers Club membership program. Non-members can see the preview video here. Members get access to the full 2 hour mini-documentary of the day.

Walking the route north to south here makes for a very easy day. Walking south to north is more challenging, requiring roughly double the ascent, and with much steeper climbs.

You have a choice of walking either Nisaka Tōge or Tsuzurato Tōge. Tsuzurato is the more “official” or “older” route, and so most folks choose it. I’ve walked both in both directions. If you’re pressed for time Nisaka is much quicker — it’s a more direct path over the mountain. But Tsuzurato offers slightly more scenic country lanes. If you have the time, take Tsuzurato. (Note: My GPS data for this day shows the Nisaka route.)


Cedars, in the forest, in Japan.
A mountain concreted over into a pleasing matrix of manmade ripples.

I say goodbye to the mustachioed owner of the inn and set off. Sunny skies, body feels strong, legs a bit achy but eager for a long walk. A biting wind in the shade, suffusive warmth in the sun. Between Ise-Kashiwazaki and Umegadani Station the road cuts through small villages, fields, rice paddies, and a patch of woods alongside a stream. Very little highway. It’s all easy, flat, signs of life here and there — in December farmers burn off post-harvest stalks and weeds, filling the air with a sweet smoke like temple incense.

At Umegadani Station the path forks and it's here that you can choose between Nisaka or Tsuzurato passes. If you head to Nisaka, the ascent is slow and easy, but mostly alongside highway. Choose Tsuzurato and you loop west along country lanes. Both routes offer panoramic views but Nisaka takes about half the time.

Nisaka does give you the special benefit of walking past a giant abandoned love hotel, subsumed by weeds, the doors left open, into which an adventurous walker could, theoretically, investigate (which, you know, I cannot recommend). In fact: You’ll see several abandoned love hotels along the entire Ise-ji. Indicating a lack of people capable of making use of love hotels — that is, people young enough to engage in love hotel activities. With aging countryside populations and most young folks running off to bigger cities, the number of homo sapiens under the age of 70 or 80, or the number of folks having illicit affairs is so few that this entire industry — once seemingly booming based on the number of hotels you'll pass on this walk — has utterly collapsed.


White House love hotel, overgrown with weeds.
A replica of a greek statue outside of the love hotel.
Playground just behind Umedagani station, swingset nestled in what looks to be a very comfy bit of greenery.

Coming down Nisaka I continue recording for my Pop-Up Walk viewers. There are several splits between Edo and Meiji era mountain roads. The Edo roads are steep and straight down, the Meiji gentle switchbacks.

I exit the mountains and a few kilometers later arrive at the Manbo roadside rest stop — one of the largest of these things along the entire 170km route — just before Kii-Nagashima Station, and get a hot bowl of ramen and a soft serve ice cream.


A greenhouse, blurry in the background with some coat hangers hanging, with no obvious purpose, in the foreground on some metal racks.
Road, brush off to the left, guardrail, digger back behind a mound of rocks.

A few hundred meters after Manbo, I pop into Jizoin Temple and take a peek at the Daoism-based Kōshin folk religion mounds, and think about sanshi, the coming of the worms every 60 days to report on your misdeeds to the gods.

I stop by the station to pick up my return tickets. Kii-Nagashima is one of the few stations (along with Owase and Kumano) with manned ticket booths, the ability to process credit cards. Then it’s a quick coffee at Jurin — a small kissa I adore. It’s there I record the third day of SW945.

Inside Jurin it's me and the mama-san who is somewhere between the ages of 45 and 90. We chat, she remembers me from May when I last stopped by. She gives me an extra cup of coffee on the house and I'm off. A two kilometer stroll through a Showa-tinged cove-town, replete with shops selling camcorders from the 90s. It’s worth visiting Bukkoji temple to see the tsunami plaque, in memorial of two tsunamis: 1707 (500 people were washed away), 1854 (203 people). Just around the corner from Bukkoji is the peaceful Nagashima Shrine with a thousand year old kusu-no-ki, camphor tree.


Mistaos cofee, little kissaten with two white vehicles outside.
A toiler door with the kanji for woman on it, held closed by a rock on the ground.
A pleather barber's chair sitting out in the street in front of, presumably, the barber shop in which it once sat.
An old clock store with old cloks on display in the window.
A van, once white, now rust-stained, abandoned in a bush.

One could spend the night in Kii Nagashima, but I’m trying to finish the walk in eight days, and so push on to Furusato Onsen, a cozy hotspring village a few more kilometers south. Along the way is the kata-ishi stone showing the south-side split between the Tsuzurato and Nisaka routes.

Up and over the two easy passes just before Furusato, then down into the village, flanked by hundreds of mikan trees, which in December are full of ripe fruit. I wave to the men and women working to pull down the small glowing spheres, and they offer me one, which I happily accept.

There is a hot spring public bath in the center of the village: Furusato Onsen. A gruff, elderly man tried to convince me that I had the folding of my yukata robe backwards, that I was wearing it "like a woman." He seemed drunk or lost, stared at everyone's crotches. He kept insisting — you're wearing it like a woman! Though to flip sides would mean you're dead. Perhaps that's what he meant, that I was dying, or was soon to be dead. Maybe he knew the pilgrimage route better than I imagined, was a seer, knew secret futures of mine. Flip sides, he slurred, flip! Was he intoning for my death? I didn't stick around long enough to find out. Which is a long way of saying: Visit the bath, bathe with the locals. Put that yukata on (left side over right, as is proper for the living), wander the small village. Robe walking is allowed in this place.

Looking out from Magose Tōge into the cove just before Owase City.

Day 4

Furusato Onsen to Owase (.gpx)

  • Distance: 25.36km
  • Moving time: 05:28:00
  • Total time: 07:36:00
  • Elevation gain: 857m
  • Passes:
    • Ikkoku Miura Tōge (113m, .pdf)
    • Hajikami Tōge (147m, .pdf)
    • Magose Tōge (325m, .pdf)
  • Elevation profile
    elevation data for day 4

Exhausted. Spent — physically and emotionally. Loved doing the Pop-Up Walk but it gave me strange dreams, to be exposed for a day, broadcasting, wondering if I should have done this or that differently. Sleep came in fitful and thin pulses. This feeling will fade given a few days and I’ll come to look back upon the Pop-Up fondly, but in the moment it was like a violence against the solitude and quiet of the walk. The first few kilometers of this new day, my impulse is to share, and I feel a loneliness when I don’t; the work of the chemicals of social networks. Dopamine guppies, mouths flapping at the surface. Tomorrow is a rest day and I keep that in mind as I push on.

I make my way up out of Furusato Onsen village. Almost immediately the path leaves the highway and cuts up behind an abandoned hotel. A few meters further: A solidly constructed bench and table looking out over the ocean. An ideal place for breakfast or morning tea if you skipped what the inn offered. It’s here I record the fourth day of SW945. I sit silent and still facing the ocean, eyes closed, listening to the waves, the seagulls, boat engines starting up off in the distance. In doing so my body immediately feels lighter and some of the exhaustion from the previous day and the restless night of sleep is lifted and the walk ahead feels more achievable than it did even a few minutes prior.


A lone bench, perhaps not as lonely as it looks, backed by some thick and textured hedges, maybe once squared off but now slightly wild; very pleasing.
Dirt path leading through forest of cedars, as so many forests of Japan now are, cedars for miles, cedars in all directions; to be avoided come Feb / March and pollen season.
Man and woman standing in field of mikan oranges, man is looking down at his phone and photographer has been caught by woman in face mask.
A path mared by tire trails leading into the forest, some fall color still on the leaves in the background.
Another one of our good friends: the abandoned kominka, or old Japanese farmhouse, this one barely visible as the susuki has taken over what one can only assume was the front yard.

The wooded path hugs the ocean and then descends to Wakamiya Shrine. Past more mikan trees, ocean to the left, a parking lot to the right. In May I passed two fishermen here. "Hey!" they yelled to my friend and me. We had just come down from the mountains, walking south to north. "Hey! This your rope?!" They addressed us with a bluntness that would be more accurately translated into, "Hey, bitch, this your rope?" It was not. It was so strange, why they would ask. They seemed drunk (a local pattern?), skittish. "Why the hell do you think that'd be our rope?," I yelled back laughing, both amused and slightly offended. It wasn't until later I realized they were stealing it and we had caught them.

From there, back up into the woods to crest Miura Tōge, steep but quick and once you’re at the top, you're gifted a bit of ridgeline strolling. Down into Minose, a sleepy dot of a town that feels like it could disappear in a sneeze. When in truth it is home to one of the finest inns on the whole trail: Misuzu. Officially a minshuku or Japanese style bed & breakfast, it’s run by a four-person, two generation family (with a third running around at your knees), and as of 2019 was added to the Michelin guide for inns in Japan. The food is phenomenal; if you were to splurge for one night on the whole trip, this would be the place to do it. The design is refined, detail oriented but relatively casual — all the floors, hallways and rooms alike, are tatami mats so there are no slippers, for example — and the father comes out of the kitchen with inspiring, total omotensashi energy to explain each and every dish.


I pass Misuzu and begin to make my way up Hajikami Tōge, which has an estimated time of 40 minutes for ascent. I ascend in 30. At the top I meet two old men in their 70s working on the trail — they’re from the neighboring town and we chat for a few minutes. One heads up the trail maintenance committee. He hands me a small wooden trinket with the name of the pass carved on it.

Down from Hajikami there is another Edo / Meiji road split. I’ve taken both. The Meiji is longer, more circuitous but far more scenic and more often taken. The Edo is quicker, more direct, but also ejects you out alongside the highway for a few kilometers

No matter which way you pick, the walk to Aiga and the start of the Magose climb is somewhat grim, with unavoidable road walking. More abandoned love hotels, but also a Family Mart just before Aiga station, and then the Miyama roadside station a few hundred meters before the Magose entrance. Fuel up.


Looking up through thin trees at the so-called back of the elephant rock on the top of Binshinyama, just up from Magose Tōge
Looking out into the cove into which Owase is tucked, foliage inthe foreground, ocean and some small island in the background.

Magose climb estimates found on signage are accurate and this may be one of the first areas in which you see other walkers or hikers. Magose Tōge makes for a great day-hike — bring a picnic lunch and eat up at the top. Take it slow and easy, exploring the mountain makes for a good afternoon. I ascend quickly but it’s later than anticipated and I only have an hour or so of light left in the day. One of the negatives of walking in December is the short days, the winter solstice nearby. At the tōge I bump into a few other hikers who implore I go further still, branching off beyond the pass, up to the tippy top — up to Tengukurayama.

The sign from Magose Tōge to Tengukurayama says 30 minutes. I do it in 15 but not without considerable effort. The path is extremely steep and sometimes fuzzy as to where or what the actual path is. But the effort is worth it and the views astounding — you have a vertigo-inducing panoramic sweep of Owase valley. I break out some coffee perched up on the ledge. At the top is a rock — worshiped as is Shinto tradition. A metal ladder is bolted to it. I don’t have the time or energy to climb it but make note for a future walk.

Snap some photos, chug a bit more coffee, and quickly make my way back down to the pass. I almost get lost a couple times and have small pangs of panic — only about 30 minutes until sunset and I know I still have a solid hour of walking to get off the mountain. But I find the trail and swing my way down on my poles, finally arriving at Hotel Viora, the least intimate of all my lodging on the route. But it's clean and well-run with free-to-use washing machines. Ask for a tatami room, if you have a few extra yen to splurge — the tatami rooms are bigger and well appointed. I grab a slap-up hodgepodge of junk at the conbini, carry it back, and once I enter my room I don’t leave until late the next morning.

An immaculately maintained classic Japanese residential building in Owase City.

Day 5

Rest Day

  • Distance: 5km
  • Moving time: 01:00:00
  • Total time: 05:00:00
  • Elevation gain: 20m
  • Passes: n/a

(No elevation data for Day 5 — it was a rest day.)

Rest day. A glorious nine hours of sleep. The body is satisfied. The breakfast at Viora is an uninspired buffet and so I hunt down something a little more interesting. I find it: Cafe Scale, a classic kissa-style cafe, with great coffee and a relaxed atmosphere. I spend the morning here working on yesterday's SW945 processing and writing up my notes.

Just before lunch I set off on a photo walk of Owase, a place frozen in Showa, mostly derelict, with so many businesses having folded and baths and inns having shuttered. It’s heartbreaking because the bones of the town are strong. You can easily imagine when the entertainment district thronged, when life was abundant. I chat with a city worker and he laments the lack of even a single brothel. Not even one. Priorities. My mind takes off on flights of fantasy about buying property here, reviving this place, making it a core hub for walkers interested in Kumano Kodō trips. The potential of Owase surpasses that of any town or village along the Nakasendō or Kohechi routes. It feels like it needs just the smallest boost and life could return. The opportunity feels rich.


The entrance to a closed down city sento, or public bath, a tiled Mount Fuji on the entrance with the words: matsu no yu
Half a building, the other half gone, replaced by weeds and broken bits of other buildings, the inner laticework of timber frames revealed.
Side of an old Japanese building, tile roof, falling apart, patched up with wind-ripped blue tarp, itself also falling apart - just a mess of a thing in beautiful early mornig light
Slightly ajar door to abandoned office, cardboard in doorway, potted plants on the ground.

I have a quick ramen lunch at Kikuya and then walk over to the superb Kumano Kodō Historic Museum. As I said: It feels like there’s a gap in tourism coordination happening on the trails. Why is such a richly detailed and well-maintained museum so far off the “core” of the Kumano Kodō? And why isn’t Owase buzzing with visitors? According to data, there were some 400,000 visitors to the Ise-ji in 2014. But … where? When? All in one unknown week? Certainly none on a weekday in December. I talk with the staff about these issues but nobody seems to have answers.

As part of my day-off reward I’m spending the night at Misuzu. And so I make my way to Owase Station and hop on a train, three stops back to Minose, which I had walked past yesterday, hoping for an early check in and an afternoon of reading.

Looking back from the north side of walking up Yakiyama Tōge towards Owase City, ferns, cedar trees, just the hint of the city in the background surrounded by the hazy mountains of the Kii Peninsula.

Day 6

Owase to Mikisato (.gpx)

  • Distance: 10.63km
  • Moving time: 03:37:42
  • Total time: 05:12:16
  • Elevation gain: 697m
  • Passes: Yakiyama Tōge (647m, .pdf)
  • Elevation profile
    Elevation data for the day, just a big hump.

Slept the sleep of the dead after an incredible dinner. My partner M. joined up with me last night, and we ate enough to fall into a coma. The father of the inn, and head chef, got increasingly tipsy as the night went on, and his proclamations about his food became ever more grand and with more references to urination — how much he had to pee and where he would pee, those sorts of details. The strange jokes of an old country man. The thing is: He’s a genius. His food is superb — all local-caught seafood, the prep for which begins early in the day, he and his son slaving away in the kitchen while the wife and daughter make sure the inn maintains its surgical cleanliness. Although Misuzu is technically a minshuku or Japanese bed & breakfast (a rank below ryokan), they are categorically the most refined lodge on the whole of the Ise-ji. The details are astounding: the quality of the wood used on the walls and ceilings, the intricate cuttings in front of recessed lights, the softness of the lights themselves, the spotlessness of the shared wash basins, the gorgeous baths with small gardens, the fresh flowers lining the hallways, the coffee station with a polished wood counter looking out towards the ocean, the freshness of their always-new tatami; the level of care and love you feel in every millimeter of the space — from light, to layout, to toilets, to food preparation — is unsurpassed. I wrote about my first time staying at Misuzu (in May, 2019) in Ridgeline:

I stayed in a couple of truly exceptional inns along the route, one of which was perhaps the first and only time — I now recognize — where I witnessed total omotenashi, the archetypal goal of Japanese service selflessness. It was there, last night, that I ate the best meal of the trip by orders of magnitude. Both in quality of food and joy of delivery. Shared with a dear friend. It was as close to a perfect meal as I’ve ever had. I am still processing its flawlessness.

Because Misuzu offers breakfast only at one specific time — and to skip this breakfast would be an unconscionable sin — we miss the early trains back to Owase and the trailhead. So I've pre-booked a taxi. It's waiting for us at 9 a.m., and we’re off to begin the day's hike, just next to yesterday's museum.


The Yakiyama Koujin Dou Shinto shrine, in May 2019, boarded up with a collapsing roof, but lit by golden late-afternoon rays of sun cutting through the background forest.
Yakiyama Koujin Dou once again in December, renewed, refreshed, rebuilt with glowing hinoki wood.

The original plan for the day was to walk up and over Mount Yakiyama, and then all the way to Kata, to the evening's inn. But I underestimate the climb. And the day turns out to be the coldest on the entire trip — biting when you stop for just a moment. It rained in the morning and the path up Yakiyama is slick. A path largely built from Edo period paving stones, which are nice to photograph but horrible to walk on, doubly so in the rain. They’re covered in moss and leaves and every steps requires an exhausting focus.

So we take our time. Nearly 700m of ascent. The biggest single climb on the entire Ise-ji. At the top is a wide, grass covered park with panoramic vistas, so the payoff feels justified.


About 500m up is Yakiyama Koujin Dou — a shinto shrine. When I walked past in May 2019, it was in ruins, just about to collapse, and when we walk past now, in December, it is smooth and soft and bright with fresh hinoki timber. It turns out it was rebuilt in September 2019. You can see the old shrine down the ravine just in front of the new shrine. Seems they just dumped it over the edge. Sensible. It will be reclaimed by such a wet forest in no time.

We stop. There is an excellent toilet here. I record SW945 on the shrine’s steps. It’s cold. By the time recording is done we’re chilled to the bone. We jump up and down, run in place, and head to the park on the peak to eat our simple bento lunches prepared by Misuzu.


Looking out from the top of Yakiyama south east down the coast, ragged mountains covered in trees.
A solar panel array sat betwen a few mountains.

The way down is more harrowing than the way up — far more slippery. We take it slowly; injuring ourselves here would be idiotic. There is no rush. I’ve already revised the plan. We will stop at Mikisato Station, just beyond the trailhead on the other side of Yakiyama.

On the descent we notice the trees are marked with paint, and upon closer inspection, it is graffiti from local residents. Protests against UNESCO World Heritage designation. “World Heritage No!!” the white paint says on dozens of trees in neat white Japanese lettering. They are dated — almost 19 years ago, or a year or so before the designation happened. We hypothesize. Why would they be against designation? Anti-tourism sentiment? Perhaps local yakuza not wanting international scrutiny on their turf? Whatever the reason, designation happened, and here we are. They need not have worried — save only a few small portions, the Ise-ji is nearly bereft of visitors. Instead, the majority are clambering along the Nakasendō and Kohechi in the middle of the Kii-Penninsula. Still, the signs are a fun quirk, if a bit haunting. Perhaps 19 years ago the countryside of Japan felt less dire, less depopulated. Today, I suspect they’d be grateful for any interest in their area, any infusion of life or cash.


The path up Yakiyama, paved with Edo era paving stones, irregularly places, covered in moss, cedar trees, as usual, shooting up through the frame
Anti UNESCO World Heritage listing grafitti painted on the side of a cedar along the Yakiyama path; it says No UNESCO! and is signed supposedly by the residents of the area.

We make our way off the mountain. A man with a dog is standing in his yard. “Down off the mountain, eh?” he says. Yes, we say. Cold today. He tells us he’s owned this second home for decades and has never once gone up the mountain. No interest he says, proud of his impassivity. Perhaps it was he who painted those signs.

The inn picks us up at Mikisato Station — a station that’s a notch above shack. Owase Seaside View turns out to be far lovelier than expected. The baths look out directly on the bay. You are able to stand fully nude in the bath, facing out the large windows towards the water, and wave to the fishermen coming in for the evening. They are unfazed. This is not the first time they've been greeted by a naked man. We bath and eat an excellent Japanese-style meal — something boiled, something fried, something raw, something grilled, something from this season, something from the end of last season, something to enjoy in the season to come — served in the room. Sleep comes easily. Tomorrow will be a big day.

Clothes drying in the late afternoon sunlight as the Ise-ji cuts directly through the yard of an old Japanese-style home.

Day 7

Mikisato to Kumano City (.gpx map data)

  • Distance: 26.5km
  • Moving time: 06:45:32
  • Total time: 08:06:05
  • Elevation gain: 1,616
  • Passes:
    • Miki Tōge (120m, .pdf)
    • Hago Tōge (140m, .pdf)
    • Sone Jirozaka / Hobo Tōge (305m, .pdf)
    • Nigishima Tōge (290m, .pdf)
    • Okamizaka Tōge (240m, .pdf)
    • Ōbuki Tōge (205m, .pdf)
    • Matsumoto Tōge (135m, .pdf)
  • Elevation profile
    elevation data for day 7

The big day. Not as planned, but because I will be sandwiching half of yesterday into today. We leave the inn early so M. can catch her train back home. She could only join for two nights. We drop her off at Mikisato, the station with no attendant, no ticket check, and take a second to contemplate the faded anti-drug and wanted posters lining the walls of its small waiting room. Those wanted are inscrutable, wanted for the usual murders and similar such transgressions, and the anti-drug stuff is mainly to keep kids away from amphetamines, of which, in my 20+ years in Japan, I have run across precisely zero times. Perhaps I just run with good kids. The room makes me think of Paul Erdös — the most widely published mathematician and self-described speed addict — and wonder what proofs Japan is missing out on because of this iron fist against uppers.

The station is on a hill and it’s from there I begin — walking down along the outskirts of Mikisato proper. Fires burn in yards and the sun promises warmth and a clear day ahead. I feel light and fast, alone once again. Walking with people I love is one pleasure, and walking in solitude its own, wholly different pleasure. Alone, you attend to no one; instantly I find I am more aware of the world, where I am, what is around me.

I pass a milling group of foreign walkers — the first group of "tourists" I’ve seen on the route. They have congregated by a bridge for no apparent reason. Their tour guide speaks without an accent. They are shocked to see me. They wave. I am off.


First pass: Miki Tōge, 140m. Easy. So easy I yelp upon cresting it. Already?! My body is impossibly light. And then soon after, Hago Tōge, a nothing, a nothingness. What mountain? There is no mountain here. I’d go on to write about this day later, in Ridgeline:

Throughout my entire seven days and 170km of walking, there was only one day, really, in which I saw other walkers: Sunday. And I flew past them, ladies and gents, young and old, lovers, loners, all folks who had set out to do one or two passes, were out for an easy forest stroll. I floated past them all like an orangutan ballerina, arboreal and oddly shaped, arms and poles as one, issuing “hello!”s and “good luck!”s and “sorry for going so quickly but I’ve got to beat the sun!” They gasped: Look at him go! (I think it may have even been a foreigner!)

In the middle of it, I had this strange notion that I could do this forever — this swinging down and pulling (which is what ascending with poles feels like) myself up mountains. There was no reason to stop, sunset be damned. To just keep going. The current meat machine my consciousness inhabited felt well-oiled, irrepressible, and unyielding to these puny mountains.

But in the moment I knew none of that, of what was to be. All I knew was lightness as I propelled myself up the moss-covered stones leading along the old coastal routes.


Looking down over Mikisato from the vantage of the train station, small houses with generous yards, smoking billowing from yard fires burning post-harvest refuse, the hint of the ocean in the background.
Signs piled against one another in a shed.
More cedars, more moss, more Edo era paving stones leading up into a well-lit forest scene.
A long-since abandoned kissaten, the kanji for lake, Mizuumi on the front awning, the entrance windows cinched closed with yellow curtains.
Looking down from Miki Tōge into the cove just after Mikisato Village.

Down to Kata Station and along the road passing last night’s inn. I've now completed what was to have been walked the day before. The estimated time for this portion was 3 hours; I finished it in 90 minutes. Not that I’m racing but I know how long the day is, how far Kumano City is, and how much light I have — not much. Onward.

A decaying kissa. A trailhead. Gravestones of fallen pilgrims. The remains of shishigaki stone walls — the edo-era walls built to keep wild boar from ravaging the mountainside farming plots. I love the shishigaki — of which you see many along the Ise-ji — and the small parcels of land they circumscribe, and how this is all the imagination needs to project a moving image of life hundreds of years back, along these very paths.

Soon I’m at Hobo Tōge, the highest pass of the day — 305m. There is a sturdy, covered hut at the top. I stop. Remove my boots. Steam rises from my feet. I’m carrying no lunch and intend to snack my way to dinner. Coffee in the gullet. Boots back on.

Snatches of the coast through pines and cedars, extended ridgeline walking. Sone Jirozaka Tōge comes quickly. And then down into the small fishing village of Nigishima.

I photograph a storage shed of signage. Near the docks is a small pavilion with benches, covered, excellent for a lunch break if you have a lunch. In May I sat here and ate with some fish factory workers (the factory is right across the parking lot), a gaggle of ladies who gave me no slack, accepted no bullshit, and together cackled in a way that frightened and delighted. Today it’s empty. I sit alone, just for a minute, and am off again.

On the way up out of Nigishima, towards Nigishima Tōge, you pass a section of abandoned homes, truly abandoned in a way you don’t often find in Japan. I photograph a half-century old stove, now subsumed by moss and ferns. Soon, Nigishima Tōge, and then soon after, Okamizaka Tōge.


An old stove covered in moss and ferns being subsumed by nature as it looks to have been abandoned decades ago; tiled, space for two big pots for cooking rice, wood burning.
A man in a sweatsuit framed by the rusted gate to a field overgrown with weeds.

The town of Atashika feels as forsaken as any. There’s a shokujiya that hasn’t opened in decades. The cove around which the route passes is lined with clusters of covered seating, and one gets the impression that perhaps — perhaps — in the summer the locals descend on this spit of land, grilling on barbecues and swimming in the placid waters. But, today, no — nobody. Total silence aside from the odd passing car. I stop at a vending machine and chug an iced coffee. There are no open shops in this town.

Up out of the village on a paved path beside an abandoned baseball field. Climb the oldest remaining stone path of the entire route — steps laid out in the Kamakura period some 800 years ago. Then along the road snaking down towards Hadasu Station, perhaps my favorite hamlet of all along the entire Ise-ji. A hillside village, hanging above a secluded cove, the train station somehow (how?!) down below, hugging the mountain.

On the way into my favorite town I cut through my favorite stretch itself of the Ise-ji — where the paths wends right over folks’ lawns, right in front of homes and around their hanging laundry. Today, laundry flaps in the low sun. I pass a home that was abandoned in May but today a young woman squats outside, poking a steak on a piece of metal over a fire with a branch. She is full-hippie, of a particular type, uniquely and fashionably disheveled, head wrap, loose pants, patchouli scent. She took the home over as a squatter and now squats before it, cooking meat that was given to her. We talk for a while about how many amazing homes lay abandoned in Japan. Three elderly neighbors mill about, too. I playfully suggest that she open a little shop, sell onigiri or coffee to us walkers, considering the route passes within a meter of her living room. She laughs. This is clearly too much work, and against the hippie ethos. I am a capitalist yuppie. In truth I just want a fresh onigiri. Ume, perhaps. Or shirasu. Or a nice konbu. Yes, konbu onigiri. But today, no konbu onigiri for me. Be gone. And so I am, waving goodbye to the gathering. The sun is setting, the light will soon be gone and I have a pass or two yet left.


More photos. A boat reclaimed by the earth. Layered sunset views into neighboring coves beyond coves.

The boat reminds me of Annie Dillard's essay: "For The Time Being." In it, she writes:

Earth sifts over things as dirt or dust. If you stay still, earth buries you, ready or not. Debris on the tops of your feet or shoes thickens, windblown dirt piles around it, and pretty soon your feet are underground … micrometeroite dust can bury you, too. If you wait: A ton falls on earth every hour.

What of this village will be visible in ten-thousand years? After passing by the laundry, on the way into Hadasu, you’ll pass a small turnoff to the Kobo Daishi "footprint" water spring on your right. If you head up the tight ravine, you’ll find a shrine built around the stone imprint. I stopped here and recorded SW945 in May, today I take the detour, bow, and quickly head back to the road.


Same as hero image: Clothes drying in the late afternoon sunlight as the Ise-ji cuts directly through the yard of an old Japanese-style home.
A small single-person boat (perhaps fishing?) that has been eaten by the earth, sitting in what looks to be a garden, only the very top of it still visible, soon to be totally submerged in greenery, grass and dirt.

In May, coming from the south, I walked the Ōbuki Tōge proper. But today I am curious and am looking to “touch” as much of the Ise-ji as possible. There is an alternative route between Ōdomari and Hadasu — the Kannon Michi — for devotees of the Kannon Bodhisattva. I don’t know the route, it’s a bit longer than the straight Ōbuki path, but as I come up from Hadasu, back on the main road, I see signage for it pointing up and into the mountains. I make a last-second decision to go for it, even though the light is low and the route unknown.


Clearly under-walked, the path is in need of a good bushwhacking. But the rawness is delightful, and would be even more so if I felt I had time to enjoy it. The path diverges at a river, it’s not entirely clear which way is the “correct” way. I choose what I can only assume is the wrong way. I am in the woods now with no path, but going back seems defeatist, as it always does, even though if one could just think of going back as part of going forward, the psychology of the “backness” would be whooshed away. Teacup philosophies elude me and so I continue forward, making my own path. I have the vaguest sense of direction via Google Maps and Gaia. I know there is another path, a ridgeline route up top, and I aim for "it," crawling under logs and clambering over other detritus of the recent typhoons.

The sky is darkening, I switch from sunglasses to glasses. I wonder how dumb this is. Find myself considering spending a night out here trapped beneath a log that shifts at just the wrong moment as I squeeze below. I keep scrambling up and up and finally, after 30 minutes or so, rejoin the well-maintained route above. I end up converging with Ōbuki Tōge anyway, and then, from there, carry on along the Kannon Michi. The route is so clear I’m no longer worried about the light. I follow it all the way to the horsehead shrine, and down the steep stone steps finally out onto the road leading to Ōdomari village.


Yet another cove, electrical wires cutting through the foreground, green, lots of green.
More cover, because that's what this part of the walk is all about — gazing out into quaint little coves are you walk over many mountain passes each day.
Late-day orange glow towards the horizon, coming down off the final pass, Matsumoto Tōge, Japanese style houses in the foreground, concrete road leading down into town.

From here, no worries. The pass — Matsumoto Tōge — between Ōdomari and Kumano City is a mere blip. It is fully twilight now. I skip across the highway and begin the ascent. I fly up the 135 meters and find a young couple on a date at the top. They are dressed for church, not mountains. They jump back when I appear wild eyed from below — me, in all my feral insanity, covered in mud and dirt from six hours and thirty minutes of "moving time."

Coming down from Matsumoto Tōge I catch a faintest of orange glows in the sky, and by the time I walk into Kumano City proper the last of the day’s light has all but been brushed away. My "inn" is cozy and pre-heated, a single unit, an entire little hiraya I rented on booking.com for a surprisingly small amount. Nearby is a public bath but I make do with the bath in the house, and then head to Mos Burger for dinner. After all the complicated Japanese meals at inns, a Mos dinner is divine. They have soy meat patties, and serviceable salads. I record SW945 here, since I didn’t even have a scant 15 minutes to spare along the route. I sit, work, write, all the while the world of Mos churns around me. I head back to my little house and take another bath. There is a near infinitude of mikans offered to me in a bowl, and I eat a dozen of them, and sleep the best sleep of the entire trip.

Gear, glorious gear.

Recommended Gear and Equipment

What to bring on a walk like this

The Ise-ji requires no real special technical equipment, but here's a list of some of the stuff I use, and why I use it. Most of these links are Amazon affiliate links; I get a couple bucks when you click through and make a purchase.


General

Like most folks, I'm all about the merino wool base layers. Icebreaker is my go-to brand. I've slowly, over the last five years, converted everything that directly touches my body to Icebreaker gear. For hiking poles, these carbon "Micro Vario" Leki poles are outstanding — light, strong, collapse and build out easily. I love them to bits.

Photography

I shoot mainly with a Leica M10, but also use a Leica Q (about which I wrote an extensive review; everything I wrote in that essay applies to the Q2), and a Fuji X100v; all the photos on this page were shot with a Leica M10 paired with a Summilux 35mm lens.

Audio

For recording SW945 I use a set of Soundman OKM II Classic binaural microphones. Those are plugged into a tiny Sony HD recorder.

Pack

I tend towards lighter / ultralight packs, but I do appreciate aluminum frame stays for weight transfer; I place almost all of the pack weight on the hips. My packs tend to clock in around 10-12kg since I'm often carrying a laptop, audio recording equipment, and camera equipment on top of clothing and sometimes, depending on the route, food and cooking gear. Depending on the season, you could do the Ise-ji with just a day pack. Most of the inns and hotels have washing machines. That said:

  • For years I used a Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40L ultralight pack. At this price, I think it's unbeatable. A really wonderful pack made by a great company in Texas who have been super responsive whenever I've had any customer service queries or issues.
  • In late 2019 I switched to a black 2400 Junction from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. The price is nearly 1.5x that of the Gorilla, but clocks in at the same 40L. The Hyperlite is made of dyneema fabric, which is significantly stronger and more waterproof than the 70 denier Robic ripstop nylon used by the Gorilla. You're mainly paying for this fancier fabric and the fact that it's made in Maine.
Footwear

I've enjoyed Danner's recent forays into kinder boots. Sure you can get a classic pair of Mountain Lights and bleed your ankles for a few weeks while you break them in. Or you can grab a pair of Mountain 600s which feel amazing the day you get them. They're waterproof and light and I have walked many thousand kilometers in mine (not all in the same pair, of course). The one downside is you can't get them resoled, which does, I have to admit, feel like waste (since the uppers are usually in fine condition by the time the soles wear through).

All that said, one could easily do the Ise-ji in some Converse sneakers, jeans and a cotton t-shirt given the right season.

Special Thanks

Made possible by

A huge thanks to the Explorers Club members, without whose support I wouldn't have embarked on nearly as much as I embarked on during the past year. The quarantine months of March and April and May 2020 have proven to be an excellent, if surreal and dour respite from all the movement and go go go of 2019. This Explorers Club Special Project was a result of both the financial and emotional support of the crew, and we built a big chunk of this website together, in tandem, over the course of 15 hours or so of livestreaming in April.

Thanks also to Michael Keferi who lives along the Ise-ji and provided many helpful links and tips along the way.

And a huge thanks to my walking buddy John McBride (translator from the Japanese of the English Wikipedia entry for Ise-ji), who opened up Japan's world of walking to me back in 2013. We were supposed to walk parts of Ise-ji together in May of this year; hopefully we can sneak it in come 2021.

Colophon

This site was "hand-built" as a single HTML page, CMS free, like the rest of walkkumano.com. The text was written first in Ulysses and then refined and further edited in Sublime Text. Printed out many times on a cheap Brother laser printer. The CSS is built off of a simple CSS Grid structure. The photo zooms and the gallery view is based off of photoswipe.js and photoswipe-simplify.js. Lazyloading happens via lazyload.js. No JQuery was used or harmed in the making of this site.

Body text is set in whatever the heck default san-serif font your OS supports; on macOS it should be SF Pro. Headers are set in Spectral designed by Production Type in Paris, served up by Google Fonts. Google Fonts does a decent job subsetting the font so the overall payload to add slightly-nicer headers is quite tiny (< 20kb).

Photos were shot with a Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux. They were then edited in Lightroom Classic, and any graphic-like elements were made in Figma.

ImageOptim and JpegMini were used to shrink and optimize all images.

Five loaves of bread, one banana bread loaf, and five pizzas worth of pizza dough were produced during the making of this site. This is a Quarantine Times project.