Hiking The Matsumoto-toge Pass 松本峠,熊野古道
The southern part of the Kii Peninsula used to be known as Kumano, and was a place of great spiritual significance, with numerous shrines which dot the region to this day. For centuries, monks and nuns travelled on foot to and from the different centers of worship which, after the introduction of Buddhism, became characterized by a syncretic mix of Buddhism, Taoism and more indigenous religions - what is now called Shinto.
The traditional routes between these various places of worship are called kodo ("old paths" 古道). One of these, Kumano Kodo, is the Ise-ji route, a kodo that links Ise Jingu, in Mie Prefecture, with the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in neighboring Wakayama Precture: Kumano Hayatama Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Kumano Hongu Taisha. The Matsumoto-Toge Pass is part of the Ise-ji route.
The hike over Matsumoto-toge Pass from the starting points at either Kumano-shi Station or Odomari Station, which are both on the JR Kisei Line, takes about 2 hours to cover the 5km between the two stations.
If you wish to extend your walk head south to the Oniga-jo Center, past the scant ruins of the Muromachi Period Oniga-jo Castle. From the Oniga-jo Center a narrow path leads around the headland for superb close-up views of the tuff cliffs of the UNESCO World Heritage Oniga-jo rocks. This path will bring you back to Kumano-shi (Kumano city) and offers superb views not just of the cliffs but also out to sea.
Head out north east along the road from Kumano-shi Station following the signs to Matsumoto-toge. To your right, as you leave the town, will be a signpost taking you up a set of stone steps, dating from the Edo Period, through a forest to the summit at 135m. The path is fairly easy and suitable for all levels of walkers. At the summit is a stone statue of Jizo, bearing the scars of an encounter with a hunter, who is said to have mistaken the statue for a goblin.
Onigajo Castle & Onigajo Center
From the summit of the pass, which is at 135m, follow the path to your right if you wish to head for Onigajo or carry straight on for Odomari Station and Odomari Beach. If you turn right towards Onigajo you will come to a look-out, a covered pavilion, with spectacular views over Shichiri-mihama Beach. From here the path proceeds downhill to the road and the Oniga-jo Center, where tour buses disgorge their passengers for souvenir shopping and brief glimpses of Onigajo.
Kumano-shi Station or the previous station to the north, Odomari Station are the best starting points for walking the Matsumoto-toge Pass. The first express train to Kumano-shi Station from Nagoya Station is the 8.05am Wide View Nanki that arrives in Kumano-shi at 11.13am. The present fare is 7,050 yen.
Buses back to Nagoya leave from behind the Tourist Information Center opposite Kumano-shi Station. Other buses from Kumano Station run to Shingu (50 minutes) and the Seiryu-so Onsen near the beautiful Kitayama River (also about 50 minutes).
Not far from Kumano-shi, Shishiiwa ("Lion Rock"), a uniquely-shaped, 25m-tall rock seems to roar out into the sea. A short walk south on National Highway 42 from here is Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine, the legendary tomb of Izanami-no-mikito, thought of as the mother of Japanese deities. Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine is said to be the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan.