Trip to Kumano Vol. 1: The Onigura & Torokko Old Mine Area Spend a cool summertime in the mountains of Kumano!

Trip to Kumano Vol. 1: The Onigura & Torokko Old Mine Area Spend a cool summertime in the mountains of Kumano!

Summer in Japan is famous for its extremely hot, damp and humid climate, but if you head to the mountains, you can enjoy cooler temperatures, surrounded by nature. On this trip, I went to the mountainous area of Kumano City. Kumano City, located in the southern part of Mie Prefecture, is a region facing both the mountains and sea, with the mountains that make up part of the Yoshino-Kumano National Park to the west and an expansive seashore lining the coast to the east.

Written by Pete Leong

One of the famous places in this area is "Onigura," a large natural cliff with vertical rock walls of around 300m in height and made of rhyolite. A winding narrow mountain road not for the faint of heart leads you through the valley and up to near the top of the cliff. Luckily, there wasn’t any traffic passing in the opposite direction during the ascent, as there were no guard rails in many areas of the road and steep drops down into the forest below. As the relentless winding road stretched towards the top, it seemed to be more suited as a rally course. Along the drive up there is a nice opportunity to stop for a break at an opening in the forest where there are nice views of the Onigura rock face, as well as two waterfalls flowing from high up on the surrounding cliffs known as "Onigura."

Another 30 or 40 minutes along the road and we arrived at an area alongside the large and clear-flowing Kitayama-gawa River. It would serve as our camp spot for the night. But first, we visited Yunokuchi Onsen Hot Spring to check out the torokko, an old minecart train now used for tourists to ride.

This area (Kiwa in Kumano City) was once famous as a mining town, and copper was mined here for more than 1,200 years. The minecart that was actually used at the mine is now being used for sightseeing. Visitors can take a 10-minute trip on the minecart through tunnels of a former mine about 1km long that connects Hotel Seiryuso and Yunokuchi Onsen Hot Springs.

The ride was dark and bumpy as the old train pulled us along through the tunnels. It gave me a sense of what it was like to be transporting copper out of the mountains hundreds of years ago. It is also possible to rent rail bikes that can carry up to four people. These mountain bikes have been adapted with wheels to fit the old minecart rails, so energetic visitors can pedal their way through the tunnels for a little added adventure.

Tickets for the minecart ride can be purchased at Hotel Seiryuso or from the onsen facility at the other end of the track just a few minutes’ walk from the terminal. At the Yunokuchi Onsen, the end of the track, visitors can enjoy relaxing in the indoor and outdoor baths as well as relaxing in the indoor tatami mat area, or pick up some local souvenirs. The most popular one is the locally made mikan Mandarin orange juice. There is also a mining site near this minecart route where you can see some remains of the mine. (5-minute walk from Kiwa Mine Museum)

As mentioned previously, the torokko mine area is near the long and beautiful Kitayama-gawa River, a perfect spot for a refreshing dip in the summertime and a popular area for kayaking, fishing, and free camping. We couldn't think of a better place to unwind after a long day of driving the winding mountain roads. The shoreline of the Kitayama-gawa River had several families pitching their tents along the valley, enjoying the peace and quiet, cool breeze, and the welcoming clear freshwater river.

We set up camp here and enjoyed barbecuing under a night sky full of stars. At night monkeys could be heard in the hills on the opposite side of the river, roaming the forest. In the morning we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the river with our dogs before packing up and making our way 30 minutes or so to the ocean side to visit some more interesting sights that Kumano has to offer.

Tourist attractions covered by this article