A rather easy stretch trough beautiful woods, with the ultimate reward at the end: the Hongu shrine and onsen at Yunomine.
I had stayed at the Minshuku Nonaka Sanso, a great minshuku with truly amazing food some 2 kilometers off the trail (downhill). The owners were extremely friendly. They offered me a bamboo stick to borrow (and put back at one of the trail heads) and even offered to bring me to the trailhead with their car (I politely refused as it felt like cheating to me).
Tip: make sure you pack enough water for the first 14 (!) kilometers of the day. At the time that I was hiking, there were no vending machines between marker 34 (Tsugizakura-oji) and marker 62.
The rest of the day was nice. Quite some forests, some nice villages (with plenty of signs warning for snakes). The foggy weather made the hills really mystical.
And then, after approximately 5 hours … THE Hongu shrine.
Tip: If you’re walking the next day after you arrive in Hongu, check whether you will be able to buy food at the next trailhead. If you’re walking from Ukegawa or if you’re starting early from Koguchi (the store won’t open till 9h00), consider buying food (lunch, extra food) in Hongu where there’s plenty of shops.
I had decided to stay the night in Yunomine rather than Hongu, as Yonumine is home of the famous Yunomine Onsen and there seemed to be more and better Ryokan there. That meant that after my hike to Hongu, I still had a small stretch to go to Yunomine.
Hongu to Yunomine.
Follow the large road out of the village. Just before you really leave the village, turn right (marked by a ‘regular’ road sign). This was the first and only time I actually made a wrong turn; it took me a few hundred meters to realize I missed the trailhead.
Tip: Be alert when you get of the trail into villages. In villages, the familiar wooden waymarkers are often missing and you’ll see alternative ‘regular’ road signs showing the direction of trail heads.
Shortly, you will be climbing your way up the hill to later descent to Yunomine. I made the rookie mistake of underestimating the climb. It took me more than an hour in the pouring rain to get from Hongu to Yunomine.
Yunomine is amazing. Wow. Whatever the weather is, there is a mystical atmosphere in the small town. I imagine (and hear) in summer and in tourist season, it must be crowded, but now it was a truly quiet and mystical experience.
I stayed in the Yoshinoya Ryokan, which is literally next to the trail to Hongu. It is not the cheapest ryokan in town, but it is truly worth the money. A really nice indoor onsen, a great outdoor onsen and amazing staff. Some of my gear was soaking wet because of the rain, and the owner was really helpful in making sure it would be dry by the next morning. Pretty awesome.