As the Chinese proverb says: “a journey starts with the first step”. Let’s re-phrase this to “your journey to Kumano starts with riding the Kuroshio”.
The Kuroshio is a limited express train operated by Japan Railway (JR) that takes you from Kyoto via Osaka Shingu City, one of the gateways to Kumano, "the land of the Gods" and to the Kumano Kodo old pilgrimage trails.
This is an alternative route to Kumano as opposed to riding the Wideview Nanki Express, an express train that connects Nagoya with Shingu.
Shingu seems a kind of remote and difficult to get to compared to other locations in the Kansai area, which is probably why not many visitors to Japan put Kumano and the Kumano Kodo on their itinerary. The area is not even mentioned in the big-name Japan guidebooks! Those who take the time to come here will not be disappointed though.
The train journey will take you from Kyoto through Shin-Osaka and Tennoji (in Osaka) before reaching Wakayama City, the capital of Wakayama Prefecture. Then it continues all around the Western side of the Kii Peninsula and via Kii Tanabe to Shirahama Onsen at the peninsula’s southernmost tip. From there the train line runs back up on the Eastern side of the peninsula to the train terminal in Shingu City.
On your way from Kyoto to Shingu try to get seats on the right side of the train for the best views of the Kii Peninsula’s coast line as the train is running along the coast almost the entire way.
The stretch from Osaka to Kii-Tanabe looks very urban and industrial. You will see many oil refineries and industrial plants along the coast. There are some windmills on the hills to generate electricity and many fruit plantations and hot houses for growing vegetables.
Once Kii-Tanabe is passed you can enjoy panoramic views of the ocean, of picturesque fishermen’s villages and of countless little bays and rock formations along the coast. The area between Kii-Tanabe and Shingu is extremely rural and mountainous, probably as rural and mountainous as it gets in Japan.
For your enjoyment, you will have the sea on one side and the mountains on the other side of the train. This is a great journey to get you right into the mood for exploring the Kumano area!
There are several services running throughout the day. Visitors to Japan who hold a Japan Rail Pass can use these trains unrestrictedly.