Trails and The Pilgrimage Culture

The Kumano Kodo and The Way of Saint James

Sharing world pilgrimage culture.

by Robert (Bob) Searns, Owner, Robert Searns and Associates, Inc., Brad Towle, International Tourism Promotion and Development Director, Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, Masato Takemoto, Office Chief, Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, Galeo Saintz, World Trails Network

Presenters: Brad Towle, International Tourism Promotion and Development Director; Masato Takemoto, Office Chief, Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau; Galeo Saintz, Chair, World Trails Network; Robert Searns, American Trails and World Trails Network Boards

For a thousand years trails have been routes of spiritual renewal and pilgrimage. In our time there has been a rebirth of this trail attraction. Spain's Way of St. James and Japan's Kumano Kodo are ancient pilgrimage routes from very different religious and cultural traditions, influencing, challenging, and inspiring pilgrims. Located at opposite ends of the planet, they share the same essence of the human spirit. Tanabe City and Santiago de Compostela are cooperating to connect these two sacred sites by collaborating on mutual promotion and sharing. By respecting their differences, and building on their similarities, they have created a new model of trail partnership.

View This Presentation Online

View Joint Pilgrimage Promotion Video

About the Authors

Robert Searns has a four-decade history of visualizing, planning, and getting trails and greenway projects built. He was Project Director of Denver’s Platte River and Mary Carter Greenways—both national-award-wining projects. He helped plan the Grand Canyon National Park Greenway, played a key role on the Memphis Wolf River Greenway, and authored the Commerce City, CO Walk, Bike, Fit plan. He has written for Planning, Landscape Architecture, LA China, and American Trails Magazines and has served as Editor-in-Chief of Trails and Beyond Magazine. He chaired American Trails and was a founder of The World Trails Network as well as being a delegate to the America’s Great Outdoors White House conclave. His current book is Beyond Greenways: The Next Step For City Trails and Walking Routes, published in 2023 by Island Press. He resides, writes, hikes, and bikes near Denver, Colorado.

Contact: [email protected]

Brad Towle is originally from Canada and now lives in his adopted hometown of Tanabe City, Japan. He first traveled to the Kumano region in 1999 and fell in love with the people and cultural landscape while walking and exploring the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes. Brad holds a degree in Sports Science, is fluent in Japanese, and has travelled extensively, developing both theoretical and practical knowledge with a global perspective. He has worked extensively in the tourism sector, including as professional hiking guide in the Canadian Rockies, and is currently the International Tourism Promotion and Development Director for the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau. This small, but visionary association, has received both domestic and international awards, including nomination for the prestigious World Travel and Tourism Council's Tourism for Tomorrow Awards Destination category in 2012.

Contact: [email protected]


The ancient Kumano region is nestled in the verdant mountains of Wakayama Prefecture—the spiritual heartland of Japan. Worshipped for centuries, this lush and rugged area has been considered the abode of the gods. Walk the spiritual Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, soak and relax in the healing waters of isolated onsen, dine on delicious local cuisine, interact with the friendly locals—what kind of adventures await you in this sacred land?

Galeo Saintz is the co-founder of two of South Africa’s premier long-distance trails. Today he is founding chair of the World Trails Network, an international initiative focused on taking the trails industry into the future, while highlighting the globally significant role trails play in communities across the world. In 2014 he was elected to chair a new initiative called Mandela’s Walk, a long-distance pilgrimage that celebrates the life and values of the late Nelson Mandela. Galeo has first-hand experience in trail conception, organizational development, and is an international trails liaison. He has spoken at numerous international conferences advocating for trails, their benefits, and the role they play in reconnecting communities to nature, culture, and our unique and individual human story.

Contact: [email protected]

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1,174 views • posted 02/19/2018