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 is a trail and greenway planner/designer/developer and has a four-decade award-winning history in trail planning and implementation. He has worked with communities to visualize concepts, win support and get projects built. He co-authored Greenways: A Guide to Planning Design and Development (Island Press)—Published in the U.S. and China and contributed to Greenways: The Beginning of an International Movement (Elsevier Press). He has written for Planning, Landscape Architecture, LA China, and American Trails Magazines.

Bob has authored a number of trail management and sustainability articles and reports including recently serving as a principal author of a trails management and sustainability guidelines report for The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area (U.S. Forest Service).

He served as Chair for American Trails and helped found the World Trails Network. He has produced and moderated Webinars, policy guidelines and other products for American Trails.

Bob holds a Master of Architecture from The State University of New York.

Bob is currently writing a new book with Island Press on close-in trails and walking routes. The publication date will be available later in 2022.

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]

More articles by These authors

More Articles in this Category

Ohio's Storybook Trails Offer a Literary Trail Experience

These unique trails, partially funded by Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grants, promote the importance of literacy, a healthy lifestyle, and connecting with nature.

Trail User Survey Library

These Trail User Survey examples show how trails across the country are listening to their trail users to gather data for funding, maintenance, events, and more.

The Trail Fund Announces a $50,000 Collaboration with the Ford Motor Company

The Ford Motor Company will make a donation to American Trails via the Bronco Wild Fund to support on-the-ground trail projects across America.

Sustainable Trail Bridge Design

Designing trail bridges based on trail-specific Trail Management Objectives (TMOs) is essential for providing the desired trail experience, for ensuring user safety, and for maximizing bridge longevity.