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Kumano Kodō Walking Writing Retreat

Kumano Kodō photo courtesy Raw Travel

APRIL 18-25, 2025

Challenge yourself. Inspire the writer in you.

The research is in. Walking, walking in nature, traveling to a less familiar place, and risk-taking do boost creativity and enhance writing. That's why so many well-known writers have spent time traveling to and writing in places far from home. And it's the premise of Compass Writers retreats.  By getting out in nature, moving our bodies, and engaging in simple artistic activities, we fire the brain's creativity centers and give oxygen to the work on the page. 


For over a thousand years, people have crisscrossed a challenging network of paths stretching across Japan's mountainous Kii Peninsula to spiritually purify and partake in the rites of their religion. These ancient paths—which together make up the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage—were registered by UNESCO World Heritage in 2004 to join the organization's list of protected "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes." Today, walkers from around the world wind through the lush and rigorous mountain terrain of the Kumano Kodō to arrive at the steps of some of the country's sacred temples. 

Imagine the images and words that might come to you as you walk this breathtaking path with other writers eager to expand their craft or simply break their writer's block. Whether you are a professional or haven't picked up a pen since graduating high school, this walk and write is for you. 


During the nine-day writing retreat, we will explore several themes: seeing and listening deeply, facing the writing void, and exploring one's truth in narrative, poetic, or personal journaling form. Whenever possible we'll start the day with gentle yoga (no experience needed). We'll have breakfast and begin our walking day. Throughout these six days of walking, we will see Japan at its best and most beautiful.

Along the way, we'll find spots to stop and write and get to know each other and our writing a little better.

Throughout the workshop, we will utilize an integrated arts approach to inspire our writing: nature drawing, light clay work, music et al. Each participant will be asked to lead one arts-based prompt session—a wonderful, inclusive way to build community and share our writing interests equally.


This workshop is also grounded in the Amherst Writers & Artists method, which helps keep each of us safe and recognizes all of us as the artists we are. 









                      Kumano Kodō K FAQs


What is Arts Integration?

Arts integration is an approach to teaching, learning, and inspiring writing through the use of simple drawing, painting, and other physical art forms (yoga and walking count). At Compass Writers, we often use gentle art activities as prompts for writing sessions and as a means of more deeply accessing the centers of the brain associated with creativity. 


What is the AWA Method?

The Amherst Writers & Artists method is prompt-based and designed to make writers of all levels feel safe and equal, thus allowing each writer to write freely. As a free-thinking writer, you are invited to use my prompts or follow your muse. All writers will be invited to read back their work in the non-judgemental and encouraging environment of the workshop.


Toward that end, the essential practices of an AWA workshop are:​


  • Everyone's writing, including the leader's, is treated with equal respect and value.

  • Writing is kept confidential and treated as fiction.

  • Writers may choose to refrain from reading their work aloud.

  • Responses to just-written work reflect what is strong and successful.

  • Responses and exercises support the development of literary craft.


Do I need to be "good" at art or have any background in art?

None. Zero. Zilch. We are not here to become fine painters. You are a writer. By engaging in simple art activities or observation of art we see on the walking path, we increase our knowledge of writing craft, start to observe the world anew, find writing prompts all around us, and gain a greater appreciation for and sense of connection with the wider artistic world. As writers, we are artists.


Can I come if I REALLY can't draw?   

Yes! Don't let your concern about this aspect of the retreat stop you! Really! The arts-integrated exercises are suggested, not forced. They are a chance to try something new. Explore yourself and your writing in new ways. As with anything in this workshop, take what you like and leave the rest.



The cost of this workshop and accommodations is $4,000 per person. A deposit of $1,000 by October 1 2024 secures your seat. The remainder is due by January 1, 2024.  If spreading payments over a longer period would ease the burden, please let me know.  Airfare is NOT included and we leave it to participants to book their own. 


  • Rooms are double occupancy. That means you will be rooming with one other person throughout. If you are a couple, you will be roomed together.

  • Currently, economy airfare from Seattle or to Osaka (Kansai Airport/KIX) is running between $1,00 and $1,300

  • Travel insurance runs between $250 and $500 depending on level and coverage (see Travel Insurance) 

  • Short story: Budget the trip cost (including your daily lunch, personal souvenirs, etc.) to be approximately $5,500.

What does the $4,000/8-day trip include?

  • 6 days walking (8 nights) the Kumano Kodō from Kii-Tanabe to Nachisan, 

  • Art supplies. Each day will include walking, writing sessions, and integrative arts exercises to promote, inspire, or prompt writing. No art experience is needed!

  • Daily morning stretching/yoga when possible (some locations are tight on space)

  • Meals

  • A pre-walk briefing about the path

  • Transport at the end of the trip from Kii-Katsuura to Shirahama or the Osaka Kansai Airport

  • 1-hour writing critique of your work (10 pages double-spaced, 12 pt) or coaching session after the walk via Zoom

  • Reminder: Participants are responsible for air travel to and from Japan and for getting themselves to the walk start point in Kii-Tanabe by the afternoon of April 17. Talk with Cheryl ( about the potential of shared accommodations before and after the walk


What does it not include?

  • Round-trip flights to/from Japan

  • Transport from airport to walk start. 

  • Lunches

  • Laundry

  • Personal medical insurance

  • Alcohol beyond one beverage per dinner

  • Snacks 

  • Travel insurance. (I require that you purchase this insurance and suggest you include trip cancellation in it)

  • COVID tests, testing, or quarantine should these be necessary at any point.

What are the physical requirements? 

Writers should be able to walk 3-7 hours a day over varying but sometimes strenuous, steep and uneven terrain.  The route includes a range of surfaces, from smooth asphalt to highly rocky terrain. There will be big uphills. 

Who is the best candidate for this trip?

This retreat is open to writers of all levels, whether you haven't picked up that pen since high school or you're well-published. But it will take place on a walking route is rated moderate to challenging by hiker guide organizations

Only you can determine if you are fit and ready. However, we do provide a suggested schedule to increase your walking from 1 mile to 10 miles in the months leading up to the retreat. All travelers who have joined past walks felt trepidation about this question before the trip, and each (including our eldest walker at age 78) found they were able to complete the adventure. The bottom line: You are the perfect candidate if you like to or want to write and are a relatively seasoned and practiced hiker, or are willing to train to become one before April 2025. 


Group limit

It is limited to eight walkers. Why? Because smaller groups allow us to get to know each other, share our writing confidently, and grow together. Not to mention it is far easier to keep a group of eight people together than a larger group. 


Will I have to carry my luggage?

No. A small day pack is useful to hold your notebook and doodling supplies and to have snacks available. But our luggage (one bag each, no more than 44 pounds) will be transported forward for us. 


What about restricted diets?

Those without restricted diets will do best on this trip. If you are vegetarian or vegan, this trip would be highly challenging as much of the diet in this region includes fish and other animal ingredients.


Will it rain? What weather should I expect?

Of course, it will! Always bring rain gear. Just. bringing it will be the good omen that keeps the rain at bat. NOTE: I recommend you bring only enough to fit in a standard carry-on bag ( 22" X 14" X 9”).


Will we walk together?

Walkers are invited to go at their own pace, but we generally try to stay in sight of each other.  


The Kumano Kodō is a “pilgrimage route.” What does that mean? Must I be religious?

If I could shout the answer to that latter one, I would. The answer is NO, you do not need to have any religious affiliation, spiritual practice, or belief in anything beyond yourself to join this retreat.

But you must be curious and respectful of the faiths and culture of Japan. You will receive a book about Japanese customs and culture prior to the walk so that you are prepared to engage and enjoy it tactfully. The route is marked as an official pilgrimage path in the Shugendō religion. However, we will be approaching this path from a historical perspective. 


That said, you will see many nods to Japan's religious history and to places and individuals revered or considered sacred within the Shugendō tradition. If that spirituality inspires you, lovely. I hope that all of us find a deep spiritual connection on this path – with each other, with our deeper selves, and with nature.


Pilgrimage, at its essence, is the act of stepping out of one's ordinary life for a time to consider new thoughts, explore emotions, and contemplate one's inner world. A pilgrimage starts at one place, has a midpoint, and arrives at another place, internally and externally. To me, writing is a pilgrimage. I hope that this walk becomes a pilgrimage for your writing as well. 


How much travel insurance is needed?

As we have learned these past few years, travel insurance is essential for bigger trips. It is required for this trip and must cover any medical expenses that might come up during our time together.  At a minimum, you need insurance to cover the standard $1,000,000 medical evacuation coverage, trip cancellation, trip interruption, and trip delay coverage and $100,000 in medical coverage, including hospitalization due to COVID-19, and if available in your state, coverage that will cover you should you need to quarantine.  A note on rates: According to a Forbes review, the average travel insurance cost for a $5,000 trip is $228, and the range of rates is from $154 for very basic coverage for a basic policy to $600 for a policy with generous coverage. Here's the Forbes "best of 2024" list.


Speaking of which, what if COVID occurs on the road? 

I will make every effort to protect walkers from COVID-19 by encouraging healthy practices like handwashing, mask use, and social distancing where warranted. All walkers must be fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and must bring masks with them, just in case.


If COVID-19 symptoms occur during the trip, the affected walker must test for the virus. A positive test means, sadly, that they will need to leave the trip. My travel partners and I will do everything we can to help you find appropriate accommodations where you can quarantine. Quarantine costs are the individual's responsibility.


What's the cancellation policy?

If I must cancel: 

I reserve the right to cancel the trip if fewer than six walkers register. If I must cancel, those registered will receive a full refund. 


If you must cancel: 

  • The initial $1,000 deposit is non-refundable and will be forfeited in all cases. 

  • If you cancel before Decmber 1, 2024, the remainder of what you paid will be refunded. 

  • After December 2, 2024, the remainder will be refunded only if I can fill your vacated seat with another participant. 

  • If I do find a replacement for your vacated seat, I will consider refunding the deposit fee as well. 


There can be no exceptions to this cancellation policy, which includes instances of personal emergencies. After December 1, 2024, travel protection insurance will provide your only option for recouping your investment in the trip.


Wow! That seems overwhelming. Why do it anyway?

Whew! Breathe in, breathe out. It feels like a lot of information and commitment. I know. But I want you to feel confident in your decision. Things like walk training, travel insurance, and cancellation policies give us all pause. It takes time to research. But having chosen to participate in and lead walking writing workshops, I want to offer you this: Each one has been deeply affirming and its impacts are long-lasting. My own confidence climbed, as did my commitment to my writing, and those I’ve walked and written with feel the same. And, we’ve made many incredible friends on the journey. Not to mention, it's not as complicated as it sounds. I'll help you figure it all out.


As one participant on our West Highland Way walk put it:


"The walk and the workshop changed everything for me. I no longer say 'I like to write.' I say boldly, 'I am a writer."

















Walk Distances and Destinations


To learn more about what you will see and find in each of these stages, check out descriptions from the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Board:


  • Day 1: Arrival in Kii-Tanabe, get a briefing on the path in the afternoon, then dinner and evening writing session

  • Day 2 (4km/3 miles): Hike Takijiri to Takahara. : Morning yoga, then a short walk with a steep start to acclimate to the path. Afternoon session, dinner, and relaxation.

  • Day 3 (9.5km/5.9 miles): Hike Takahara to Chikatsuyu (9.5km/5.9). A bit longer on the path and a bit of a challenge, then an evening writing session after dinner.

  • Day 4  (25km/15.5 miles): Hike Chikatsuyu to Kumano Hongu. A big day of walking. We will write along the way. Then dinner and a big rest.

  • Day 5 (mileage depends): Today, we'll be off the path and spend time exploring the Hongu area. Expect to put in 5-8 miles, with a writing session in the afternoon or evening.

  • Day 6 (13km/8 miles): Hike Hongu to Koguchi.

  • Day 7 (14km/8.6 miles): Hike Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha

  • Day 8:  Explore Kii-Katsurra, including thermal spas and other local spots, then bus/train to your airport for departure. OPTIONAL:  Bus/train to Shirahama to stay overnight and explore some more. NOTE: You will need to cover your portion of this shared accommodation; it is separate from the 8-day retreat. 

  • Day 9: Bus/train to Kansai Airport in Osaka for departure



Workshop Facilitator Cheryl Murfin, MFA/Ed, AWA


I've been writing for as long as I can remember. What has kept me writing is the ongoing encouragement from others and my desire to support and encourage other writers. Compass Writers was born to achieve both goals.

I was trained as a reporter and received my BA in Journalism from the University of Washington. I received my MFA in integrated arts (writing) from the University of Montana's innovative Creative Pulse program. I've been a writing workshop facilitator for 20 years and am certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists Method. In 2008, I founded the Venice Writer's Block, a supportive writing community that now has more than 2,000 members. In 2021, Seattle Writers Block was launched. I've been long-distance walking and writing with others since 2019, walking among other paths the Camino de Santiago pilgrim path, Scotland's West Highland Way, and portions of the Via Francigena. 


I've written for newspapers and magazines for 30 years and am currently managing editor at Seattle's Child. My blog, A Voice on the Road, chronicles my walking writing experience, both alone and with groups of workshop writers. 


But none of that is what makes me the right person to lead you on the Kumano Kodo. 


Here's what does: I believe we are all born with creative genius. I also believe that writing and most other artistic pursuits are important tools for unlocking a person's truth. Meeting yourself on the page and in other art practices is both a means of healing and a means of growing as a human being. Because I believe this,  I am ready and eager to encourage you to approach your art with your entire being — body, mind, and spirit.

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