Spirituality and Tourism in Japanese Pilgrimage Sites

Exploring the Intersection through the Case of Kumano Kodo


  • Kumi Kato Center for Tourism Research, Wakayama University
  • Ricardo Nicolas Progano Graduate School of Tourism, Wakayama University




spiritual tourism, contemporary spirituality, tourism development, Kumano, Japan


Contemporary society understands spirituality as an individualized "quest of self-discovery and reflection" that combines eclectic elements, while disregarding traditional religious organizations. This social context has shaped how sacred sites are managed and promoted in tourism, as well as tourist motivation and behaviour. Still, the information on religious and spiritual-related tourism remains Euro-centric, although around half of an estimated 600 million religious and spiritual travels take place in Asia and the Pacific (UNWTO 2011). In order to contribute to studies on the area, the purpose of this article is to explore the intersection of spirituality and tourism in a non-Western pilgrimage site utilizing the three categories of Olsen (2015) to interpret and organize research materials in a coherent format. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails in Japan were selected as case study. Results showed a variety of Japanese-specific research materials related to contemporary spirituality and tourism that still draw some parallels to the West. Following Olsen's categories, the case study showed mainly elements from spiritual tourism, with some from New Age tourism as well. Wellness was a particularly emphasized characteristic. Further research is suggested to develop Olsen's categorization and to deepen the study of non-Western tourism contexts of contemporary spirituality in different areas.


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Author Biographies

Kumi Kato, Center for Tourism Research, Wakayama University

Kumi Kato is professor at the Faculty of Tourism, Wakayama University and Deputy Director of the Center of Tourism Research, Wakayama University, Japan. She is also an Honorary Associate Professor, The University of Queensland, Australia. Her research area includes sustainability and tourism, intangible heritage, community resilience, and traditional knowledge. She is a member of Sustainability Frontiers and Kangaloon, a fellowship of creative ecologists.

Ricardo Nicolas Progano, Graduate School of Tourism, Wakayama University

Ricardo Nicolas Progano is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Tourism, Wakayama University, Japan. He is working on research into the management and policy directions of spiritual tourism on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails in Wakayama Prefecture. Originally from Argentina, he combines his backgrounds in oriental studies (University of El Salvador) and tourism studies (Wakayama University) leveraging his language skills in Spanish, English and Japanese.


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How to Cite

Kato, K., & Progano, R. (2018). Spirituality and Tourism in Japanese Pilgrimage Sites: Exploring the Intersection through the Case of Kumano Kodo. Fieldwork in Religion, 13(1), 22–43. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.36137