The Team

Alena Eckelmann: Founder, and Lead Guide, Storyteller, Experience Designer

My LinkedIn Profile.

Lead Guide:

For the past years I have guided walks and multi-day tours along the Kumano Kodo trails and in Koyasan.

I hold the Wakayama Guide Interpreter license for the Kumano Kodo and Koyasan (2013) and the Kongobuji Temple guide license for Koyasan (2019).


I have written many articles about “my favorite place in Japan”:

Experience Designer:

Since this area and the local communities can be difficult to access for Westerners, I have been asked to facilitate introductions and experiences. These have included the following:

  • Mathieu Le Lay, an independent filmmaker based in the French Alps, sought my guidance and introductions in Kumano in April 2015. His work is inspired by spiritual connections to nature and he wanted to learn more about Shugendo in order to shot for a documentary. Here is his trailer about Kumano.
  • In June 2017 two teachers from Muhlenberg College, USA, brought a group of students to Kumano to study the flora & fauna of this region and to gain an experience of Shugendo.
  • Julia Plevin, Founder of the Forest Bathing Club, and Author of the book “The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing”, researched and experienced Shugendo in Kumano in August 2017.
  • Also in 2017, a crew from VICE came to Japan to shot a documentary about Shugendo under the title “Hunting Natural Highs in the Mountains of Japan“. I set up all meetings and locations and introduced them to my two Shugendo teachers who feature in this documentary.
  • In March 2020 Italian journalist Lorenzo Colantoni asked me to facilitate his environmental research on the Kii Peninsula and coordinate interviews with local stakeholders. He published his findings as a book in 2021: “Ritorno alle Foreste Sacre” (Return to the Sacred Forest).

Kenjiro Egashira: Co-Founder, and Logistics, Finances, Legal, IT Manager
  • Studied German and linguistics and has a strong interest in patent law, world politics, world history and economics.
  • Trained and licensed System Engineer.
  • Hobby car mechanic and hobby cook.
  • Worked at various local tourism offices in the Hongu area.
  • Currently supports Tamaki Shrine. He holds a Shinto Priest license.

The Area

The Kii Peninsula is with nearly 10,000 km² the largest peninsula of Honshu Island in Japan. It is located south of Osaka City, and is now occupied by the southern part of Osaka Prefecture, by Wakayama Prefecture, Nara Prefecture and the southern part of Mie Prefecture.

In the east and the south of the Kii Peninsula lies the Pacific Ocean, and in the west the Kii Strait and the Seto Inland Sea.

The peninsula is composed of the Kii Range, which are actually several steep mountain ranges that run north-south with the highest elevation being Mount Hakken (1,695 m) and countless mountains at an elevation higher than 1,000 m.

These mountains are forested. The natural forest is a mix of temperate forest and subtropical forest but there are also large areas of plantation forest with cedar and cypress trees.

Three spiritual centers – Koyasan, Yoshinoyama and the Kumano Sanzan – and the pilgrimage trails that connect them were inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2004. These sacred places were also connected to Nara and Kyoto, Japan’s former capitals, and to the Ise Jingu shrine.

Yatagarasu is a mystical bird in the shape of a crow with three legs that has been associated with the Kii Peninsula. The bird is said to have guided Jimmu Tenno, the legendary first Emperor of Japan across the steep mountains and deep valleys of peninsula. Let “Yata” guide us on our journeys too!

Kii Monogatari in the Media

Interview with Seeking Sustainability in Japan with JJ Walsh, Oct 2020

Interview with JNTO UK, Mar 2021

Interview with Green Shinto, Apr 2021

Interviews and Media Appearances

Japan Forward, quoted in Why Not Workation in the Wilderness of Japan, Apr 2021

The Diplomat, quoted in The Mountain Monks of Japan, Sep 2016

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, quoted in What’s at Stake in Designating Japan’s Sacred Mountains as UNESCO World Heritage Site, 2013

The ACCJ Journal, quoted in Back to Basics: The Shape of Travel to Come, Dec 2012