Open Eyes Opinion
The ‘Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes’ in the KII Mountain Range
is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site
Kumano, where ancient pilgrimage routes lead to most sacred sites in Japan.
The Kumano region, Japan’s spiritual heartland, is located in the southern area of the Wakayama and Mie prefectures in the southern part of the Kii Peninsula. From Osaka or Nagoya it takes about four hours by limited express train to the JR Shingu station, Wakayama. Alternatively, take a flight from Tokyo to the nearest airport, Nanki Shirahama, followed by a train trip in about 100 minutes.
The region is surrounded by the splendid scenery of dynamic mountains, deep valleys, and coastline views of the Pacific Ocean. Because sacred sites are sprinkled deep in the country side, Kumano is one of the most spiritual and historical places in Japan.
The highpoint of Kumano is definitely Kumano Kodo. Your journey to Kumano begins here.
Kumano Kodo (Wakayama, Mie and Nara Prefectures)
Kumano Kodo, the ancient pilgrimage route, leads to some of the most spiritual sites in Japan. It is a network of trails that snake through over three prefectures in the south of Kii Peninsula.
The pilgrimage route leads to several sacred sites: Kumano Sanzan (three grand shrines), Koyasan (the main temple of Shingon Buddhism), Ise Jingu (Japan’s important shrine) and Yoshino/Omine (mountain worship and practicing asceticism). The route was used by worshippers and people from all levels of society on their way to these sites. Its history dates back more than a thousand years. The route still possesses a historical atmosphere and is sanctified with natural richness. Kumano Kodo is listed as one of only two pilgrimage in the world as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be captivated by Japan’s sanctuaries and discover the ancient nature of the Kumano Kodo route. Here are top destinations along Kumamo Kodo you cannot miss.
Kumano Sanzan (Wakayama Prefecture)
Kumano Sanzan is a collective name for the three grand shrines located in Kumano. These three grand shrines are connected within the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi route.
Kumano Hongu Taisha
The main shrine, Kumano Hongu Taisha, is the center of Kumano Kodo and is located one hour by bus from Shingu station. The shrine began to be worshiped some 2,000 years ago and it is the head shrine of the more than 3,000 Kumano shrines in Japan. Stone stairways lead up to the four main shrines that exemplify beautiful bark roofs.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Another of the shrines, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, is located at the mouth of the Kumano Gawa River. An ancient tree, “Nagi no Taiki” is a symbol of Kumano faith and is worshipped as a sacred object. From a long time ago, worshippers have prayed for a safe journey to Kumano Kodo and many keep the leaf of the tree as a charm.
Kumano Nachi Taisha
The third shrine, Kumano Nachi Taisha, is located halfway up the Nachi Mountain. Take your time to enjoy the hike up the stunning natural sanctuary of the Kumano Kodo Daimonzaka Slope. The Daimonzaka Slope is one of the top hiking routes along Kumano Kodo. The slope starts from the bottom of the valley and rises up to meet Kumano Nachi Taisha with paved with attractive cobblestones meandering between Japanese cedar trees on both sides.
The pleasing Nachi Waterfall is also located a short distance from Kumano Nachi Taisha and is known as the tallest waterfall in Japan with a total drop of 436 feet. The waterfall is a sanctuary and religious source for Kumano Nachi Taisha and is still the primary object of worship.
A day tour is available to make the circuit to all three impressive shrines from each major train station.
For more information about Kumano Kodo, please visit here.
Experiences Ancient Nature
Kumano Kodo is one of the top nature hikes globally with trails stretching their way to gorgeous sceneries. There are various walking route options, from a beginner’s less than half hour walk to a long, one week trekking course for those more advanced. Among these, the most popular route is the Nakahechi Route. Nakahechi route starts at Hosshinmon-Oji and makes its way to Kumano Hongu Taisha. The total distance is about 4.3 miles. It takes about 2 hours and offers gentle slopes, an ancient atmosphere and many historic relics. Additionally there is an outstanding lookout point along the way.
The Kumano-Gawa River runs from North to South down the center of Kii Peninsula. Traditionally, worshippers took a boat to travel between Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha which is located at the estuary. Fascinatingly, this sacred waterway is also considered an object of worship. Take the time to explore the river pilgrimage route with its many river activities such as kayaking, traditional boat tours and jet boat tours. Enjoy the magnificent settings such as the Kumano mountains and its waterfalls as a beautiful backdrop.
For more information about hiking routes, please visit here.
Visit here to learn more about the pilgrimage routes.
Hongu Onsen Kyou, Kumano Hot spring gateways (Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture)
Numerous natural hot springs (or Onsen) are scattered across Kii Peninsula. It is picture-perfect for resting and stretching one’s body after a long day of hiking on the pilgrimage route. Relax and enjoy volcanic spring water full of natural minerals.
The closest hot spring village to Kumano Hongu Taisya is Kumano Hongu Onsen-Kyou. This onsen offers three sources of hot springs including Kawayu Onsen, Yunomine Onsen and Wataze Onsen. All three onsen can be reached by bus from Shingu station, which takes about one hour.
The Kawayu Onsen is located on the Ohtou River. Anywhere you dig at the base of the river it bubbles up hot water. Build your own open-air bathtub by digging holes in the riverbank then mixing with the river water to adjust to the right temperature for a definitive bathing experience. In many accommodations in the village you can rent shovels. As a winter tradition, giant Sennin-Buro (means bath for one thousand people) appears on the river about 130 feet long.
The Yunomine Onsen, located in a delightful small valley deep in Kumano Mountain still retains an old time atmosphere and in fact is commonly called one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. Worshippers to Kumano shrines used to take a bath at Yunomine Onsen before they would head to the shrines in order to rid themselves of impurities. Tsuboyu, a registered UNESCO World Heritage site, is a small rock bath in a small wooden cabin, built on the river. The bath can only accommodate one to two people privately for up to 30 minutes.
The Wataze Onsen features the largest open air hot spring bath in all of western Japan. Soak and relax in the healing waters and enjoy the glorious scenery.
Takahara hotel is sourcing the hot spring from Wataze Onsen and is located in the middle of a mountain at an altitude of 984 feet and is only a few minutes walk from the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi route. The hotel offers spectacular views from all the rooms. Remarkably, the mountains seem like they are rising out of an ocean of fog in the morning. The hotel has an open-air hot spring for visitors. Enjoy exclusive and traditional Japanese cuisine, which uses plenty of local vegetables and seafood as well as local Sake.
For more information about the hot spring village in Kumano, please visit here.
For more information about Takahara hotel, please visit here.
Discover Traditional Gourmet
Kii Peninsula is blessed with abundant nature and a mild oceanic climate. Enjoy the experience and also indulge in the gifted signature dishes of Kumano.
Mehari-Zushi: Mehari-Zushi is a rice ball wrapped with salt marinated leaves of Takana (pickled Takana mustard leaves). Mehari means “wide opened eyes” because of the size of the massive rice ball and as people eat this delicious treat their eyes open up wide with each bite. These were popular in the old days as lunch for people working in the forest.
Visit here to learn more about Kumano’s local cuisine.
[Source: Japan National Tourism Organization-Media Relations]
[Photo credits-featured image: By 663highland (663highland) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons]
[Intext photos: courtesy of JNTO-MIXA CO. LTD-Wakayama Prefecture-Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau (credits embedded)]
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