Ancient sanctuary, Kumano Sanzan and Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes
Kumano Hongu-taisha Grand Shrine, Kumano Hayatama-taisha Shrine and Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine are located in the southern part of Kii Peninsula. Kumano Sanzan is the general term for all of theese places, where many worshippers considered as a place where a god resides in and visited since ancient times.
Visiting shrines in Kumano became popular around 9th – 12th century. Kumano was worshipped as a place of rebirth where the spirits from the after world gather and pray for their happiness in the next world. The belief of visiting Kumano spread among the Imperial Family and the aristocracy. In the 14th century, samurai warriors and common people also started to visit it and in the 17th century, and it widely spread among ordinary people as well. They must have felt as if they saw the Land of Happiness (the peaceful land where a god is supposed to reside in) when they finally reached Kumano surrounded by beautiful nature after long and rough mountain paths. The god of Kumano accepted everyone regardless of their position or gender, which is another reason why the belief spread widely.
The highlight of Kumano is Kumano Sanzan, which is the center of worship. Its main shrine is Kumano Hongu-taisha Grand Shrine. This is the head shrine of the more than 3,000 Kumano Shrines located throughout Japan. At the end of the long path of stone stairs, 158 steps, stands 4 main shrines in a row with beautiful Hiwadabuki or cypress bark roofs. Oyunohara where Otorii or a large shrine gate stands is also near this place. Oyunohara is a place where shrines used to stand next to each other and people offered prayer here until the shrines were swept away in the great flood in 1889.
To Shingu Station in Wakayama Prefecture, which is the base of this trip, it takes about 4 hours by limited express train from Osaka and about 3 hours and a half from Nagoya. From Kansai International Airport, it takes about 4 hours by train via Wakayama. From Tokyo, there is a flight to Nanki-Shirahama Airport and it takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes by limited express train from Shirahama Station, the nearest station from the airport.
Visiting Kumano Sanzan
The highlight of Kumano is Kumano Sanzan, which was the center of worship. Its main shrine is Kumano Hongu-taisha Grand Shrine. This is the top shrine of the more than 3,000 Kumano Shrines located throughout Japan. At the end of the long path of stone stairs, 158 steps, stands 4 main shrines in a row with beautiful Hiwadabuki or cypress bark roofs. Oyunohara where Otorii or a large shrine gate stands is also near this place. Oyunohara is a place where shrines used to stand next to each other and people offered prayer here until the shrines were swept away in the great flood in 1889.
Kumano Hongu-taisha Grand Shrine
Address: 1110 Hongu, Hongu-cho, Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture
Hours: 8:00am – 5:00pm, Homotsu-den (Treasury Hall) 9:00am – 4:00pm No scheduled holidays
Access: About 90 minutes by Kumano Kotsu Bus or Nara Kotsu Bus from JR Shingu Station, near “Hongu Taisha-Mae” bus stop.
Kumano Hayatama-taisha Shrine near Shingu Station is very colorful with vermillion gate and shrines. There is a sacred Nagi tree, which is estimated to be over 1,000 years old, in the grounds of the shrine. It is believed to bring good luck in matchmaking as the veins of its leaves run only longitudinally, which makes them hard to tear. If you walk for 15 minutes, you can visit Kamikura Shrine, which is said to be the first shrine the god of Kumano descended to.
Kumano Hayatama-taisha Shrine
Address: 1 Shingu, Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture
Hours: 5:00am – 6:00pm (changes depending on seasons) Shinpo-kan (Treasury Hall) 9:00am – 4:00pm
Access: About 15 minutes walk from JR Shingu Station
In order to visit Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine, you need to walk on “Daimonzaka,” about a 3km-long (1.9 miles) stone stairway. There are some highlights halfway along the path, including Kagami-ishi and Meotosugi. In the grounds of the shrine, you can see “Tainai Kuguri,” a place exemplifying the ancient concept of purifying body and soul and being reborn, and also considered to be a place filled with mystical energy. It is said that if you go through the hollow root of the camphor tree there, holding Gomagi (a wood to offer to a god) with your wish written on, your wish will come true. If you walk further for about 15 minutes, you can see “Nachi no taki” or the waterfall of Nachi, which is famous for the steepest drop in Japan, with water falling down over 133m (436ft) from top to bottom.
Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine
Address: 1 Nachisan, Nachi-katsuura-cho, Higashimuro-gun, Wakayama Prefecture
Hours: 5:30am – 4:30pm, Homotsu-den (Treasury Hall) 8:30am – 4:00pm Open 365 days
Access: Take the Kisei Main Line from JR Shingu Station to JR Kii-Katsuura Station. Take Kumano Kotsu Bus for Nachisan (about 20 min) and get off at “Daimonzaka Chushajo-Mae”. 5 minutes walk to the entrance of Daimonzaka.
The symbol of Kumano Sanzan is “Yatagarasu,” a three-legged bird which was considered to be a messenger of god since ancient times. At Kumano Sanzan, you can purchase paper talismans (500 yen each) and good luck charms with the motif of Yatagarasu. Since Yatagarasu is believed to bring in good luck, it is also used as a symbol of the Japan Football Association.
Enjoy nature and the hot spring of Kumano to the fullest!
Kumano Sanzan is not the only spot to enjoy in Kumano. Take a boat through the Dorokyo gorge surrounded by deep green trees in the upper stream of Kumano River, and you can enjoy the beautiful natural scenery of mountains, waterfalls and unusually-shaped rocks.
Dorokyo Gorge Jet Boat Tour
Ticket sold at: 272 Hitari, Kumanogawa-cho, Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture
Phone: 0735-44-0331(No reservation required, first-come first-served)
Price: 3,440 yen for adult, 1,720 yen for age 12 and under for the 1 hour and 55 minute course
Schedule: Operates every hour from 9:30am – 2:30pm (Operates at 8:30am and 3:10pm as well during the period of March – November)
Access: About 40 minutes by Kumano Kotsu Bus from JR Shingu Station. Near “Shiko” bus stop.
There is also Onsen or hot springs that are said to have purified the bodies of people visiting Kumano in ancient times. Yunomine Onsen is the oldest hot spring in Japan, said to have been discovered about 1,800 years ago. Tsuboyu, which is said to change the color of water as many as seven times a day, is registered as a World Heritage site. Kawayu Onsen is also unique, in which the hot spring gushes out from the riverbed. In winter when water level becomes low in the river, the river is blocked to make it into a big open-air bath.
A holy fire festival is also held in summer. It has been believed that fire drives away misfortunes and evil, and purifies the body. The magnificent Nachi-no-Ogi Matsuri (Nachi Fire Festival at Nachi-taisha Shrine) and Yata Fire Festival (Kumano Hongu-taisha Grand Shrine) are crowded with many tourists every year.
Nachi-no-Ogi Matsuri (Nachi Fire Festival)
Venue: Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine
Date: July 14 every year, 10:00am -(Fire festival starts around 2:00pm – )
Yata Fire Festival
Venue: Kumano Hongu-taisha Grand Shrine, Oyunohara
Date: Last Saturday of August every year, 6:30pm –