Prayer route bound for the mountains of the Gods
With peaks reaching an average height of 1,500m (4921ft), the Kii Mountain Range is located in the center of the Kansai region’s Kii Peninsula, which extends southward to the Pacific Ocean. Since the mythological age, it has been regarded as a sacred dwelling place of the Gods. The World Heritage designated area encompasses three hallowed grounds of diverse religious faith: Koyasan (Mount Koya), where Buddhist monk Kukai founded the Shingon school of Buddhism, the ascetic training realms of the Yoshino and Omine mountains, and the three grand shrines of Kumano Sanzan (Kumano hongu-taisha, Kumano hayatama-taisha, Kumano nachi-taisha) where noble worshippers once congregated. The pilgrimage route to these sacred sites has become a path of prayer for countless visitors, while having a wider influence on the development of Japanese religion and culture.
In 2004, the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of Kii Mountain Range were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Very few routes receive the designation, with the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route to Kumano Sanzan and Spain’s Way of St. James being the only two examples over 100km (approx. 62.1 miles).
Beginning in the late 11th century, parties of the imperial family and aristocracy would frequently visit the sites, guided by ascetics. By the late 15th century, commoners represented the majority of worshippers, leading to the bustle of the 16th century onward. It was a surely a priceless experience for the Japanese people of the time to walk through the depths of these mountains with their prayers.
Visitors drawn to prayer route linking two sacred sites
The World Heritage pilgrimage routes include the Iseji Route from Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, the Kohechi Route from Koyasan, and the Nakahechi Route from Tanabe in Wakayama Prefecture. The Kumano Kodo Iseji Route in particular has drawn large numbers of visitors.
With over 20 mountain passes, the nearly 170km (approx. 105.6 miles) Kumano Kodo Iseji Route is filled with uphills and downhills. Despite its ruggedness, visitors still long to walk this irreplaceable path linking the sacred Ise Grand Shrine and the hallowed mountain terrain of Kumano Sanzan.
With stone paths dappled by sunlight filtering through the dense forest of broad-leaved evergreens, the Kumano Kodo Iseji Pilgrimage Route preserves an atmosphere of ancient times. As you walk the route in serene silence you are transported, sharing the same experience as worshippers of old.
Take in the beauty of Kumano Kodo along the Matsumoto-toge Pass
Visitors can freely enjoy the Kumano Kodo Iseji Pilgrimage Route experience via the Matsumoto-toge Pass, accessible from Kumanoshi station express stop.
The entrance to Matsumoto-toge Pass is a short 20-minute walk from Kumano-shi Station. Once you leave the highway and enter the pass, the ambience completely transforms as you explore the timeless, ancient routes of Kumano Kodo.
The highest point of Matsumoto-toge Pass is only 135m (approx. 442.9ft), offering a safe, memorable climbing experience even for beginners.
Among the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, only the Iseji route features a segment that runs along the coastline, stretching 22km (approx. 13.6 miles). An arbor located roughly 10 minutes east of the peak of Matsumoto-toge Pass offers a stunning panoramic view of Shichirimihama Beach.
Access to Matsumoto-toge Pass (Kumanoshi Station)
From Nagoya: JR Nagoya Station <Approx. 3 hrs. and 10 min. by Limited Express Wide View Nanki>–Kumanoshi Station
From Chubu Centrair International Airport: Chubu Centrair International Airport <45 min. by High-speed boat Airport Line> — Tsu-nagisamachi <10 min. by bus> — JR Tsu Station <2 hrs. and 20 min. by Limited Express Wide View Nanki>–Kumanoshi Station
From Kyoto: Kintetsu Railway Kyoto Station <approx. 1 hr. and 50 min. by Kintetsu Limited Express> — Kintetsu Railway/JR Matsusaka Station <approx. 2 hrs. by Limited Express Wide View Nanki> — Kumanoshi Station
From Osaka: Kintetsu Osaka Namba Station <approx. 1 hr. and 50 min. by Kintetsu Limited Express> — Kintetsu Railway/JR Matsusaka Station <approx. 2 hrs. by Limited Express Wide View Nanki> — Kumanoshi Station
Experience local cuisine cooking in a 120-year old building
A 10-minute walk from Kumanoshi station, the “Kinan Tour Design Center” offers visitors a one-of-a-kind experience to cook “Mehari Zushi”, the specialty food of the Kumano region (reservation required). “Mehari Zushi” – freshly cooked rice wrapped in a salt-pickled leaf mustard – is a traditional food in the region and makes a perfect lunch as you walk the Kodo routes.
To reserve Mehari Zushi experience
Please contact below number (English assistance available).
Tel: 0597-23-3784 (Higashikishu Chikishinko Kousha, Kihoku Office)
Stop by additional sites to enjoy unforgettably breathtaking scenery
The areas surrounding Matsumoto-toge Pass boast numerous historical and natural sightseeing spots. Take a short detour to enjoy these local pleasures.
“Onigajo” (“Demon Castle”) is the name for a 1.2km (approx. 0.7 miles) succession of fantastically-shaped rock outcroppings, formed by coastal erosion and rapid land uplift. Legend has it that famed 8th century military commander Sakanoueno Tamuramaro drove out pirates at Onigajo.
One outcropping, known as “Shishiiwa”, stands 25m (approx. 82ft) above Shichirimihama Beach. Its imposing, roaring lion appearance faces the Kumanonada Sea, and is believed to protect a shrine 6.5km (4 miles) inland.
Hanano Iwaya is known as the resting place of the goddess of creation and death, Izanami-no-Mikoto. At its foot stands Japan’s oldest site of Shinto worship, Hanano Iwaya Shrine. At semi-annual festivals on February 2nd and October 2nd, a 170m (approx. 557.7ft) length of giant rope is suspended between a 45m (approx. 147.6ft) high object of worship and the southernmost sacred tree of the shrine. This ritual conveys the natural worship of this ancient land to the present day.
Another must-see along the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route is the intricately layered terraced rice fields of Maruyama Senmaida. Some 1340 paddies are currently used for farming rice. The terraced landscape offers visitors an ever-changing vista depending on the season and time of day. Access is available by bus from Kumanoshi Station (approx. 30min. to Senmaida/Toritoge Iriguchi). You can enjoy walking along pretty stone pavements and a getting superb view from the observation deck.
The Kumano Kodo Iseji Pilgrimage Route offers a scared hiking experience surrounded by the natural beauty of the Kii Peninsula. Explore the origin of the Japanese spirit with all five senses!
Visit here for more details.
Visit Mie Prefecture’s official Facebook page for the latest tourist information, including the Kumano Kodo Iseji Pilgrimage Route