The southern part of Wakayama Prefecture known as Kumano has gathered the faith of people as a dwelling place of the gods over the centuries. Kumano is centred around three shrines, Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha, collectively known as the Kumano Sanzan. Kumano is often called “The Land of the Dead”, about the belief that Shinto spirits and family ancestors dwell here after they die.
Since the Heian Period (794-1185), a network of roads connecting to Kumano was developed all over Japan, which came to be known as the Kumano Kodo ancient pilgrimage route. In 2004, these religious treasures and pilgrimage routes were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Named “The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”, the designation also includes neighbouring Koyasan, Yoshino and Ominesan.
Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple
Perched in front of the stunning Nachi Falls, the brilliant red three-story pagoda of Seigantoji Temple is a striking example of a man-made structure in synergy with the natural environment. The temple is also attached to Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, demonstrating the often harmonious relationship between Buddhism and Shintoism. While the bold red pagoda is the image most associated with the temple, there is much more to discover. The temple is the oldest structure in the Kumano area and houses many important cultural properties.
Activities: Photo stop Fee: JPY 300 (pagoda) Time required: 30 minutes
Kumano Nachi Taisha
High up on Mt. Nachi, the brilliant orange and white Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine enshrines the god of the thundering Nachi Falls. One of the designated Kumano Sanzan shrines, it is one of the ultimate destinations for pilgrims trekking the historic Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route. As you enter the complex, you'll notice a large camphor tree whose boughs beautifully spread over the shrine's roofs. Nearly a thousand years old, it enshrines a deity within, and a natural hollow in the trunk means you can squeeze through inside to listen to its ancient secrets. There is a small altar where offerings can be made.
Activities: Shrine visit Fee: JPY 300 (treasure house) Time required: 30-45 minutes
A short distance from Seigantoji and Nachi Taisha is the 133-meter waterfall Nachi no Taki (Nachi Falls). With an awe-inspiring 133 meter drop, Nachi Falls is Japan's largest uninterrupted vertical drop waterfall. Much more than a simple scene of natural beauty, the falls are worshipped as the home of a Shinto deity. The thundering sound of a ton of water barreling down every second will give believers and non-believers alike a spiritual experience. The falls form part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range—a registered UNESCO World Heritage site.
Activities: Photo stop Fee: None Time required: 30 minutes
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Together with the other two shrines, Hongu Taisha and Nachi Taisha, Hayatama Taisha holds an important place in Japanese mythology. A Shinto creation myth claims that three kami (Shinto deities) descended to earth on a rock not far from the shrine. As a result of its divine contact, the rock has been worshipped as a sacred object. An ancient tree (estimated to be over 800 years old) is located inside the shrine compound and is also considered sacred. These two kami highlight the importance of nature worship to the area's beginnings.
Activities: Shrine visit Fee: JPY 500 (treasure house) Time required: 30 minutes
Kumano Hongu Taisha
Kumano Hongu Taisha serves as the head shrine of over 3000 Kumano shrines across Japan. It is located at the centre of the Kumano Kodo network of pilgrimage routes. In front of its original location stands the biggest torii gate in the world, which, at 33 meters tall, dwarfs visitors passing under it. There are three onsens (hot springs) near Hongu: Yunomine, Kawayu and Wataze. The first two are small onsen towns, while Wataze Onsen consists of only a single hotel complex, Watarase Onsen, which is known for having the largest outdoor bath in western Japan. The bath is also open to non-staying guests. (Image via Official Website)
Activities: Shrine visit Fee: None Time required: 30 minutes-45 minutes
Fudarakusan-ji is a Tendai temple in the city of Nachikatsuura. It is said to have been founded over a thousand years ago by a monk from India named Ragyō Shōnin. For over a millennium until the late 19th century, most of the Fudarakusan-ji monks once they turned 60 years old, would go out to sea on a small boat in a practice known as ‘Fudaraku Tokai’ which means crossing the sea to Fudaraku. By performing this ritual, the monks also hoped to achieve salvation. They became known as tokaisha, pilgrims of the sea.
Activities: Temple visit Fee: None Time required: 30 minutes
The capital city of Wakayama Prefecture and home of soy sauce. Wakayama city is a historical hub offering some of the richest culture, best scenery, and freshest food in the Kansai region of Japan.