17 Sep 2015

The spiritual area of Kumano, hidden away in the mountains, is a popular pilgrimage destination. It features amazing waterfalls, hot springs, multiple World Heritage Sites, and an array of temples and shrines. So, if you are planning a trip to Kumano, be sure to check out these top 8 sights:

1. Nachi Falls

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Mt. Nachi in Wakayama Prefecture has been an object of worship by many people since ancient times due to the existence of a god living in the mountain. Within its primeval forest, there are several mountain streams and around 60 waterfalls. Nachi Falls is one of the natural objects of worship, and visitors can be seen in worship at the waterfall. It is a sacred waterfall which has appeared from time to time in religious art. With a drop of 133 meters and a basin depth of 10 meters, it is also Japan’s tallest single-drop waterfall. The sight of water flowing from the mountain and into the basin is amazing. You can feel the serenity within all of the turbulence and you can understand from that standpoint why so many people revere it. It is lit up on New Year’s Eve which enhances its beauty. And annually on July 9th and December 27th, there is an event held to change the sacred straw festoon atop the waterfall.

The deep forest has come to be known as a place chosen to practice Pure Land Buddhism for the Buddha and Bodhisattva. For that reason, hallowed mountain grounds have been created within the Kii Mountains for Mt. Yoshino, Mt. Omine, the Kumano Sanzan and Mt. Takano along with paths leading to those places. Those grounds and paths in the Kii Mountains have been registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Around Nachi Falls, there are many notable places that have flourished as the center of worship for the Kumano region such as Kumano Nachi Taisha known for its kami looking after agriculture and fisheries, Seiganto-ji Temple with its must-see vermilion 3-story pagoda and Nachi Falls in the background, Fudarakusan-ji Temple which is registered as a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range and has the Important Cultural Property of the thousand-armed Kannon, the beautiful stone-paved Kumano Kodo heading for Mt. Nachi and Daimon-zaka.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Nachi Falls
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nachi Falls
Tours of Nachi Falls

2. Tsubo-yu

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

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Kumano Kodo in Wakayama Prefecture has been registered as a World Heritage site as part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. On the road that many people have traveled on their way to Kumano, you can sense the sacred atmosphere enveloped in the fresh greenery. During the pilgrimage to Kumano, what was popular as a place of cleansing was a small rock bath surrounded only by simple wooden planks. The fact that it just popped up along the Yunotani River left quite an impression. It is said that people who went up to Kumano Hon-gu Shrine nearby came to Tsubo-yu to wash themselves before making the pilgrimage to the shrine. As the name states (“tsubo” means “pot”), Tsubo-yu is a tiny place that can only hold only up to 2-3 people. Its fame also comes from the fact that according to the level of sunlight and the quality of the water on a certain day, the water will change 7 different colors on that day. In the hole in the rock that was carved out by nature, there is a hot spring that naturally flows out. You will really want to try out this mysterious onsen that has soothed numerous pilgrims to Kumano Hon-gu. Tsubo-yu has a system in which you can use it up to 30 minutes at a time. At the reception area, you receive a numbered tag and then enter the bath in order. Crowding is also perfectly fine. In the vicinity, there is a historical onsen village and not too far away on foot, Kumano Hon-gu is right there so you can wait your turn while taking a stroll.

Next to Tsubo-yu, you can also enjoy places such as Yunomine Public Baths which has a medicinal bath along with the usual baths, a bath pipe which boils eggs in the hot spring water and shops where you can have light meals, all within an onsen village. The stone-paved walking trail has plenty of spirit and the nearby river also has a warm foot bath. As you enjoy a leisurely time, you will appreciate the beautifully historic World Heritage site of Kumano.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 770 / Child: ¥ 460

Guidebook from Planetyze about Tsubo-yu
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Tsubo-yu
Tours of Tsubo-yu

3. The Former Site of Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine at Ōyunohara

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

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Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine was once situated on the sandbank of Ōyunohara at the junction of the Kumano, Otonashi and Iwata Rivers. Ōyunohara is located 500m away from the current location of the shrine. The original shrine was said to have been much larger than its current incarnation, but much of it was washed away due to floods in 1889 which led to the creation of its current form that has been admired by many people. Ōyunohara, which is said to be the place where the gods landed, is popular as a power spot. In particular, the 34-meter-high giant torii is overwhelming. The area is also known as a famous spot for cherry blossoms in the spring, and when they are in full bloom, the giant torii and the forests of Ōyunohara take on a faintly pink color whose appearance is incredibly lovely.

The lushly green Ōyunohara has a refreshing atmosphere from which you can reach Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine within 10 minutes on foot. At the shrine, there are various festivals and events held there throughout the year. On New Year’s Day, there is a special festival which features the highlight of the torii being illuminated. In April, the biggest festival at the shrine is held in which up to 50 men purify themselves at Yunomine Onsen while singing hymns; the event has been prefecturally designated as an Intangible Folk Culture Property. These events are recommended to experience the culture of an area that has been preserved all these centuries.

There are plenty of onsen to take advantage of such as the Kawayu Onsen which has the gigantic open-air bath Sennin-buro open only in winter, the Watase Onsen where you can enjoy the outdoors, and the famous World Heritage site of Tsuboyu whose waters change color 7 times at Yunomine Onsen which has Japan’s oldest waters. As well, the Kumano Kodo is another World Heritage site which has attracted many pilgrims past and present as sacred ground and is a tourist spot well worth a visit.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about The Former Site of Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine at Ōyunohara
Reviews from TripAdvisor about The Former Site of Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine at Ōyunohara
Tours of The Former Site of Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine at Ōyunohara

4. Kawayu Onsen

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

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At Kawayu Onsen, which is in close proximity to the World Heritage site of Kumano Hon-gu Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture, you can enjoy an out-of-the-ordinary open-air bath. This is located at the river bed for the Oto River, a tributary of the Kumano River. Once you dig through the river bed with a shovel, hot spring water will bubble up and your own personal open-air bath will instantly surface. The temperature of the water that percolates up exceeds 70 degrees Celsius but mixing in some of that river water will make for the perfect bath. Enjoy that dynamic open-air bath surrounded by trees, under the blue sky by day or the starry sky by night while watching the river flow by.

Kawayu Onsen is the place where you can warm up your body in a hot spring when it chills down while having fun by the river. However, this all changes into the Sennin-buro Bath in winter. Entering an onsen during the cold of winter is another exceptional experience. Sennin-buro Bath is a giant open-air bath that only appears in that season. The river is dammed up from the actions of earth and trees, and a huge open-air bath is formed which goes on for up to 50m. When the bath is crowded, it’s also possible to enter the bath in a bathing suit. This is a precious bath which will rarely be washed away due to rain or any other changeable weather, and a winter open-air bath whose cold winds will feel comfortable, contrary to expectations. How about spending some luxurious time in this huge bath that appears in the middle of Mother Nature? Every Saturday while Sennin-buro Bath is in operation, the area is lit with lamps. The light of these lamps magically float up within the white clouds of steam in the dark night. Aside from the day, a dip into the onsen at night is also recommended.

Even people who balk at getting into a crowded bath will enjoy Kawayu Onsen. At Kawayu Onsen Public Bath which is located by the Oto River, the water comes from the river bed. Situated at the center of Kawayu Onsen Village, after having fun on the dry river bed, you can easily use the public bath.

Admission: Various

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kawayu Onsen
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kawayu Onsen
Tours of Kawayu Onsen

5. Kumano Kodo Path

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

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During the medieval period of Japan, people used to walk through Kumano Kodo path to get to the sacred site, Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine. This gorgeous trail through the forest still retains the atmosphere of those days and has been listed as a World Heritage site. Hiking through Kumano Kodo path is a truly special experience.

Since about 2,000 years ago, the Kumano region has been considered as the Pure Land. The Kumano Kodo path is known as a place where people of all social classes, from commoners to aristocrats, walked to reach the remote land of Kumano in the mountainous area in hopes to be reborn in heaven while still living on earth. The three paths, Nakahechi, Ohhechi, and Kohechi, are collectively listed as a World Heritage site under the name “Kumano Sankeimichi” path. It is said that the Nakahechi path (also known by the name Kiiji) was traveled the most. The trip back and forth between the imperial capital Kyoto and Kumano meant walking about 600km. It is said that people traveled by foot to worship at Kumano Hongu Taisha in spite of all the hardships they had to endure during the nearly one month trip.

For beginners who want to experience the climax of the Kumano Kodo path leading up to the Kumano Hongu Taisha, there is an approx. 4km route that can be hiked in about 2 and a half hours. The trail starts from the easily accessible OkuKumano Kodo Hongu Roadside Station. You will pass by Fushiogami-ohji and will ultimately reach the Kumano Hongu Taisha. Ohji is a place for performing a ritual on the way to a shrine. Because there are a great number of ohji along Kumano Kodo, they are collectively called the 99 ohji (regardless of the actual number). It takes about 30 minutes to walk from the Roadside Station to Fushiogami-ohji; this portion includes uphill roads and stairs. From here, you will be walking on the Kumano Kodo path destined to the Kumano Hongu Taisha. Along the beautiful path from Fushiogami-ohji to the Hongu Taisha, cobbled pathways still remain in some parts and you will be walking through a village with terraced rice paddies and tea fields. This path is established relatively well with rest stops and guiding signs, making it a beginner-friendly route. From the observation platform, you can see the grand torii gate of Ohyunohara. It is an exceptional experience to walk along this path through beautiful woods, just like the people of the medieval period, to visit the Kumano Hongu Taisha.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kumano Kodo Path
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kumano Kodo Path
Tours of Kumano Kodo Path

6. Kumano Hayatama Taisha 

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

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Kumano Hayatama Taisha is one of the Kumano Sanzan shrines, and the head shrine of the many thousands of Kumano shrines throughout the country. The highlights include massive nagi evergreen trees and sacred National Treasures. We recommend visiting Kamikura Jinja, which is a detached precinct of the main temple and is located on a steep cliff.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha is one of the three Kumano Sanzan shrines. Only 15 minutes walk from Shingu Station, it is the most easily-accessible of the Kumano Sanzan shrines. The air is noticeably holy in this beautiful red-lacquered shrine, which is covered in greenery despite being an inner-city shrine. One of the largest trees in Japan, the sacred nagi tree, is located on the temple grounds, and is more than 1000 years old. It is a designated National Natural Moment. Since ancient times, Kumano pilgrims have prayed for a safe journey by wearing nagi leaves on their sleeves and hats as talismans and amulets, as they believe that the Kumano gods reside within the leaves. It is also a symbol of matrimony, as the veins of the leaf only run vertically, and it is difficult to tear the leaf horizontally. In the past, people used to put nagi leaves under their mirrors so that the link with their marriage partner would not come to an end. The marriage charms made from the seeds of the nagi trees at Hayatama Taisha are popular. At the sacred treasure house on the temple grounds, you can see the Koshinhorui, which is a National Treasure. Also on display are saiehiougi, which are fans sprinkled with gold and silver leaf and treated with the naturally beautiful skin of Japanese cypress that were used in the imperial court, and kirikarakusa makie-tebako, containers for cosmetic implements.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kumano Hayatama Taisha 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kumano Hayatama Taisha 
Tours of Kumano Hayatama Taisha 

7. Kumano Nachi Taisha

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Nachi Taisha is one of the Kumano Sanzan (three sacred shrines), and both the shrine and the grounds are designated World Heritage sites. The shrine, consisting of six buildings at the top of 467 stone steps, is situated in the Nachi mountains at a height of approximately 500m. From the temple grounds, you can see Nachi Falls, which is a designated National Place of Scenic Beauty. The beautiful red-lacquer shrine also features Bird Rock (karasu-ishi), which is said to be the petrified form of Yatagarasu (a legendary raven), and the Sacred Camphor Tree (Okusu), which is 850 years old. In spring, the mountain cherry trees (yamazakura) bloom profusely, and the weeping cherry trees (shidare-zakura)are also magnificent. The Nachi-no-hi Matsuri Fire Festival takes place every year on July 14, when the god of the waterfalls is said to make an annual return to Hiro shrine (Nachi Falls). In this amazing religious spectacle, 12 portable shrines decorated with fans are purified by the flames of massive torches that weigh 50kg or more.

In terms of hot springs, Nachi Taisha is famous for Katsuura Onsen, which is 10 to 20 minutes from Nachi Station by car. We recommend walking the 2.5km from Daimonzaka, which is a route along the Kumano Kodo route that takes in Nachi Taisha and Nachi Falls. From the entrance to Daimonzaka, you can walk to Kumano Nachi Taisha along the Kumano Kodo route, where you will find beautiful stone steps covered in moss and groves of cedar trees. It takes about 40 minutes to reach Nachi Taisha. It takes 15 minutes to walk to Nachi Falls from Taisha. Nachi Falls, which is the home of a deity that has long been an object of reverence, is well known as one Japan’s three great waterfalls. At a height of 133m, it is taller and has a greater volume of water than any other waterfall in Japan. The sight as it drops from the Kumano mountains is spectacular. On New Year’s Eve, an illumination event is held. On the right of the waterfall is the Nachi Primeval Forest, which is a dedicated National Natural Monument where you will find 60 more waterfalls.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kumano Nachi Taisha
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kumano Nachi Taisha
Tours of Kumano Nachi Taisha

8. Kumano Hongu Taisha

8 Essential Kumano Attractions

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Kumano Hongu Taisha is a gracious shrine with hinoki bark thatching. The shrine possesses the largest torii gate in Japan. Also, located near the shrine is a hot springs area listed as a World Heritage site and a river hot springs bath which is one of Japan’s largest open-air baths.

The three sacred areas of Kumano in southern Kii Peninsula, Hongu, Niimiya, and Nachi, are collectively called the Three Mountains of Kumano. Kumano Hongu Taisha is the headquarters of all Kumano shrines across Japan, and has the most traditional atmosphere among the three mountain shrines. In the back of the torii gate of Hongu Taisha’s main path is a stone stairway of 158 steps lined with dedication flags and surrounded by thickly grown cedar trees, speaking of the shrine’s history. After passing through the gate, you will see a shrine with an impressive hinoki (Japanese cypress) bark thatching, exuding a solemn, majestic atmosphere. From here, walk for 10 minutes or so to reach Ohyunohara–where the main sanctuary had been located until 1889 when it was damaged by a flood–to see the grand, 34 meters high torii gate.

Located only 3.4km away (10-minute drive) from Hongu Taisha, we recommend visiting Yunomine hot springs as well. It is known as Japan’s oldest hot springs with a history of 1,800 years. Yunomine retains the atmosphere of a traditional hot springs area. In spite of being listed as a World Heritage site, you can still take a bath at the rock bath Tsuboyu. It is said that the color of this natural hot springs bath changes seven times a day. 

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kumano Hongu Taisha
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kumano Hongu Taisha
Tours of Kumano Hongu Taisha

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