新宮観光協会

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kumano Kodo is located in Shingu City, Wakayama and is a popular sightseeing destination for both Japanese and foreign travelers as a spiritual sacred site. In Shingu area, not only can you enjoy walking the ancient pilgrimage routes themselves, there are a number of shrines, or “power spots”. The Kumano Kodo spreads out in all directions from Shingu area, connecting the Grand Shrine at Nachi, one of the three Kumano Sanzan shrines, and the Nachi Waterfall, one of the best-known waterfalls in Japan that is also the goshintai (sacred body of the Shinto god) of Hirou Shrine. The route will further take you to Yoshino-Kumano National Park, part of which was designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site as Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. At the park, you can appreciate the beautiful nature of the Kii Peninsula.

Here, an almost 30-year-old travel writer introduces to you how to walk and enjoy the Kumano Kodo along with its historical background.

Table of Contents

1 Visit the three shrines in city to purify your mind

Three shrines:Photo

When you arrive in Shingu City, first you want to visit the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in the city: Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, Asuka-Jinja Shrine, and Kamikura-Jinja Shrine.

Author and guide:Photo

In this trip, I was accompanied by Ms. Hitomi Tamaki from the Shingu City Tour Guide Group.
Now my visit to the three shrines with a local tour guide begins.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine:Photo

First, we visited Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, which is also a registered site of World Heritage site "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range ". It is one of the Kumano Sanzan shrines and one of the main shrines of over 3,000 Kumano shrines in the country.
While the first shrine to which the god of Kumano descended is Kamikura-Jinja Shrine, which I will talk about later, people were not allowed to enter the mountain except during religious festivals. Therefore, Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine was built for people to visit and worship the god at ordinary times. The shrine has many visitors, including the Imperial Family.

Purifying your hands at the chouzuya (purification pavilion) and then standing in front of the shrine, I realized I was standing in awe. Enshrined this shrine are Kumano Hayatama-no Okami and Kumano Fusumi-no Okami, the two gods who became the first couple in Japan, who are often compared to Izanagi-no Kami and Izanami-no Kami in the Nihon Shoki. Therefore, the shrine is said to bestow benefits of "marriage" and "family safety" upon visitors.

When I was worshiping, I was able to hear an interesting story about the shrine from a Shinto priest. He told me that the vermillion color of the shrine is influenced by Chinese Buddhist culture and it is for avoiding evil spirits. He also told me that the structure of the shrine was built using the Gongen-zukuri style and that Chigi, the timber placed on the roof, has a “heart-shaped” pattern. At first I thought it had such a pattern because one of the benefits bestowed by the enshrined gods was “marriage”. But he told me that the pattern is called “Inume” and has been used in sculpture since the Heian period.

Last but not least, I visited the Sacred Nagi Tree. Leaves of this some 1,000 years old tree have been cherished as an amulet for fishermen, because the word “nagi” in Japanese also means “calm wind”. It is also said that the leaves were also used as an amulet for “safe trip” when people travelled the Kumano Kodo for pilgrimage.

Nagi Tree:Photo

This is the Sacred Nagi Tree. We are not allowed to touch it as it is designated as a natural monument of the country.

At the shrine’s management office, you can buy "Nagi-mamori", an amulet in the shape of the Nagi leaf. They told me that it brings to you a “good relationship” in human relationships and money as the Nagi leaf is hard to break.

Nagi-mamori:Photo

Having heard the story, I definitely want the amulet.

Mifune Matsuri:Photo

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine also holds a regularly-held festival called Mifune Matsuri.

This is a Shinto ceremony that has lasted for some 1,100 years. At the ceremony, nine rowboats including the vermillion-colored shinkou bune (onto which the divine spirit is loaded), morota bune, and saishu bune make three laps around Mifune-jima Island. It is held on October 16th every year.

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・Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine
Address: 1 Shingu, Shingu-shi, Wakayama

Kawaraya Yokocho

Kawaraya Yokocho:Photo

After visiting Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, we stopped at "Kawaraya Yokocho" for a break. Kawaraya Yokocho is a sightseeing spot created to reproduce kawaraya, simplified houses used from the Edo period to the Taisho period, so that people can feel the lively atmosphere of Monzen Town.

Every weekend and on national holidays, you can see the “pictorial guide” of the Kumano-Shingu Pilgrimage Mandala. Pictorial guide is like storytelling using a big piece of painting. It is said that a nun called Bikuni travelled throughout the country carrying the picture for the purpose of attracting worshippers to Kumano. By the way, "Shingu Pilgrimage Mandala" and "Kumano Hongu Pilgrimage Mandala" did not exist until the Kumano Pilgrimage Routes were registered as a World Heritage site.

I was able to listen to stories including the Emperor Jinmu going up Mt. Kamikura under the guide of a mythical raven, Jofuku visiting Japan, and a story on which Ugetsu Monogatari is based on.
If you wish to listen to this pictorial guide on weekdays, the paid on-site service is also available. With the on-site service, you can choose which story you would like to hear and you can hear stories in English.

A state of painting:Photo

A special pictorial guide by Ms. Tamaki. I was pulled into her storytelling.

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Kawaraya Yokocho
Address: 1-2-1 Funamachi, Shingu-shi, Wakayama

Asuka-Jinja Shrine

Asuka-Jinja Shrine:Photo

Next, we visited Asuka-Jinja Shrine. Going through the torii gate whose structure is simple but made of the stone that makes you feel history and dignity, the beautiful contrast of vermillion and white came into my eyes.

Akusaga Shrine visits:Photo

Remember to pray for your safe trip!

Asuka-Jinja Shrine was originally a shrine to enshrine the “god of the land", a god that protects us from the storm surge of the sea. As it is also a shrine-temple, a shrine that enshrines an ancient Shinto deity and practices Buddhism, Daitokumyoo (a Buddhist deity) is also enshrined in this shrine.

On the right side of the main hall, there is a small "Jofuku (Xu Fu) Palace". They told me that it is because the sacred body of the god enshrined in Asuka-Jinja Shrine is Mt. Hourai, sitting behind the main hall of the shrine. Xu Fu is said to have arrived at Japan to find medicine for longevity at the order of the Emperor of Qin.

At Akusa Shrine, I was able to listen to the performance of yokobue (a kind of flute) by Mr. Nishi. The beautiful tone of the flute was as if it were evoking the spiritual power at the precincts. Finally, I got an oracle from him saying “there seems to be good things for you today.

Mr. Nishi:Photo

The sound of the flute played by Mr. Nishi, Shinto Priest of Asuka-Jinja Shrine.

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・Asuka-Jinja Shrine
Address: 1-25-25 Asuka, Shingu-shi, Wakayama

Kamikura-Jinja Shrine

神倉神社:写真

The last shrine we visited is Kamikura-Jinja Shrine, which can be said as the birthplace of Kumano worship. Since Kamikura-Jinja Shrine is at the top of Mt. Kamikura, we had to go up the stone steps that are believed to have been donated by Minamoto-no Yoritomo. I was told in advance from the guide that the stone steps were nothing like an ordinary staircase, but when I actually saw the steps in person, I almost became frozen.
But on top of the mountain there is the “Gotobiki-iwa rock”, the biggest power spot. This rock is also the goshintai (sacred body) of Kamikura-Jinja Shrine, and you can gain “power” by touching it. Plus, that is the place where the god of Kumano first descended. Well, I must go up in any way…!

While going up the stone staircase with 538 steps, my guide told me about “Oto- Matsuri Festival”, a festival held at the shrine. This lantern festival is held on February 6 every year. Only men can participate and enter the mountain, though men of any nationality can participate.

On the day of festival, men enter the mountain with a tradition that purifies the body called "Shoujin Kessai", get a fire on their torch, and go home. The purpose of the festival is to “get a new fire for the New Year”. When men return home, they light up kamidana (miniature household Shinto alters) and Buddhist alters at home with the fire and then cook rice with the fire. I was a little disappointed because I am not allowed to participate in the festival, but the guide told me that the role of women in this festival is “cook rice”, which is as important as the role given to men.

Climbing stone steps:Photo

Because it was so steep, I took time to go up with safety first, holding the steps by hand.

According to the guide, on the day of the festival the fire of the torch descending from the mountain is beautiful, and the fire coming down the mountain looks as if there are flying butterflies. In Shingu, there is a saying "Mountains are the cascade of fire and descending dragon”. The scene of fire lighting up the darkness coming down the mountain like a cascade with the cheers of the men reminds us of the saying. She also told me that the men at the festival are very cool! I want to see them!

The stone stairs that were painful gradually become moderate as we arrived at the summit safely. The Shinto god enshrined here is Takakuraji-no Mikoto and Amaterasu Omikami.
However, what gives you the most impact is Gotobiki-iwa rock, which is the biggest power spot. While the rock is the sacred body of a god, you are allowed to touch it. Since you are not allowed to touch most sacred bodies of Shinto gods, you can have a very valuable experience here. As soon as we arrived at the top, I worshiped at the hall and touched Gotobiki-iwa rock on the bottom as if I was pushing it up to absorb the spiritual power! Though I was exhausted from going up all the stone steps, I felt like I got some energy!

Oto- Matsuri Festival:Photo

They showed us a picture of “Oto- Matsuri Festival”, where only men can participate. *Nationally-designated important intangible folk cultural asset

Gotobiki-iwa:Photo

I know it’s a cliché photo pose, but I had to push it up!

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・Kamikura-Jinja Shrine
Address: 1-13-8 Kamikura, Shingu-shi, Wakayama

2 Walk the “Koyazaka slope” route to see the highlight of Kumano Kodo in 1 hour

Koyazaka slope:Photo

After getting some spiritual power, you would probably want to explore the Kumano Kodo. But the Kumano Kodo is composed of several routes including Nakaheji, Koheji, Oheji, and Kiiji, and even courses for beginners sounded too hard for my out-of-shape body.
Thankfully, my guide enlightened me with her words “any way that takes you from home to Kumano is Kumano Kodo.” Of course, the routes that are registered as World Heritage sites meet criteria such as being listed on official documents and the path being maintained properly even today. But she means you can make “your own Kumano Kodo route” for yourself.

So, I asked her to guide me through a round-trip course from Koyazaka slope to the scenery point of Ojigahama coast that takes about an hour and suitable for beginners.

I recommend you rent a car or pick up a taxi to get the Koyazaka slope starting point, as you want to save time and your energy to enjoy Shingu area efficiently!
When you arrive at the starting point of Koyazaka slope, make sure you use a restroom before you start walking. Don’t forget to take water bottles with you to stay hydrated!

Koyazaka slope starting point :Photo

This time, we started from the Koyazaka slope starting point (wide angle side).

Author and guide of Koyazaka slope:Photo

Time really flies when you are enjoying walking on Kumano Kodo listening to interesting stories by the guide.

Koyazaka slope small diameter:Photo

The course itself is not so steep, but we proceed with caution.

Finally, we made it to the scenic point that watches out Ojigahama coast, the finish point of this journey! The contrast created by the shining blue sky, the emerald green ocean, and the trees shining green under the sunshine is exactly a "superb view"! The course was very satisfying as I was able to enjoy the Kumano Kodo and this superb view in an hour.

Ojigahama coast overlooking:Photo

Taking a picture with the superb view of Ojigahama coast. It always brings me back to the memories of our journey!

3 Appreciate the superb view of photogenic Maruyama Senmaida

Maruyama Senmaida:Photo

After saying good-bye to the guide, I wanted to see some more photogenic scenery. So, I decided to rent a car and drive a little to Maruyama Senmaida.
Maruyama Senmaida is a terraced rice field on the slope of the Maruyama district of Kiwa Town. The spectacular view of the terraced rice field which folds over and over is wonderful, and it has been chosen as one of the 100 rice terraces in Japan.

Driving for an hour by car from the Shingu area, you get to the destination. Because the mountain road is narrow in the vicinity of the destination, drive carefully while letting oncoming cars pass when necessary. Looking down Maruyama Senmaida from the observation spot, the absolute scenery will make you feel “it was worth driving.” I could not stop taking pictures of the beautiful scenery.

Memorial shooting situation:Photo

If Ojigahama coast is a spectacular view of the ocean, Maruyama Senmaida is a magnificent view of the mountain! They are both wonderful.

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・Maruyama Senmaida
Address: Maruyama, Kiwa-cho, Kumano-shi, Mie

4 After walking Kumano Kodo and the Pilgrimage Routes

After walking the course, I felt that you will definitely enjoy your walk with an experienced guide who knows “where to go” and “how to enjoy” in the area, rather than walking by yourself. You will have to pay guide fees, but your satisfaction will be much higher with a guide!
A guide group called "Mi-kumano" has been formed by volunteers in the Kinan area. The group also provides guide services in multiple languages including English.

The guide navigator for this trip Hitomi Tamaki, Shingu City Tour Guide Group

Tamaki of the guide:Photo

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・Shingu City Machinaka Tourist Information Center
Address: 6 Ukishima Shingu-shi, Wakayama
Phone: 0735-23-2311
Guide Fees (Shingu City Tour Guide Group): Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine: 2,000 yen / Asuka-Jinja Shrine: 2,000 yen / Kamikura-Jinja Shrine (up to Gotobiki-iwa Rock): 3,000 yen / Koyazaka slope: 4,000 yen / Pictorial Guide: 5,000 yen (Up to 2 pieces), 8,000 yen (Up to 4 pieces)
*Guide fees will be the same for up to 20 people (All rates refer to guide services in Japanese)


Mi-kumano
Phone: 0739-33-7451
*Services available in English

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