Kumano Kodo is a network of pilgrimage trails located in the south of Kansai. They lead to the 3 grand shrines of Kumano: Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha. These 3 shrines combined are commonly known as Kumano Sanzan and they form a part of some of the most important Shinto sites across all of Japan!
The trails start from different cities including Kyoto, Yoshino (Nara), Ise and Koyasan, and pilgrims have walked on these roads for more than a thousand years! Alongside Camino de Santiago, Kumano Kodo trails 1 of the only 2 pilgrimage routes that have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage.
In this article, we are going to introduce you to each of the 3 grand shrines so you can better understand their importance. We will follow with few travel tips on how to organise your hiking trips in Kumano Kodo.
Kumano Hongu Taisha
Kumano Hongu Taisha is undoubtedly one the most important shrines of this area. A beautiful wooden torii marks the entrance of the shrine and you will need to get through the 158 stone steps to reach the main hall.
It was founded in 33 BC and was originally located in Oyunohara, on a sandbank at the confluence of Otonashi, Kumano and Iwata rivers. However, in 1889, after severe rains, flooding destroyed the majority of the shrine.
After this unfortunate event, the shrine was relocated on a hill next to the river (less than 1km away) and a giant torii was built at the exact location of the old shrine. It is actually the largest torii gate in the world, standing at an impressive with 33.9m height and 42m wide. It’s called Otorii (literally big torii) and it’s made of steel.
While visiting Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine, you will probably notice pictures and statues of a strange crow with 3 legs. It’s called Yatagarasu and the legends say that this mythical animal appeared to Emperor Jimmu in Kumano and guided him to Nara.
You will notice references to this Yatagarasu in many places at the shrine but did you know it’s also the logo of the Japan Football Association? That’s because the person who played an important role to make football popular in Japan is from Wakayama.
Another thing you’ll notice is that the dark / wood colours of the building in Hongu Taisha are quite different compared to the bright red of the 2 other grand shrines of Kumano.
Kumano Nachi Taisha
Kumano Nachi Taisha is a beautiful shrine located in the middle of the mountains of Nachi. It’s dedicated to the worship of Nachi-no-Otaki, an impressive 133m-high waterfall.
Even today, Nachi falls are used by Yamabushi (mountain monks) to practice Shugendo, a philosophy of life that focus on the relation between Humanity and Nature.
These days, Kumano Nachi Taisha has become more and more popular thanks to the pictures shared on social media (especially on Instagram) that feature the falls and a beautiful red pagoda. While the falls belong to the Nachi shinto shrine, the pagoda is actually part of the Seigantoji buddhist temple.
This single picture captures the harmony that exists between Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan.
To get to Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, make sure to take the Daimon Zaka trail (picture above). This route is really photogenic and you will be able to rent beautiful traditional costumes from the Heian era. That’s how people used to dress to complete these ancient pilgrimage trails.
To get more information about Nachi Falls, you can read our dedicated blog post about this amazing place here: Nachi Falls.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine is located in Shingu city and it enshrined the deity Kumano Fusumi no Okami. This shrine is also dedicated to a natural object: Gotobiki-iwa (picture below). It’s a huge rock that has been worshiped for centuries and it’s located at the top of a mountain in this region.
In addition, Kumano Hayatama Taisha shrine is also dedicated to the worship of the Nagi no Ki tree that is believed to be more than 800 years old!
The Kumano Kodo Trails
As we mentioned above, Kumano Kodo is a large network of pilgrimage trails that leads to the 3 grand shrines of Kumano. The routes include:
- Nakahechi: Tanabe city to Kumano Hongu Taisha
- Ohechi: Tanabe city to Kumano Nachi Taisha
- Koheshi: Koyasan to Kumano Hongu Taisha
- Omine Okugakemichi: Yoshino (Nara) to Kumano Hongu Taisha
- Iseji: Ise to Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha
These routes are the ancient pilgrimage trails but today, most of them are not hiking trails anymore. However, if you want to hike to the 3 grand shrines, here are 3 trails that you can still take today!
Hiking trail to Kumano Hongu Taisha
Go to Hosshinmon-oji station by bus and walk toward the Hongu Taisha shrine. The trail is 7km long and it should take you around 2h30 to complete it (one way).
Hiking trail to Kumano Nachi Taisha
From Kii-Katsura station, head to Daimon-zaka station via Kumano Kotsu bus (20 minutes). From there, you can start your hiking trip to the shrine (1.3km, 40 minutes) and then make your way to Nachi Falls (1km, 20 minutes). To get back to Kii-Katsura station, you can take the bus from Nachi No Taki Mae bus stop (25 minutes).
Hiking Trail to Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Take the train from Shingu station to Miwasaki station and walk towards Asuka-jinja shrine via Koya-zaka slope route (5km, 90 minutes). From there, walk to Kumano Hayatama Taisha (1km, 10 minutes) and then go to Kamikura-jinja shrine (1km, 10 minutes). To go back to Shingu station, you can just walk (1.2km, 15 minutes).
You can also get more inspiration for your hiking trails in Kumano Kodo in this brochure.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about Kumano Kodo in Wakayama. It’s the ideal destination if you want to get off the beaten track and explore gorgeous natural landscapes. It goes without saying that it’s one of the best hiking spot in Japan!
In addition, the spiritual aspects of this sacred area will make your trip even more meaningful!
If you have any question, feel free to send them in the comments section below.