Five Highlights of Kumano Kodo, Accessible from Osaka
Kumano Kodo is a World Heritage Site that is popular among tourists. "Kodo" means "pilgrimage route." Here are some of the highlights of Kumano Kodo.
1. What is Kumano Kodo?
Kumano Kodo is the general term for the path taken on pilgrimages to Kumano Sanzan (the three shrines of Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha), which is considered sacred both in Shintoism and Buddhism. In 2004, part of it was registered as a World Heritage Site as components of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. The five major routes on Kumano Kodo are the Kiiji, Kohechi, Nakahechi, Oohechi, and Iseji routes, among which Nakahechi was traveled most frequently as the main route to visit Kumano Sanzan from Kyoto and west Japan. Here are some of the highlights of Kumano Kodo along the Nakahechi route.
2. Kumano Hongu Taisha
Kumano Hongu Taisha is the central shrine of Kumano Sanzan and the head shrine of the more than 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. It was located on a sandbank in Kumano River until it was damaged by the great Kumano River flood in 1889. The three main shrine buildings that escaped destruction were moved and rebuilt on the present site in 1891. The previous location of the shrine is now called Oyunohara and now has Japan's largest torii gate with a height of 34m and width of 42m. The majestic shrine building with hinoki cypress bark thatching that appears when you pass through the main gate, after climbing the 158 stone steps decked with banners on both sides, is designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan. There is a coal black Yatagarasu (sacred crow) Post under the sacred lusterleaf holly tree, and if you ask a shrine official, you can get your letters stamped with a Kumano Taisha main shrine stamp that is only available here, so be sure to post your letters from the sacred land of Kumano in this post box.
3. Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Kumano Hayatama Taisha is distinguished by the bright vermilion shrine building located at the mouth of Kumano River. As the gods that were previously enshrined on the nearby Mt. Kamikura were moved here, it is referred to as the "new shrine" as opposed to the "old shrine" on Mt. Kamikura. There is much to see at Kumano Hayatama Taisha, which has a total of 12 shrine buildings, where a variety of gods are enshrined, a sacred Asian bayberry that is more than 1,000 years old, and the Kumano Shinpokan, where approximately 1,200 ancient sacred national treasures are stored and exhibited. There is a Kamikura Shrine on Mt. Kamikura, where the gods of Kumano first descended, and a huge rock referred to as Gotohiki Rock is revered as an object of worship, so take a look there as well.
4. Kumano Nachi Taisha
Kumano Nachi Taisha is a shrine which has its origins in nature worship, which is located at a height of 500m overlooking Nachi Waterfall, the object of worship. It is unclear when and why the shrine was originally established, but the shrine building was built on the current site in 317 and enshrines the 12 gods that are closely related to the establishment of the country, as well as Nachi Waterfall itself, under the name of "Betsugu Hiro Daijin." The current shrine building was re-constructed in 1853. The three-legged Yatagarasu crow is considered to be a messenger for the gods of Kumano and is a guiding deity that guides you in a better direction. It is enshrined in the Miagata Hikosha shrine, so be sure to pay your respects. The Nachi Fire Festival, which is very famous as one of the three great fire festivals of Japan, is held every year on July 14, so you may want to time your visit to Kumano to coincide with it.
5. Nachi Waterfall
This is the greatest fall in Japan with a height of 133m, width of 13m, and a basin that is 10m deep. Nachi Falls was originally the general term for the 48 falls in the Mt. Nachi virgin forests that were used for waterfall ablution but it is now generally used to refer to Ichino Taki, which is the object of worship at Hiro Shrine. It is also referred to as "Misuji-no Taki" (waterfall with three streaks) because the fall flows in three streaks due to three breaks in the rock at the top. The site and roar of the water falling from a height of 130m is magnificent. There is a large sutra mound (a mound where Buddhist sutras are buried in tubes and boxes) called Nachi Kyozuka at the side of the path leading to Nachi Waterfall, and many Buddhist artifacts from the 12th and 13th centuries have been discovered there.
Kumano has been feared and revered as an object of worship since ancient times. A visit there may give you a glimpse into how the Japanese people interact with nature.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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