The Kumano Sanzan Shrines

The many pilgrimage routes that make up the Kumano Kodo connect sacred spots across the Kii Peninsula, three of the most important of which are known as the Kumano Sanzan. The three shrine complexes positioned around the Kumano mountains in the east of Wakayama Prefecture map out a 56-kilometer route that has been travelled for centuries and is still considered among the country’s most importantーnot to mention visually spectacularーpilgrimages.

The Kumano Sanzan Shrines

The Kumano Sanzan, or the three Grand Shrines, consisting of Kumano Hayata, Kumano Hongu Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha were all originally built as a means of worshipping different parts of nature. The three shrines later became associated with the worship of deities as part of Shinbutsu-shogo, Japan’s sole organised religion until the 19th century which fuses aspects of both Shinto and Buddhism.

The religious significance of these sites was first recognised by the elites including the imperial family who would take part in the days-long pilgrimage between the three shrines to pray for good health. News spread about these three fantastic sites and years later people were travelling from miles around to complete the pilgrimage which earned it the title as the “Kumano Ant Pilgrimage” with armies of pilgrims swarming from shrine to shrine.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha

Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Kumano Hayatama Taisha

Nationwide there are more than 3,000 Kumano Shinto shrines which, no matter where they are located, enshrine the three key Kumano mountains: Hongu, Shingu, and Nachi. Sat alongside the Kumanogawa River in the very east of Wakayama Prefecture the Hayatama Taisha has some of the most diverse scenery with both woodland and coastal views as well as various places to worship around the grounds from the routine Shinto prayer at the shrine to sacred trees and rocks, namely the Nagi no ki conipher tree and the Gotobiki iwa rock.

Kumano Hongu Taisha

Kumano Hongu Taisha
Kumano Hongu Taisha

Thirty five kilometres back inland from the Hayatama Taisha brings you to the somewhat incongruous entrance to the Kumano Hongu Taisha and one of its most recent additions, the Kumano Hongu otorii. At 33.9 metres high, it is the world’s tallest torii gate and made up of 172 tons of steel. Constructed in 2000, the gate was built as a symbol of the transition from the temporal world to the spiritual.

Kumano Hongu Taisha

The main shrine at Kumano Hongu may be smaller than it once was after it was downsized during a move from the riverbank, however, it remains impressive with its three pavilions set against a backdrop of luscious woodland. The shrine itself reflects its environment made from the chocolate-brown bark of Japanese cypress trees adorned with gold trimmings. Every year from April 13th - 15th the shrine hosts the Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival which combines colourful traditional dress, purification rituals, and the final burning of the paraded portable shrines.

Kumano Nachi Taisha

Kumano Nachi Taisha
Kumano Nachi Taisha

The steep cobbled Daimon-zaka staircase leads up to the Nachi Taisha, the most iconic of the three Grand Shrines. Against a backdrop of cedar trees the brilliant red buildings that cover the grounds include the four-storey Seigantoji which looks over the splendid Nachi Falls, which are one of the largest waterfalls in the country at 133 metres high and 13 metres wide.

Kumano Nachi Taisha
Facility Name
Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine
Address
Wakayama Pref. Shingushi Shingu 1
Phone
0735222533
Introduction
One of the Three Head Kumano Shrines which serve as the headquarters of all Kumano shrines nationwide, rare and unusual festivals are held here, such as the Torch Festival, which involves men dressed in white garb carrying lit torches and racing down the shrine’s steep stone steps. A central location in the Kumano faith, which seeks to achieve self-enlightenment through penance conducted along the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, the shrine is dedicated to the god Kumano Hayatama. The shrine also worships Ketsumiko no okami and Fusumi no okami, and houses and displays some 1,200 ancient treasures, including designated National Treasures. A great nagi tree over 1,000 years old spreads its branches over the grounds, and the shrine’s charms for providing luck with love and marriage are made with nagi seeds.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine
Address
Wakayama Pref. Tanabeshi Honguchouhongu
Phone
0735420009
Hours
6:00-19:00
Parking Lot
Available
Introduction
This Shinto shrine is one of the Three Head Kumano Shrines which serve as the headquarters of all Kumano shrines nationwide. Known as the first stop on the penance-filled Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, since ancient times this shrine has been visited by countless worshipers of the Kumano faith, which seeks to achieve self-enlightenment through penance. The main building was erected in the Asuka period and was relocated to its current location after being damaged in the Great Flood of 1889. After climbing 158 stone steps through a cedar forest, the shrine’s four hinoki bark-thatched buildings will appear, which enshrine Ketsumiko no okami and the shrine’s three other chief gods.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
Address
Wakayama Pref. Higashimurogunnachikatsurachou Nachisan 1
Phone
0735550321
Introduction
One of the Three Head Kumano Shrines which serve as the headquarters of all Kumano shrines nationwide. Unlike the other two, however, the origin of this shrine lies in a primeval faith which sees the Nachi Falls deep in the mountains as sacred. At the affiliated Hiro-jinja Shrine, the falls themselves are worshipped, and since ancient times this shrine has been visited by numerous faithful and other visitors asking for a long life. Visitors can drink the water at the falls’ basin from a platform directly in front of the falls; the water is said to give longevity. The shrine’s grounds contain six vermillion lacquered buildings such as the main nave, hall of worship, and treasure house, as well as numerous other points of note such as the Stone of the Yatagarasu (a mythical three-legged crow), and a massive 850-year-old tree planted by the noble Taira no Shigemori.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN

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PLACES IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine image

    Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Tanabeshi Honguchouhongu
  • Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine image

    Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Shingushi Shingu 1
  • Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine image

    Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Higashimurogunnachikatsurachou Nachisan 1
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