The goal of every pilgrim was to reach the Kumano Sanzan, the three Grand Shrines of Kumano. In 2004 the Three Sacred Sites and the Pilgrimage Routes that connect them were registered on UNESCO's World Heritage list and in 2014 the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes were twinned by UNESCO with the Camino de Santiago in Spain as unique world heritage walks. These ancient walks are being promoted as 'the pilgrimages of the rising and the setting sun' and both offer fascinating walking journeys through history, great food and wonderful landscapes.
Kumano Hongu Taisha is situated at the heart of Kumano. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes lead to this ancient sacred site. The shrine was originally located next to the Kumano-gawa river (Oyunohara). The area was hit by several typhoons and a flooding of the river in 1889, destroying parts of the shrine buildings. The remains were moved to the present location. In September 2011 another strong typhoon hit the area. World’s largest torii shrine gate (33m) marks the entrance to the location where the shrine was originally located. Luckily the main buildings of the shrine survived the flooding in 1889 as well as the typhoon in 2011.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha is located in the city of Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture, near where the Kumano-gawa River empties into the Pacific Ocean. In contrast to the more muted colours of the Kumano Hongu Taisha the shrine at Hayatama is very colourful. Some of the shrine buildings have been rebuilt, but the location has not changed since at least the 12th century. Every year on February 6th a traditional fire festival called “Kumano Otomatsuri” is held here.
Kumano Nachi Taisha is located on a mountain side facing the massive Nachi waterfall, the tallest in Japan. It’s about 350m above sea level which is halfway up Mount Nachi and in the Higashimuro District of the Kii Peninsula (Wakayama Prefecture).
The nearby waterfall, Nachi-no-Otaki (lit.: the big waterfall of Nachi), has been worshipped since ancient times and is the religious origin of the shrine. In the past, the shrine was located at the foot of the waterfall. Annually on July 14th a fire festival “Nachi-no-Himatsuri” is held to celebrate that the god is coming back to his original place, the waterfall.
Besides the Kumano Nachi grand shrine, there are two temples, Seigantoji Temple and Fudarakusanji Temple, located near the Kumano Nachi Taisha. These temples have been connected with the shrine since the Sinto-Buddhism fusion.
Below: Nachi Waterfall in the background of the Nachi Taisha shrine