Japan (October 2016): Kumano

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On the southeastern side of the Kii peninsula, Kumano is a region centered around three major Shinto shrines located in Hongu, Shingu and Nachi: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha (located in the town of Shingu), and Kumano Nachi Taisha. Together, these Three Grand Shrines form the Kumano Sanzan, which for centuries has been a major goal for many pilgrims walking from as far as Kyoto. The Kii peninsula used to be traversed by a network of pilgrimage trails, referred to as Kumano Kodo (″old ways of Kumano″), coming from the north and the west to reach these three shrines. Several of these trails still exist today or have been restored. Excellent maps are available at: http://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/kumano-kodo/maps/ .

 

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Hongu.

 

Kumano Hongu Taisha, the head shrine of more than 3,000 Kumano shrines throughout Japan.

 

- Entrance gate at the bottom of the stairway leading to the shrine.

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- The long stairway of 158 stone steps.

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- Fountain at the entrance of the shrine.

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- Worshipers at the shrine.

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- View of the shrine.

 

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- Secondary shrine.

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Kumano Hongu Taisha was originally located at Oyunohara, a sandbank at the confluence of the Kumano and Otonashi rivers. In 1889 many of the shrine buildings were destroyed by a huge flood and the salvaged parts were used to rebuild the shrine at its present site. In 2000 the largest Torii gate in the world (33.9 meters) was erected to mark the entrance of the Oyunohara sacred area.

 

- The giant Tori gate.

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- Former location of Kumano Hongu Taisha, now a beautiful and peaceful park.

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Hongu and Yunomine Onsen (hot spring) are connected by a 3.4km trail that is part of the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage network.

 

- This trail traverses beautiful forests.

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- Yunomine-oji. Oji‛s are subsidiary shrines of the three Kumano Grand Shrines along the Kumano Kodo trails. They protect and guide pilgrims, and serve as places of worship and rest. Thanks to them and other small structures, the pilgrimage trails were religious experience in themselves before reaching the three Kumano Grand Shrines. Yunomine-oji is built on a small flat area above the village of Yunomine Onsen.

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- Yunomine Onsen is a small village built in a narrow valley. Its hot springs were discovered 1800 years ago and later used by pilgrims to perform purification rituals before reaching the Kumano Grand Shrines. In the village, Tsuboyu is a small cabin where people can privately bath. This unassuming cabin is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage.

 

Left: view of the village. Center and right: the small Tsuboyu cabin above the river.

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Entrance and interior of the Tsuboyu cabin.

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People cooking eggs and sweet potatoes in the hot water of the Yuzutsu cooking basin below the Tsuboyu cabin.

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- The pilgrimage trail (Nakahechi route) continues beyond Yunomine Onsen to eventually reach the western side of the Kii peninsula. A relatively short climb along this trail leads to views over the Kumano mountains (left picture below) and an unusual signpost (right picture). The 57cm-high signpost, known as the Akagi-goe Stone, bears a carved finger pointing the way toward Yunomine Onsen. Another inscription indicates the name of its author (Kahei) and the date of the making (1855).

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Hongu to Koguchi.

 

- A pilgrimage trail used to connect Kumano Hongu Taisha to Kumano Nachi Taisha via Koguchi. This trail still exists, but it starts from Ukegawa (5km south-east of Hongu) along the road connecting Hongu to Shingu. The section between Ukegawa and Koguchi is 13km long.

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- One of the most poisonous types of mushroom in Japan (podostroma cornu-damae) growing on the side of the trail.

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- View over Kumano mountains from Hyakken-gura lookout.

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- Jizo at the Hyakken-gura lookout.

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- Sai-no-Kawara Jizo. A sign posted near this statue reads as follows:

Jizo is a Bodhisattva, a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others, and the protector of children and travelers. Sai-no-Kawara is the riverbank of purgatory of the mythical Sanzu-no-Kawa river, which separates this world from the after world. All souls must cross this river on their way to the afterlife. Young children have not accumulated enough karmic merit to pass on their own, so they pray for salvation by stacking pebbles. But their stacks are constantly washed away by evil demons. Jizo rescues these children by transporting them across the river in the sleeves of his robe.

 

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- ″Poem monuments″ along the trail.

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- Left and center: small shrine (perhaps an oji) on a small platform overlooking the Koguchigawa river. Right: another statue of Jizo.

 

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- View over the Koguchigawa river, near the small village of Koguchi.

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- The Koguchigawa river at the end of the trail.

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- View of a mountain peak near Koguchigawa river.

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Shingu.

 

Shingu is a city on the east coast of the Kii peninsula located at the mouth of the Kumanogawa river. It is home of two major shrines, the Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kamikura-jinja. Pilgrims coming from Hongu were reaching these shrines either on foot or by boat on the river.

 

Kumano Hayatama Taisha.

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Kamikura-jinja.

This smaller shrine is located on the side of Mount Gongen, which is regarded as the sacred mountain from which Kumano gods descended. The shrine sits at the base of a massive rock, Gotobiki-Iwa, itself revered as a deity. Reaching Kamikura-jinja requires ascending a steep and slippery stairway made of uneven natural stones.

 

- Small shrine at the base of the stairway, perhaps for worshipers who are unable to do the ascent.

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- The lower part of the stairway.

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- Reaching the entrance of the shrine.

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- The shrine and its rock.

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- View over Shingu from the shrine.

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Nachi.

Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three Shinto Kumano Grand Shrines, situated a few kilometers inland from the coastal town of Kii-Katsuura. The shrine is part of a larger complex made of several religious structures that combine Shinto and Buddhist influences. The site also boasts the tallest waterfall in Japan with single drop, Nachi no Taki (133m).

 

Daimon-zaka is an ancient 600m stairway bordered by large cedar trees that runs from the valley of the Nachigawa river up to the base of the Kumano Nashi Taisha complex.

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Tori gate marking the entrance of Kumano Nashi Taisha.

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Kumano Nashi Taisha.

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The old Buddhist Nachisan Seiganto-ji temple, located behind Kumano Nashi Taisha, is dedicated to Nyorin Kannon whose statue stands on the left of the entrance. It is one of the few shrine temples still in existence that survived the separation of Shinto and Buddhism during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912).

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Statue of Jizo helping a child to cross the Sanzu-no-Kawa river to reach the after world. This statue is located near the Nachisan Seiganto-ji temple.

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Sanjudo pagoda and Nachi waterfall.

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Other views of the Nachi waterfall.

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Kii-Katsura.

Kii-Katsura is a small quiet town south of Shingu, but an important tuna fishing port. Not only is it a good base to visit Kumano Nachi Taisha. It also has some interesting attractions of its own: a gorgeous coastline, a bustling fish market, and excellent restaurants offering many types of tuna-based dishes.

 

The main street between the train station and the port on a sunny morning. It rarely becomes much busier than this.

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The port.

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The fish market is the 5th largest in Japan. In addition to yellow-fin tuna and swordfish, sharks, sunfish, and other species are auctioned.

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The seashore. (The Nachi waterfall is visible in the second picture.)

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