Guide to the Shrines and Temples of Kumano Kodo from Takahara to Nachi

The pilgrimage route in Japan’s Kii Peninsula – Kumano Kodo offer a unique journey steeped in history and spirituality. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these ancient pathways connect sacred shrines and temples, offering a mix of history, culture and spirituality for travelers. The shrines and temples of Kumano Kodo are like nothing you will find anywhere else in the world.

Importantly, the Kumano Kodo is part of a dual pilgrimage with the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Completing both routes earns pilgrims a special Dual Pilgrim certification. This emphasises the universal search for spiritual understanding across cultures and uniting pilgrims from across continents in one wider journey.

The key shrines and temples of Kumano Kodo!

Takahara Kumano-jinja Shrine

Takahara Kumano-jinja Shrine, rich in history and cultural significance, is a pivotal stop on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. Established when the Kumano deity was transferred here in 1403, the shrine stands as one of the oldest buildings along this section of the route.

It is a prime example of the Kasuga architectural style, notable for its distinctive roof added to the gable end to cover the staircase leading to the shrine’s entrance. This style was first adopted over 1,300 years ago and second in popularity across Japanese heritage buildings only to the Nagare style.

Pilgrims can easily find the Takahara Kumano-jinja Shrine by traveling along the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo. Here’s how to reach it:

  • Starting Point: The trail to Takahara begins in Takijiri-oji, which is the official start of the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo.
  • Trek to Takahara: From Takijiri-oji, it is a 3 to 4-hour hike to Takahara. The path is well-marked and climbs steadily through mountainous terrain, offering beautiful views and a serene walking experience.
  • Arriving at Takahara: The shrine is located in the village of Takahara, known for its picturesque landscapes and misty mornings.

Chikatsuyu-oji Shrine

Chikatsuyu Shrine, nestled in the heart of the Kumano Kodo’s Nakahechi route, blends historical allure and spiritual solace. Indeed, this shrine, while modest in appearance, has played a crucial role in the pilgrimage tradition, serving as a rest stop for nobility (including Retired Emperors).

The shrine and its surrounding village are enhanced by the cultural significance of the nearby sacred river. Pilgrims have stopped here for spiritual and physical refreshment over the course of many hundreds of years.

Chikatsuyu Shrine is strategically placed for pilgrims traversing the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo. Here’s a detailed guide on how to reach this serene sanctuary:

  • Starting Point: The journey to Chikatsuyu begins at Takijiri-oji, the gateway to the Nakahechi route.
  • Trek to Chikatsuyu: The trek from Takijiri-oji to Chikatsuyu takes approximately 6 to 7 hours, covering diverse terrains and offering stunning vistas of the region’s lush landscapes.
  • Arriving at Chikatsuyu: Situated in the village of Chikatsuyu, the shrine offers a quaint and tranquil setting, perfect for rest and spiritual rejuvenation.

Kumano Hongu Taisha

Kumano Hongu Taisha is nestled on a ridge surrounded by tall cedar and cypress trees, making it a key destination on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes. It’s one of the three grand shrines of Kumano and the main shrine for more than 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan.

Visitors reach the shrine by climbing a long stone staircase. Originally, the shrine was located at Oyunohara, at the meeting point of the Kumano and Otonashi Rivers. According to legend, the deities of Kumano appeared here in the form of three moons on a giant oak tree.

Kumano Hongu Taisha is a key spiritual site on the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. Here’s how you can visit this important shrine:

  • Starting Point: The journey to Kumano Hongu Taisha typically begins at Takijiri-oji, the official starting point of the Nakahechi route.
  • Trek to Kumano Hongu Taisha: From Takijiri-oji, it’s about a 7 to 8-hour trek to Kumano Hongu Taisha. The path is well-marked and traverses beautiful mountainous terrain, taking you through lush forests and along ancient trails for a serene walking experience.
  • Arriving at Kumano Hongu Taisha: The shrine is a meeting place of natural beauty and deep spirituality. The notable landmark was originally located at Oyunohara, a sacred place at the confluence of two rivers. However, after a flood in 1889, locals moved it to the current higher ground.

Visiting Kumano Hongu Taisha allows pilgrims to connect with the spiritual essence of the Kumano Kodo.

Kumano Nachi Taisha

Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three major Kumano shrines, located near the coastal town of Katsuura. This shrine is part of a historical complex where Buddhist and Shinto beliefs have merged, set against the backdrop of Nachi no Taki, Japan’s tallest waterfall.

Shinto worship at the Kumano shrines began before Buddhism reached Japan in the mid-6th century. Locals quickly embraced Buddhism, with worshippers incorporating Shinto traditions to form a new hybrid religion.

At Nachi Taisha, this blend is evident as it is closely linked with Seiganto-ji Temple, a Buddhist site. For much of its existence, the Seiganto-ji Temple was a single religious institution. However, during the Meiji Period the Buddhist and Shinto worship were again separated. The architecture of the shrine and temple, including Seiganto-ji’s three-storey pagoda, is particularly impressive.

The location and access to from the Kumano Kodo to Kumano Nachi Taisha is simple to follow:

  • Starting point: The journey to Kumano Nachi Taisha usually commences from Takijiri-oji as the official starting point of the Nakahechi route.
  • Trek to Kumano Nachi Taisha: From Takijiri-oji, the trek takes about a day if you are heading directly to Kumano Nachi Taisha. Follow the tranquil hike as it winds through stunning mountain scenery, lush forests, and historic paths.
  • Arriving at Kumano Nachi Taisha: The shrine is just a few kilometres inland from the coastal town of Katsuura. It is near the spectacular Nachi no Taki, Japan’s tallest waterfall. As a result, this shrine is not only a spiritual hub but also a place of breath-taking natural beauty.

Seeing the shrines and temples of Kumano Kodo for yourself

The Kumano Kodo offers a deeply enriching pilgrimage that intertwines natural beauty, historical depth, and spiritual significance. From the ancient pathways of Takijiri-oji to the sacred shrines of Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha, each step along this revered route invites pilgrims into a world where tradition and tranquility prevail.

The journey is not just about reaching the shrines but also about experiencing the journey itself – walking through lush landscapes, exploring architectural marvels, and participating in age-old rituals.

If the shrines of Kumano Kodo have interested you, and you’re looking to plan your Dual pilgrimage journey, book an appointment with one of our travel experts! We’re here to help you with all things planning – from accommodations to expert tips!

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