World Heritage "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in The Kii Mountain Range"
Do you know that there is a World Heritage site in Wakayama Prefecture?
"Kumano Sanzan" - a combined area of Kumano Three Mountains - is the place where once upon a time so many pilgrims visited that it resembled "a procession of ants". "Koyasan" embraces the sacred Buddhist temple complex established by Kukai: one of the most famous monks in Japanese history. "Yoshino and Mt. Ohmine" have for long been recognized for strict ascetic spiritual practices. These three sacred sites connect pilgrimage routes, and today that is registered as the site of World Heritage.
Wakayama is the first prefecture in Japan which established the World Heritage Ordinance to preserve the precious heritage in the hope to hand it down to the future generations.
Kii and Kumano
Kii peninsula is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean with the Kuroshio Current delineating an intricate coastline. The warm and rainy climate nurtures rich forests from which the confluence of many rivers runs into the ocean. This is why from ancient times, this region has been called "Ki no Kuni" or "Kii", which means the country of woods.
Far from the capital, the southern part of this peninsula has been called Kumano and considered as a sacred place since the ancient times.
Kumano Sanzan & Pilgrimage
Before long, the faith of the Kumano included three shrines, Hongu Shrine near the middle part of the Kumano River, Hayatama Shrine at the mouth of the river and Nachi Shrine adjacent to the Nachi Falls. Collectively it is known today as the faith of the Kumano Sanzan (three mountains) and sacred sites for ascetic spiritual practice with a strong Buddhist influence in the deep mountainous region. This attracted pilgrims who seek for eternal peace while alive and thereafter.
In the 11th Century, abdicated emperors who were the most powerful nobles at that time repeatedly made pilgrimages to Kumano. In medieval times, the pilgrimage to Kumano was further spread among the Samurai (warrior) class and common people. The procession of pilgrims continued in times past.
Kumano Kodo (Kumano Old Route)
Although there are several routes to make the pilgrimage from the ancient capital Kyoto to Kumano Sanzan, the common route started from Osaka and went down south to enter Kishu, and followed the rocky coastline of the Kii peninsula to Tanabe and then made a turn into the mountainous region to "Nakaheji," which took almost a month to complete.
Nakaheji still retains remnants of pilgrimage in ancient times including shrines called "Oji" which were placed along the route.
There are places like Omine San (Omine Mountain), in the old days, that did not allow women to enter the sacred sites, and that drew criticism. However, since ancient times Kumano Sanzan has welcomed all: regardless of class, sex and health condition. Today, Kumano Kodo is an open pilgrimage route welcoming all people and foreign tourists who arrive here with various wishes and thoughts in mind. (To Nakaheji, bus service is available from Tanabe)
Further, the famous monk Kukai, who achieved the greatest recognition in the 9th Century built the Kongobuji temple in the Koyasan, located on the north of Kii mountain range. Starting from this, many more temples were built in Koyasan. The mountain is surrounded by the forest with cedar and other trees. There are many Buddhist cultural assets, including a government-designated National Treasure. Also some temples offer unique accommodation facilities, and it is a special way to experience the Koyasan. (From the JR Hashimoto Station, take Nankai Koya Railway Line and the cable car)