Yunomine Onsen was opened in 1800 and is known as Japan’s oldest onsen town. It retains the essence of its past which visitors can feel. In olden times, Yunomine Onsen would see those travelling the Kumano Kodo take a rest and perform a sacred purification ritual using the hot spring waters. As one part of the overall pilgrimage, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The onsen color is said to change up to 7 times day thanks to the natural hot spring’s rock baths, or Tsuboyu. Classified as a hydrogen carbonate and sulphur spring, the hot spring source reaches 92°C and provides up to 30 liters every minute. It is known to have health benefits for the nervous system, rheumatism, skin diseases and diabetes.
It is possible to walk around the three shrines of Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha and the Nachi-san Seiganto-ji temple in a single day. The Kii mountain range has been revered since ancient times as a sacred place, where many deities have been enshrined. The three sacred grounds of Kouya-san, Yoshino Omine and Kumano Sanzan developed independently from their steep mountainous regions spread across Wakayama, Nara, and Mie, helping create pilgrimage routes connecting those three mountains. It was also registered as a UNESCO World Heritage “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” in July 2004.
Kumano Hongu Taisha
To reach Kumano Hongu Taisha, one must climb the 158 stone steps leading to the main shrine. After passing through the main gate, the thatched roof of cypress bark of the main temple comes into view. The main deity enshrined here is Ketsumiko-no-kami. In ancient times, at the confluence point of the Kumano River, Otonashi River and Iwada River exited at Oyunohara. But in 1889 a huge flood caused turmoil. The surviving structures were moved to their current locations and repaired in 1891. At the modern Oyunohara, there remains a 34 meter tall large gate. In 33 BC, Kumano Hongu Taisha was originally founded. This makes 2018 the 2050th year, which they will be commemorating with various events throughout the year.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Kumano Hayatama Taisha is enshrined at the mouth of the Kumano River, with the main shrine decorated in bright, vermilion lacquer. The main deity is Izanagi-no-mikoto. The deity resides within a gigantic rock named “Gotobiki Iwa”, which is revered as Izanagi-no-mikoto is descended from the Kamikura Jinja Shrine nearby. The Oto Matsuri is a famous festival held each year which sees races down the stone steps.
It is recorded that before 660 BC, the deities in Kumano were descended into the Gotobiki rock in Mt Kamikura, before moving and building a new shrine, Shingu, to the current location in 128. According to the Nihon Shoki chronicles, it was written that Emperor Jimmu was worshipped at Kamikura.
Kumano Nachi Taisha
Kumano Nachi Taisha has 6 shrine buildings above 467 stone steps leading to the main vermilion-lacquered shrine. This is the Head shrine of almost 4,000 Kumano shrines from around Japan. The main enshrined deity here is Kumano Fusumi-no Okami, also known as Musubi-no-miya, who was not just the god of matchmaking, but also wishes too. Every July 14th one of Japan’s biggest fire festivals, Nachi-no-Ogi-Matsuri, takes place with one of its performing arts, Nachi no Dengaku, also registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Hiro-jinja is an auxiliary shrine to Kumano Nachi Taisha, with the deity residing in the great waterfall. Hence, it is said that touching the waterfall spray can bring the miracle of long life.
It is said a mythical raven who guided Emperor Jimmu when he went to Yamato from Kumano was turned to stone after his task was completed. Karasu-ishi (‘raven-stone’）is located at the side of the main shrine building in Kumano Nachi Taisha.
Located adjacent to the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, Nachi-san Seiganto-ji is a temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect and the first in the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage of 33 Buddhist temples. The mountain’s name is Nachi-san and the Nyoirin Kannon is worshipped here. According to legend, during the Emperor Nintoku era a naked saint from India founded a temple and enshrined a gold Nyorin Kannon at the basin of the Nachi Falls. Later a temple was built at the command of Empress Suiko, where between the end of the 6th century and start of the 7th century Shobutsu Hijiri built a Garan temple, enshrining a 4.8 m tall statue of Buddha and placing Nyoirin Kannon inside its body.
Nachi Falls is a waterfall located mid-stream of the Nachi River located in Nachi-katsuura, Higashimuro district. Running parallel to the almost vertical quartz porphyry cliff-face, the waterfall runs 13 meters wide and 133 meters tall – a sight so distinctive it can even be glimpsed from the Kumano Sea. Whilst it is only ranked 12th in Japan for overall height, it is ranked 1st as the largest single-drop waterfall. Alongside Kegon Falls in Nikko and Fukuroda Falls in Ibaraki, Nachi Falls is counted as one of Japan’s three famous waterfalls.
Tours in the Wakayama Region
Heartland Japan offers the following tours inside Wakayama prefecture. Please have a look!