Kumano, an isolated mountainous region south of the ancient capital of Kyoto, spreads over the lower half of the Kii peninsula. It has been a sacred site since prehistoric times; the origin of Japanese spirituality.
The Kumano faith is deeply rooted in the worship of the awe-inspiring natural environment, such as gigantic old growth trees and beautiful waterfalls, which are believed to be endowed with spirits. Kumano’s mountains are considered to be the otherworldly abode of the gods.
In the earliest written texts of Japanese history, Kumano was the “Land of Yomi”, the mythological land of the dead. It was believed that ancestral spirits ascended into the impenetrable layers of mountains stretching to the southern sea.
When Buddhism arrived in Kumano in the 6th century, it blended seamlessly with Shinto, Japan’s indigenous religion, to create unique forms of Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. The belief that local deities are manifestations of Buddhist entities emerged, transforming the rugged terrain of Kumano into a rich and complex spiritual matrix, a paradise on earth for purification, healing and salvation.
The main sites of worship consolidated into the Kumano Sanzan, a spiritual set of three Grand Shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha. A network of routes developed, known today as the Kumano Kodo, to lead pilgrims on their arduous journey to Kumano. Devotees from all levels of society―including imperial ancestors, Samurai warlords and common people―have walked these trials seeking contact with the power of this universal sacred site.
Because of the impact the Kumano Kodo has had on the spiritual culture of Japan, it was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage. These ancient routes, over peaks and through traditional ridge-top communities, are still being re-discovered and re-interpreted by present day visitors.
The austere sanctuary of the Kumano Hongu Taisha is located in the tiny village of Hongu, a rural municipality of Tanabe, the main city of the Kumano region.
This Grand Shrine is the spiritual and geographical center of Kumano and traditionally is the first shrine visited on the Kumano pilgrimage. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes radiate to Hongu, converging on a sand bank of the Kumano River. This serene and mysterious clearing is the original site of the Kumano Hongu Taisha and emanates a primordial feeling of harmony between heaven, earth and humanity.
Tanabe City is a place to slow down, relax and immerse oneself in traditional countryside Japanese culture and spiritual natural environment.