Kumano Hongu Shrine at Kumano Kodo in Wakayama
The Kumano Kodo area mainly consists of three shrines; Kumano Hongu, Kumano Hayatama and Kumano Nachi. Each of them offers special sacred roles. Kumano Hayatama Shrine is said to purify one’s sins from previous lives, Kumano Nachi Shrine is believed to provide the grace of the gods in one’s present life and Kumano Hongu Shrine is thought to give salvation in one’s future lives. Kumano Hongu Shrine is the startpont to visit the other two areas, Kumano Hayatama and Kumano Nachi. When I visited Kumano Hongu Shrine, I went to Wakayama World Heritage Center. Staff explained how best to see around Kumano Kodo. The place was informative and cozy. By following the staff’s advice, I took a bus to Hiraiwa Guchi stop and walked through part of the Kumano pilgrimage route to Kumano Hongu Shrine. It took an hour and a half.
The most popular route is from Hosshinmon Oji to Kumano Hongu Shrine, which is a 3-hour walk over 7 km of gently sloping terrain. The path is surrounded by giant cedar and cypress trees. Hosshinmon Oji is the entrance to Kumano Hongu Shrine. Emperors and nobilities purified themselves here by visiting Kumano Hongu Shrine. A bus runs from Kumano Hongu Shrine to Hosshinmon Oji every hour from 7am to 2pm.
One of my favorite characters at Kumano Hongu Shrine is Yatagarasu. This three-legged sacred crow is a symbol of the Kumano Hongu Shrine. The legendary Jinmu Emperor was guided to start a new country by Yatagarasu. You can see Yatagarasu on the Japan Soccer team’s uniform. I had never seen Yatagarasu at any shrines before and I recognized Yatagarasu as a local mascot such as Kurama Tengu in Kyoto or Sento-kun in Nara. The image was different from European castle’s flags. The black post with Yatagarasu is also cute and unique.
The best part of the Kumano Hongu area was Oyunohara which has a huge Torii shrine gate. It is really huge at 34m in height and 42m in width. I have seen many Torii shrine gate before, but Oyunohara shrine gate is the largest I’ve seen in my life. Torii shrine gate is a gateway to designate the entrance to a sacred area. When I walked in the mountains and saw the Torii from halfway up the mountainside, the Torii towered with its majestic nobility. The contrast of its hugeness against the surrounding plain fields was astonishing. When we arrived at the Oyunohara finally, the Torii gate was overwhelming. This area was the most impressive place for me in Kumano Kodo. When we entered the Oyunohara area and saw around the old shrines ground, we encountered the shallow Kumano River. The river is very shallow and the flow is slow, so we could easily walk toward the other side of the river. My son started to construct a dam with stones. We saw a residential area around the Kumano Hongu area, but the water of the river was so clean. It was the best place for us to take a rest after our long walk along Kumano Kodo. Oyunohara, where the Kumano Hongu Shrine originally was located, means place purified by sacred water and this is the place at which people prayed for rain during times of drought. After a severe flood in 1889 destroyed many shrines, Kumano Hongu Shrine was moved to its current location. We can still see its big Torii gate and vast old site.
The shops and cafe in the Kumano Hongu area are closed after sunset, but you can take a rest there during daytime.