Today we said goodbye to Ise-shi and Mie prefecture, and begun our trek through Wakayama. Wakayama prefecture encompasses the entire southern section of the Kii Peninsula, bordered by Mie, Nara, and Osaka prefectures. Much of the region is uninhabited due to the steep mountain range that makes up the southern area, with the majority of the cities being along the coast. The area is also considerably more rural, thus we had to plan the trains accordingly.
Though Wakayama prefecture is famous for sea food, ume, and other marine-related delicacies, the area also hosts a world heritage site - the Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) or Kumano Ancient Roads that connect the three grand shrines: Nachi Taisha (那智大社), Hongu Taisha（本宮大社）, and Hayatama Taisha（速玉大社）.
Kumano was hailed in ancient times as a place of healing, rebirth, and salvation; where people would go in their darkest hour to ask for help. Absolutely no one is turned way.
Whether you had a strong faith, a weak faith, whether you were sick, in despair, an emperor, a noble, suicidal, or a poor man, Hindu, Christian, you name it - the gods of Kumano welcome everyone regardless of who you are or where you come from. In the past, many emperors and nobles made pilgrimages to the three grand shrines of Kumano, to the point that many interconnecting stone roads were established throughout the mountains, often guarded by many stone Jizo. Because the roads connect the 3 shrines, it is thus named the ancient road.
This area also has a history of Buddhism and Shinto fusing seamlessly, as shown by all three grand shrines enshrining both a shinto kami and a celestial buddha. The disciples of Shugendo (the yamabushi) originate from this area, as does Aikido.
It is also thought that this was the land that the spirits of our ancestors would dwell after death (i.e. Yomi no Kuni), and believed to be a pure land upon earth. Because it is relatively untouched by civilization due to the steep mountains (with exception of the highway and small towns today), the renowned natural beauty of this area largely remains the same as it was thousands of years ago. Thus Kumano is also termed the 「神々の住む場所」, the dwelling place of the gods.
It also has a very old history going back to the foundation of Japan, when Jimmu Tenno (the legendary first emperor) landed here and went to conquer Yamato. Even today the numerous hot spring towns located deep within the mountains are still known for their healing properties.
Because of its importance to the ancient Japanese, there is a popular old saying, "Seven times to Ise, Thrice to Kumano" concerning pilgrimages made. With the influx of western culture in Japan, Kumano has become somewhat forgotten or even relatively unknown to the Japanese themselves, but because of its status as an important UNESCO world heritage site it continues to remain for later generations to appreciate.( Collapse )