Japan's pilgrimage roads, the Kumano Kodou

There are many pilgrimage roads all around the world. You could say that Japan's representative pilgrimage roads are the Kumano Kodou. Between the beautiful nature and the fact that these roads were used for daily activities, you can definitely feel Old Japan.


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Kumano Kodou's stone paving

Nekosuki/Wikimedia Commons

The Kumano Kodou extend through the four prefectures of Nara, Wakayama, Mie, and Osaka.

What are the Kumano Kodou?

The Kumano Kodō (熊野古道?) is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that crisscross the Kii Hantō, the largest Peninsula of Japan. These sacred trails were and are still used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site "Kumano Sanzan" (熊野三山)), or the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano: Kumano Hongū Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社). 


The Kumano Kodou are composed of the six routs called Kiiji, Oohechi, Nakahechi, Kohechi, Oominemichi, and Iseji.
Because they're in areas of Japan that get a lot of rain, there are places where the roads have been paved with stone to make travel upon them easy.

Beautiful stone-paved roads

It's said that of all the Kumano Kudou that Iseji is the most beautiful of them all. ?

The Kumano Kodou are the face of Shugendou

What is Shugendou?
唐山健志郎/Wikimedia Commons
Priests pursuing knowledge and discipline in the mountains.

Shugendō (修験道?) is a highly syncretic Buddhist religion or sect and mystical-spiritual tradition that originated in pre-Feudal Japan, in whichenlightenment is equated with attaining oneness with the kami (?). This perception of experiential "awakening" is obtained through the understanding of the relationship between humanity and nature, centered on an ascetic, mountain-dwelling practice. The focus or goal of Shugendō is the development of spiritual experience and power. 


It's said that Oomine Okugake Michi, the most rugged road in the Kumano Kodou, is the road that opened up Shugendo.

The entrance of the Oomine Okugake Michi

zzzstandard/Wikimedia Commons

This picture is the vista of Tenkawa-mura, the village that is said to be the entrance of the Oomine Okugake Michi. That road is a holy place that bans women from entering.

Villages along the Kumano Kodou that embody the atmosphere

The "hatenashi" of this village means "no enlightenment"

Hatenashi Village sits along one of the small roads by the Kumano Kodou. You can freely drink the spring water so the people walking the roads can quench their thirst.

The spring water in Hatenashi Village

In this village that only has houses, you can feel the clean, pure beauty of Japan.?

The end of the Kumano Kudou

The aim of the Kumano Kudou is to visit the three Kumano temples, the Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha. The name "Kumano" is listed in the oldest history records of Japan, the "Nihon-shoki," and it's said that these are the roots of Japan's faith.

Kumano Hongu Taisha

The original Kumano Hongu Taisha in Kyushu was washed away in floods in 1889, and it was rebuilt on a mountain a little ways away.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha

Because it's in Shingu, Wakayama, it's relatively easy to get to.

Kumano Nachi Taisha

Nekosuki/Wikimedia Commons
To get to this shrine located in Nachikatsuura, Higashimuro, Wakayama, you have to grope up stairs for over 10 minutes.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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