Kumano Kodo [熊野古道]
Kumano Kodo is the collective name of the ancient pilgrimage routes leading to Three Grand Shrines of Kumano (熊野三山, "Kumano Sanzan" in Japanese).
The three shrines are Kumano Hongu 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).
They are located at the southeast part of Wakayama Prefecture.
This area has been called "Kumano".
Most of the routes run in hilly Kii Mountain Range.
Few villages are along the routes and most parts of the routes are in the forest.
Since ancient times, people had been believed that many gods were living in Kii Mountain Range.
These three shrines had been founded in Kumano area in Kii Mountain Range before recorded history.
Originally these had been the Shinto shrines enshrining the gods of the nature.
Around the 10th century, Jodo-shu (Pure Land Buddhism) which is one of major Japanese Buddhism spread.
It says that the people believing Jodo-shu will go to the Pure Land after the death.
And they regarded Kumano area as the Pure Land.
Since that, Kumano Sanzan became the sacred place of both Shinto and Buddhism.
In 907, Emperor Uda visited the shrines first as one of members of the imperial family.
Emperor Shirakawa (1053-1129) visited 9 times, and Emperor Go-Shirakawa (1127-1192) visited 33 times.
They came from Kyoto.
Maybe, they didn't walk, but rode in an oxcart with many entourages.
From early Edo Period (the 17th century), the routes to Kumano Sanzan became popular pilgrimage routes for common people.
Kumano area has been much rain, so the routes were paved with stones.
Five routes connecting Kumano Sanzan were registered as UNESCO World Heritage as the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range".
The World Heritage site includes three shrine of Kumano Sanzan, Mount Koya (Koyasan), Mount Yoshino and Ise Shrine on their routes.
And the route from Osaka is also added.
The six routes are the followings.
- Kiiji (紀伊路) : From Osaka through Wakayama city to Tanabe city (Out of the World Heritage site)
- Kohechi (小辺路) : From Mount Koya to Kumano Sanzan (About 70 km)
- Nakahechi (中辺路) : From Tanabe city through mountain to Kumano Sanzan (About 90 km)
- Ohechi (大辺路) : From Tanabe city through Kushimoto to Kumano Sanzan (About 120 km)
- Iseji (伊勢路) : From Ise Shrine to Kumano Sanzan (About 160 km)
- Omine-Okugakemichi (大峯奥駈道) : From Mount Yoshino to Kumano Sanzan (About 90 km)
Although these are the pilgrimage routes, most parts of them are hilly or steep in the mountains.
In the old times, post stations had been dotted along the routes, but they has become the ruins.
So if you want to visit these route, you must make preparations for trekking for some days.