The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes: A World Heritage Site

There are only two pilgrimage routes inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and Kumano Kodo is one of them.

Kumano, the spiritual center of Japan, is located deep in the rugged mountains of the Kii Peninsula, and has created over time a very special spiritual and cultural atmosphere, where nature and religion come together in a powerful and sacred way.

The vast natural landscape of Kumano Kodo with its imposing mountains, cliffs, centuries-old trees, numerous waterfalls and mighty streams, have been and continue to be pilgrims. In the early Heian period (794-1185), the Kumano faith spread from the imperial family to the aristocracy, then to the samurai warrior class and so on. There were so many people that the pilgrims began to be called "the ant march of Kumano" . The Kumano faith was unique in Japan in that it was open to everyone, regardless of class or gender, including the marginalized as well.

In the shrines along the way, the faith of the Buddhist and Shinto religions is combined, known as Shinbutsushugo. Since time immemorial, the concept of kami (god or gods) has been deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Paper cut in the shape of lightning bolts are hung at Shinto shrines to indicate the presence of the kami. With the advent of Buddhism in the 6th century, the Shinto gods were equated with their respective Buddhist counterparts, giving rise to the term "Shinto-Buddhist Syncretism or Shinbutsushugo".

In Kumano Kodo, there are three holy places known as "Kumano Sanzan". These are: Shingu (The Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine), Nachikatsuura (The Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine) and Tanabe (The Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine). The three sanctuaries and their surrounding landscapes exude an aura of mystery . These characteristics are said to be influenced by their various origins and nature worship rituals. The differences are evident in the architecture, which blends beautifully into the natural environment, making a big impact on visitors.

Over the past ten centuries, people from all walks of life have traveled the pilgrimage routes of Kumano Kodo to the revered shrines of Kumano Sanzan. The Kumano Kodo routes are 7: Nakahechi, (The Main Route or Imperial Route), Ohechi, Kohechi, Iseji, Choishimichi, which connects the holy place of the Shingon sect in Koyasan with the Kumano Shrines, and the Yoshino-Omine Route . The latter is an isolated and dangerous mountain path, reserved for Shugendo ascesis and recommended only for experienced mountaineers. In 2004, most of these routes, with the exception of the modern Kiiji Route, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Discover this sacred path for yourself with the "The Authentic Kumano Path" program.

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