Introducing Kumano–“The Land of the Gods”

By Alena Eckelmann    - 2 min read

Kumano is situated in the southeastern part of the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture. Only a few hours away from Osaka it is a world apart from the chaos of Japan’s modern city life.

The awe-inspiring nature of the Kii Mountains has prompted people to worship rocks, mountains, rivers and waterfalls as gods since pre-historic times.

Indeed the whole area is considered to be “The Land of the Gods” and until today it has great significance for Japanese people as a place for ascetic training, spiritual awakening and healing.

Rugged peaks covered in dense forest and clouded in mist dominate the landscape. Only the rippling sound of water from the many creeks cutting through this seemingly remote area and the joyful chirping of birds break the silence.

It is difficult to imagine if you visit Tokyo and Osaka first and your image of Japan is that of an urban concrete jungle but here nature still rules and humans bow to its powers.

This is the setting for one of Japan’s most sacred sites, the Kumano Sanzan, or Three Grand Shrines of Kumano. Kumano Sanzan is the collective name given to the three Grand Shrines (“Taisha”) of Kumano: Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha.

The Kumano Kodo (“Kumano Old Road”), a network of pilgrimage trails, leads to this ancient place of worship. It has been taken by untold thousands of pilgrims for over 1,000 years until today.

The Hongu Taisha is at the heart of all Kumano pilgrimage trails and traditionally it was visited first before pilgrims continued to the other two Grand Shrines located 20km to 40km apart.

Originally these shrines were set in their specific natural surroundings, one at the conflux of two rivers, another one near a majestic waterfall and the third one on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, which inspired their own form of nature worship. However, under the influence of Buddhism the three shrines became associated with Buddhist gods. They were eventually worshipped together as the Kumano Deities, representing a unique fusion of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs.

Visiting the Kumano Sanzan and walking along the Kumano Kodo you can catch a glimpse of the rich spirituality of this region and, who knows, you might even get inspired to connect to your own spiritual roots.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Founder of Kii Monogatari, my story and the story of the Kii Peninsula of Japan. Originally from East Germany, I came to Tokyo, via Berlin and London, in 2005. In summer 2011 I moved by choice to remote Kumano in the south of the Kii Peninsula where I live, work and play now, and explore every day.The whole of the Kii Peninsula is a Healing Hub for me with its abundance of forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the ocean, friendly rural communities and sacred places. This is where nature meets spirituality, and tradition meets sustainability, the new paradigm for travel post-pandemic. My deep interest is in Japanese nature & spirituality. I love being in nature, in the forest and in the mountains, and I love spending time at temples and shrines.  I am building my life and my work around these two passions. I am a Licensed Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy) Guide and a Licensed Kumano Kodo and Koyasan Guide. I am also a Licensed Retreat Facilitator and I am planning retreats on the Kii Peninsula. Last but not least, I have been the Japan Travel Partner for Wakayama and Yamagata since the conception of the platform in 2011! These two prefectures are close to my heart because they are the centers of Shugendo, a spiritual tradition of mountain ascetism. I am a Shugendo Practitioner for over ten years now and received Tokudo in 2016 at a Shugendo temple on Yoshinoyama. Please kindly connect via my Facebook Page Kii Monogatari. Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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Sleiman Azizi 2 years ago
I'm hesitant to use the phrase 'bucket list' - I think treating life as a series of checklists to be marked off misses the point - but... if I had a bucket list, then Kumano is certainly on it.