The Kumano Region, located in the rugged Kii Mountains, has been a sacred place and a pilgrimage destination for over 1,000 years.
Right in the heart of this fascinating landscape, on the bank of the Kumano River, lies Hongu, a small town which hosts the final destination of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage: the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine.
Just across the road from the shrine, visitors can learn about the history of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route and the area that hosts it, at the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center. The center has two buildings used for different purposes, named North and South Hall.
The North Hall hosts a permanent exhibition about the Kumano Area and a temporary exhibition, which at the time of visiting showed sounds and images as contemporary art. The North Hall also includes a multi-purpose hall which sits up to 248 people, equipped with a large screen used for seminars, presentations, film screenings, etc.
The South Hall serves as an information point for all-things related to Kumano. It accommodates a World Heritage Exhibition with a large amount of information about the pilgrimage routes' surrounding nature, history and culture. There is also a study area with a small library for visitors to use freely.
At the information desk, a friendly group of (non-English speaking) staff members will try to answer all your questions.
Originally, I headed to the Kumano Hongu Heritage center on a quest for some free WiFi, something almost impossible to get in Kumano. It seemed to be the only place in Hongu Town where free WiFi was available. Indeed, there is free WiFi but actually internet access is limited to certain pages (mostly, email providers and Kumano-related pages).
Despite the WiFi disappointment of not being able to access all the sites I wanted to, and generally having to accept a world without internet, the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center is a very useful source of information. All the permanent exhibitions include English translations, which made it easier for me to understand the history behind the objects displayed.
Moreover, the Hongu bus stop is located right outside the building and next to the Center's parking lot, which makes the center a good place to take shelter from the sun and hang around while waiting for the bus to come.
The Heritage Center is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm.