Picking a place to go to in Japan is hard especially if the type of attractions you want to see is the religious and sacred ones because there are just so many to be visited in Japan. Although the train system there is immensely effective, traveling long distances still take away a lot of time that can be used for appreciating the attraction itself. Luckily, there is a large place in Japan that is surrounded by varieties of attractions that cater to this very category of locations and these places can be found in the area known as the Kii Mountains found on the Kii Peninsula.
The Location of the Kii Mountain Range on Japan’s Map and Other Interest Information
The Kii Mountains is a hard place to describe because its vastness is at a scale that can be very unfamiliar to most people. When people talk about mountain ranges, the initial thought or picture in a person’s head would usually be a group of mountains that run across 2 to 3 cities. In the case of the Kii Mountains, its size actually makes it so that it runs across 3 prefectures. Just so you know just how big that is, remember that prefectures can have multiple cities in them.
The prefectures this mountain range runs across are namely the Mie Prefecture, the Nara Prefecture, and the Wakayama Prefecture. All of these areas are located in the region of Kansai and its mountains are subdivided into 3 main parts. The first is the Daiko Mountains. The second is the Omine Mountains while the third part is the Obako Mountains. Another way to describe its location is to say that it lies south of the JMTL which stands for the “Japan Median Tectonic Line”.
Since the tallest things you can see in these areas are the mountains, it might be useful to familiarize yourself with some of the tallest mountains you’ll see there. Knowing this can help you get your bearings in case you find yourself lost. Among all the mountains here, the highest peak belongs to the Hakkenzan of the Omine Mountains. This peak stands at a height of 1914.6 meters or 6281 feet. The next tallest mountains to be seen there are from the central group and these mountains are Mount Shakka, which stands 1800 meters tall, and Mount Sanjo, which stands 1719 meters tall. It would also be useful to know that the mountain range that divides the Nara Prefecture and the Wakayama Prefecture is the Obako Mountains.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites Found Around the Kii Mountain Range
The attractions found around the Kii Mountain Range are rooted in Japan’s culture and beliefs due to more than just their history. Some of the locations here are essential to certain religions while others are places of worship that have traditions that have been going on for more than a thousand years. They even have attractions that are linked to Japan’s famous mythologies which also draws in people who love their folklore.
There are 3 main areas here that house these attractions and these are namely the Yoshino and Omine area, the Kumano Sanzan, and the Koyasan. One of the popular sites visited in the area of Yoshino and Omine is Mount Yoshino. This mountain is located in Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara-ken and in the year of 2004, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” category. Aside from the amazing view, you get here, you can also go to nearby shrines like the Yoshino Mikumari Shrine, Kimpu Shrine, and the Kimpusen-ji. Both shrines mentioned are Shinto shrines while the Kimpusen0ji is a Buddhist temple. This mountain is also usually visited around the autumn season because of the beautiful cherry blossoms founds here that bloom during that time of the year.
The area of Koyasan offers its own variety of Shinto shrines and Shingon Buddhist temples, all of which can be found in Wakayama-ken. The Shinto shrines you can find here are the Niutsuhime Shrine and the Niukanshofu. As for the Buddhist temples, the ones you can find here are the Kongobu-ji and the Jison-ji. All these temples and shrines are also a part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.
For the area of Kumano, it is here that you will get to see 3 shrines which are namely the Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha, and the Hayatama Taisha. Before getting into these shrines, Kumano as an area alone already has significant because according to the Japanese mythology, the Shinto sun goddess’ great-grandson named Jimmu came to Kumano to unify the country of Japan. Through this act, he became the very first Emperor of Japan.
All the shrines you can see in this area are great but if you had to choose one to not miss, let it be the Hayatama Taisha. This is because this particular shrine is the oldest among the 3. The other two shrines were reconstructed at some point in time but the Hayatama Taisha has always been on the exact spot it was built on along the Kumano Riverbank. It has been there since the 12th century and it was here that they found religious artifacts that turned out to be evidence of worship there that dates back to the 3rd century. It also happens to be related to the Shinto creation myth because that myth claims that 3 Shinto deities came to came on a rock not far from the location of the shrine. Because of this, the rock found by the shrine has been treated like a sacred object. It isn’t the only sacred thing nearby as well because a tree that is supposedly over 800 years old is also found here and is also considered to be a sacred object.
How to Get to the Attraction that Leads to the Most Interesting Places in the Kii Mountain Range
Since it is closest to the 3 shrines or taishas that make up the Kumano Sanzan, it goes without saying that the Kumano Kodo leads to these shrines. Aside from these though, the trails of this route can also take you to sacred areas of Koyasan as well as Yoshino and Omine. If that wasn’t enough to convince you that going on this trail is worth it, you’ll be amazed to know that this trail also leads you to Japan’s most important Shinto shrine which is the Ise Shrine.
Now that you know that, you should know the fastest way to get to this strategic spot to start your pilgrimage. If you are coming from Nagoya, your goal should be to get to the Shingu Station. Once you reach this station, you will have access to the Kumano Kotsu buses, the Nara Kotsu buses, and the Meiko buses. Through the Kumano Kotsu line, you may be able to access any of the Kumano Sanzan shrines. This connection is available for the rest of the bus lines because the Nachi Taisha is solely connected to the Kumano Kotsu line. Aside from that though, the other two bus lines should have no trouble bringing you to Kumano and the Kumano Kodo found there.
If you are coming from areas like Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nara, your best bet to get to Kumano is through a JR train that brings you to where the Nankai Railway starts. This railway can bring you as far as Koyasan where you then alight the Nankai Rinkai Bus to get to Gomadanzan or Kirari Ryujin which is where you can gain access to the Ryujin Bus line. This bus line connects with the Meiki bus line through the stations of Kurisugawa, Takijiri Oji, Kii-Tanabe, as well as the Hongu Taisha itself.
There are several attractions to see here and you also have several ways of getting there. Once you have visited all the sacred areas you want through the Kumano Kodo, you can use the same bus lines to reach the other attractions found in the areas of Koysan as well as the areas of Wakayama and Nara. Not all public transportation lines are covered by the JR Pass so make sure to bring enough money to not have to worry about the commute.