The Kumano Grand Shrines aka Kumano Sanzan are connected by the sacred Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trails.
Today I want to introduce the thrid of the Kumano Sanzan: Kumano Hongu Taisha
Access to Kumano Hongu Taisha
Among the Kumano Sanzan this shrine is the most difficult to access by public transportation as there is no train station nearby.
However, there are regular buses from Shirahama, Shingu or Kii-Tanabe Stations (~ 80-120 mins; 1500-2000 yen). Bus timetables can be found here.
If you choose to travel by bus you might not be able to visit all three of the Kumano Grand Shrines in one day. If you’re short on time, then renting a car might be a better idea!
As part of the Kumano Sanzan the Hongu Taisha Shrine is registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range“.
The World’s Biggest Shrine Gate
The shrine was originally located at the present Oyu no Hara (大斎原). A flood in 1889 destroyed parts of Hongu Taisha and the remaining parts were moved to where they are now. The shrine is currently about 1km away from its original position.
A gigantic shrine gate marks the original location of Kumano Hongu Taisha.
In fact, it’s the biggest shrine gate in the world (33m tall, 42m wide, 172 tons). The heavy steel “Otorii” (大鳥居, big shrine gate) was erected in 2000.
The area gets a lot of floods. Just recently, in September 2011, there was a typhoon (Typhoon #12 aka Tropical Storm Talas) causing floods and damage yet again.
Kumano Hongu Taisha
Here you see the present entrance to Hongu Taisha.
Kumano Hongu Taisha enshrines several deities: its own, the deities of the other two Kumano shrines and the sun goddess Amaterasu.
It’s also the head shrine of over 3000 Kumano shrines in Japan.
After entering through the shrine gate, you’ll have to climb up several stairs.
The Treasure Hall (宝物殿) is small, but features some interesting exhibits.
The sacred main buildings of Hongu Taisha.
These pavilions have been destroyed several times in the past, but have always been rebuilt to resemble their original state. They were built in a style that lets them blend in with the nature surrounding them.
The outer shrine buildings are less spectacular.
I found that stone statue rather amusing.
On the left: Turtle Stone
On the right: Crow mailbox
This was really interesting and the first time I saw a “postcard ema“. You can send these wooden wishing plaques just like a postcard!
Or you can use them just as a normal “ema”.
Like mentioned earlier Kumano Hongu Taisha is connected with the other Kumano Grand Shrines by a network of pilgrimage routes known as “Kumano Kodo“.
For most tourists it would be too time-consuming and exhausting to walk the complete trail, but you can just take the final section of the Nakahechi Trail.
Your starting point is “Hosshinmon-Oji” from where it’ll take about 2h and 7km to get to Hongu Taisha. Find useful maps and more information about it here.
There are also two major festivals held at the shrine: The Hongu Taisha Spring Festival (April 13-15) and the Yata-no-Hi Matsuri Fire Festival (last Sunday of August).
If you get hungry, you should try some of the local specialities.
In the photo above you see ”Merihari sushi” (めはり寿司). The rice is formed like a onigiri and wrapped with “Takana” (高菜), a type of savoy cabbage.
It was extremely delicious and I’d love to eat it again some time!
Kumano Hongu Taisha is located near the Kumano River (熊野川). Its original location used to be much closer to the river, but because of the flood in 1889 it has been moved farther away.
The turquois-ish color of the Kumano River is extremely beautiful! If you have some extra time, I recommend walking along the river.
In fact, the river is also par of the UNESCO World Heritage “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountains Range” because it’s used as part of the Nakahechi Pilgrimage Trail and was also an object of worship in ancient times.
If you access Hongu Taisha by bus, you’ll also get beautiful views of the Kumano River.
There are many different activities you can do like kayaking.
Last but not least I want to mention that there are several onsen (hot springs) in the area. If you visit Kumano Hongu Taisha, then you might want to stop by Yunomine, Kawayu or Wataze Onsen. Some of the buses will stop there, but it will be much easier if you have a car.