The Kumano region in Wakayama Prefecture is famous for the Kumano Pilgrimage Trails that lead to the Kumano Sanzan – the three Grand Shrines of Kumano. One of them is the Kumano Nachi Taisha.
Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine (熊野那智大社) also known as “Nachi-san” is located at a height of ~350m on Mt. Nachi on the Kii Peninsula of Wakayama Prefecture (map). Together with the other two Grand Shrines of Kumano (Hayatama Taisha and Hongu Taisha) and the Kumano Pilgrimage Trails it’s registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nachi-san is also connected through a pilgrimage path to the sacred Koya-san which is in Wakayama Prefecture as well.
Access to Kumano Nachi Taisha
There are several ways to approach Nachi Taisha. You can get off right in front of the shrine’s base (bus stop “Nachi-san”), the waterfall (bus stop “Taki-mae”) or a little bit further down at a bus stop called “Daimonzaka” (大門坂) which literally translates to “big gate slope”. This is what I chose to do and it’s the most scenic way to get to the shrine. I recommend this approach!
The map says it’s about 1.2km up to Kumano Nachi Taisha. If you’re short on time, then maybe you should get off in front of the shrine instead.
Some people prefer approaching wearing the original pilgrims’ clothes.
It’s also something tourists can do. You can rent a costume and take photos with Daimonzaka in the background.
In the photo above you see Becky, a celebrity on TV in Japan.
As you can see I visited on November 4th in the year 24 (Heisei 24 = 2012).
Daimonzaka is surrounded by impressive and very old cedar trees. It’s part of the Kumano Pilgrimage Trail, so you can experience walking on the original pilgrimage path. However, it’s rather short with just ~600m and 267 stairs (you can even count them if you want).
Here you can find a few maps and more information.
Some of the trees were really gigantic. Prepare to take much longer than you thought because you’ll stop and stare and / or take photos quite often on your way!
Kumano Nachi Taisha was originally built near the Great Falls of Nachi and is said to have been moved in 317 to its present location. Since ancient times people worshiped the waterfall as a deity.
Here you can see the main hall of Kumano Nachi Taisha.
While entrance to the shrine grounds is free, there’s also a treasure hall, but you’ll have to pay 300yen.
The ema (wooden wishing plaque) of Nachi-san features the Great Nachi Waterfall.
That’s the view you’ll get once you’ve made it up to Nachi Taisha. As you can see there are a lot of stairs!
On the right you can see a photo of the shrine seal book of Kumano Nachi Taisha. As I ran out of empty pages in my old book, I bought this one. It looks great with the waterfall in the background!
The Kumano Sanzan – the three Grand Shrines of Kumano – are connected through the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trails and are apart 20-40km from each other. They all were originally strictly following Shinto traditions, but later adopted the Shinto-Buddhist fusion of deities.
Due to that fusion there are two temples that are also closely related to Kumano Nachi Taisha:
Seigantoji Temple (青岸渡寺) and Nachi Taisha are seen as one religious institution.
The temple is part of the Nachi Shrine complex and is thus one of the few Jingu-ji (shrine temples).
Originally it was founded as a Tendai Buddhist temple in the early 5th century, possibly by an Indian monk. In 2004 Seigantoji Temple was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range“.
Furthermore it’s also the first stop of the “33 Temples Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage“.
The other related temple is Fudarakusanji (補陀洛山寺) which is also a Tendai Buddhist temple. However, it’s located near Nachi Station and thus is separate from the Nachi Shrine complex.
If you access by train and get off at Nachi Station, then you can reach this temple in a few minutes. Actually you can already see it from the station!
But let’s go back to the Nachi Shrine complex as there’s so much to discover like this monk statue.
You’ll have great views from the shrine complex as it’s halfway up the mountains. From this point on you can also see the waterfall which is another ~15mins walk from there.
This is probably one of the most popular views of Kumano Nachi Taisha.
As a pagoda it isn’t really part of a shrine, but as mentioned earlier you can observe the Shinto-Buddhism fusion very well here. The pagoda is part of Seigantoji Temple.
You can enter the pagoda and from the top floor you’ll have a great view of the Nachi Waterfall.
The pagoda with the waterfall in the background is the most photographed scenery of the Kumano Sanzan.
Hiryu Shrine’s gate marks the entrance to the Nachi Falls.
Nachi no Taki (那智滝) is the tallest waterfall in Japan (height: 133m / 400 feet; width: 13m / 40 feet).
It has been worshiped by people since ancient times. The Nachi Waterfall is believed to be inhabited by a god called Hiryu Gongen (飛滝権現).
The falls are also used for ascetic training by monks.
On July 14th the annual “Nachi-no-Hi Matsuri” (Nachi Fire Festival) is held. People celebrate the god coming back to its original place, the Nachi Waterfall. It is certainly a divine event that I’d love to see with my own eyes some day.
The photo above was taken in April. I found it in the information center at Nachi Station. As you can see it’s worth a visit at any time of the year!