At a glance
Kumano and Ise has been sacred and spiritual place for Japanese people since prehistoric times. People travelled through a number of pilgrimage routes to the Kumano region searching for healing and salvation.
Explore Kumano's awe-inspriring nature and Japan's sprituality through majestic mountains, beautiful coastlines, unspoiled countryside and relaxing hot springs. You will find real Japan scenery cherished by thousands of pilgrims heading these sacred sites. These sites are still off-the-beaten for many travelers even after they are registered as UNESCO world heritages.
With limited public transportation, for those who would like to explore Kumano on a private basis but find it too much to keep walking for two weeks like ancient pilgrims, it is advised to plan efficiently by combining trains and private cars. Use of a private car would allow you to visit Koyasan, too.
Ise Jingu is the origin of Japanese spiritual faith and the most revered Shinto shrine. Surrounded by vast forested area, it consists of two main sanctuaries and 125 subsidiaries. The main sanctuaries are called Naiku (Inner shrine) and Geku (Outer shrine). In Naiku, the ancestral god of imperial family, Amaterasu Omikami (the goddess of sun), is enshrined. Both Naiku and Geku are entirely rebuilt every twenty years using ancient architectural style, and the next time will take place in 2013. As many people have made a pilgrimage to Ise Jingu since ancient times, neighbor villages have bustled with pilgrims.
Okage Yokocho, reconstructed houses and streets in front of Naiku, brings you back in old days when worshippers enjoyed local foods and shopping.
Shima, south of Ise, has a beautiful coastline. The unique landscape is created by a rugged bay coastline and floating rafts used for culturing pearl. This cultural landscape is said to be particuraly beautiful when seen with sunset.
This unique nature offers fresh unique seafood such as Ise ebi lobster, abalone, oyster and more.
Kumano, located in a pristine nature of Kii peninsula, has been the origin of Japanese spirituality over years.
Kumano Sanzan (Kumano three Grand Shrines, Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha) has been the main sites of worship. In Kumano, where nature has been the object of worship, shrines and temples are in perfect harmony with surrounding nature. At Kumano Nachi Taisha and Seiganto-ji, you can see the beautiful Nachi no Otaki (Nachi falls).
Kumano Kodo (Kumano Sankeimichi) are pilgrimage routes leading to Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the three Kumano Sanzan shrines.
Kumano Kodo was registered as UNESCO World Heritage in 2004 as part of "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range" with the other sacred cultural sites such as Koyasan, Yoshino and Omine.
Some routes are suitable for light hiking, and others have continuous mountain peaks as well as steep stone steps covered with moss in dense forests. Nakahechi pilgrimage route has been the most popular route.
Along the trail, you will encounter beautiful Japan's countryside scenery, local lifestyle and warm welcome by local people.
Travelers can take a glimpse into the old beautiful Japan here in Kumano.
Kumano is also home to sacred Onsen (hot spring) which have been believed to cure the disease of pilgrims.
Yunomine Onsen is a quiet small onsen hot spring town. Hot springs, including Tuboyu which is said to be the oldest common hot spring bath in Japan, ryokans and a local temple are situated along the river. Yunomine Onsen has a long history since it was discovered 1,800 years ago. Yunomine Onsen has purified and cured the body and spirit of pilgrims who walked through long journey to come to Kumano Hongu Taisha, which is nearby from the onsen. When you visit Kumano area, staying in Yunomine's small traditional luxury ryokan to feel rejuvenated is highly recommended.
Dainichi Goe pilgrimage route is a short but steep trail from Yunomine to Kumano Hongu Taisha.
Gourmet and Shopping
Ise and Kumano, both situated in the nature of Kii peninsula are blessed with fresh delicacies from the ocean and land.
Lobster is a byword for luxury food in Japan, called "Ise ebi" in Japanese. As you can imagine, the name is derived from Ise city. Other fresh seafood such as oysters and abalone will also fascinate you.
In addition to seafood, Matsusaka beef, considered as one of the best and beautifully marbled beef brands in Japan, can be enjoyed in Matsusaka city situated north of Ise.
Ise and Toba is best known as Japan's pearl producing area. Visit Toba, neighbor town of Ise, where Kokichi Mikimoto developed the world's first cultured pearls.