THEMES

World Heritage: The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes

Kumano, the spiritual heartland of Japan has stood the test of time. The Kumano Kodo is one of only two pilgrimage World Heritage Sites globally. Its history stretches back over a thousand years.

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The History

For millennia the mountainous region of Kumano has been thought to be the mythical “holy ground where gods dwell.” During the Heian period (794 - 1185), the Imperial household and court made the 30 to 40 day arduous journey from the ancient capital of Kyoto to this remote area, in search of heaven on earth. It is here that Kumano Sanzan, the three grand shrines and Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple, were established.

The History

For millennia the mountainous region of Kumano has been thought to be the mythical “holy ground where gods dwell.” During the Heian period (794 - 1185), the Imperial household and court made the 30 to 40 day arduous journey from the ancient capital of Kyoto to this remote area, in search of heaven on earth. It is here that Kumano Sanzan, the three grand shrines and Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple, were established.

From Japan’s Emperors to The World

During the early days of the Heian period, the Kumano faith would filter down from the imperial family and aristocracy, spreading to the samurai warrior class, and beyond. So many people came, that the pilgrimage came to be known as the “march of the ants to Kumano.” The Kumano faith was unique in Japan because it was open to everyone regardless of class or sex, also welcoming the disabled. Today, there are about 3,000 Kumano Shrines in Japan.

From Japan’s Emperors to The World

During the early days of the Heian period, the Kumano faith would filter down from the imperial family and aristocracy, spreading to the samurai warrior class, and beyond. So many people came, that the pilgrimage came to be known as the “march of the ants to Kumano.” The Kumano faith was unique in Japan because it was open to everyone regardless of class or sex, also welcoming the disabled. Today, there are about 3,000 Kumano Shrines in Japan.

Kumano Sanzan

The sacred sites collectively known as Kumano Sanzan, are Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine (Shingu), Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine and neighboring Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple (Nachi-Katsuura), and Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine (Tanabe). The region’s landscape and sacred sites, are often described as possessing mysterious auras. These characteristics are said to have been influenced by their differing origins, and worship practices around the natural world. Despite these differences, that also manifest architecturally, resolutely they continue to exist harmoniously with their environments, and leave visitors markedly impressed.

Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine

Kumano Sanzan

The sacred sites collectively known as Kumano Sanzan, are Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine (Shingu), Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine and neighboring Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple (Nachi-Katsuura), and Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine (Tanabe). The region’s landscape and sacred sites, are often described as possessing mysterious auras. These characteristics are said to have been influenced by their differing origins, and worship practices around the natural world. Despite these differences, that also manifest architecturally, resolutely they continue to exist harmoniously with their environments, and leave visitors markedly impressed.

Shinbutsu-shugo

Kumano Sanzan combined the Shinto and Buddhist faiths into one, known as Shinbutsu-shugo (literally the convergence of Buddhism and Shinto). The notion that deities (kami) are present in all things on the earth is deeply embedded into Japanese culture from ancient times. White paper folded into the shape of lightning and hung at shrines delineate areas where kami are believed to preside. When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, Shinto deities were identified with the different forms of the Buddha, to create Shinbutsu-shugo.

Shinbutsu-shugo

Kumano Sanzan combined the Shinto and Buddhist faiths into one, known as Shinbutsu-shugo (literally the convergence of Buddhism and Shinto). The notion that deities (kami) are present in all things on the earth is deeply embedded into Japanese culture from ancient times. White paper folded into the shape of lightning and hung at shrines delineate areas where kami are believed to preside. When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, Shinto deities were identified with the different forms of the Buddha, to create Shinbutsu-shugo.

The Pilgrimage Routes

Over the past ten centuries, people from all levels of society have journeyed to the tranquil Kii Mountains, following many pilgrimage routes to the revered Kumano Sanzan Shrines. The various paths are known collectively as the Kumano Kodo. The seven routes are the Nakahechi (the main route), Ohechi, Kohechi, Iseji, the Choishi-michi Route which links the sacred Shingon Buddhist Koyasan to the Kumano Shrines, and the Yoshino & Omine route, an isolated treacherous mountain trail reserved for ascetic practices by the Shugendo sect, and one recommended only for expert hikers. In 2004, the majority of these routes – excluding a modern route called the Kiiji – were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Pilgrimage Routes

Over the past ten centuries, people from all levels of society have journeyed to the tranquil Kii Mountains, following many pilgrimage routes to the revered Kumano Sanzan Shrines. The various paths are known collectively as the Kumano Kodo. The seven routes are the Nakahechi (the main route), Ohechi, Kohechi, Iseji, the Choishi-michi Route which links the sacred Shingon Buddhist Koyasan to the Kumano Shrines, and the Yoshino & Omine route, an isolated treacherous mountain trail reserved for ascetic practices by the Shugendo sect, and one recommended only for expert hikers. In 2004, the majority of these routes – excluding a modern route called the Kiiji – were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

World Heritage

On July 7, 2004, the three sacred shrine sites, Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple, and the arterial pilgrimage routes, were designated as World Heritage Sites as the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” The site includes the Kumano Sanzan and Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture, and Yoshino & Omine in Nara Prefecture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site designation states that these sites form a cultural landscape that reflect the fusion of Shintoism and Buddhism, and a persistent and well-documented tradition of sacred mountains maintained over 1200 years.

World Heritage

On July 7, 2004, the three sacred shrine sites, Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple, and the arterial pilgrimage routes, were designated as World Heritage Sites as the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” The site includes the Kumano Sanzan and Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture, and Yoshino & Omine in Nara Prefecture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site designation states that these sites form a cultural landscape that reflect the fusion of Shintoism and Buddhism, and a persistent and well-documented tradition of sacred mountains maintained over 1200 years.

Kumano Kodo and the Way of St. James (Spain)

Kumano Kodo and The Way of St. James are the only two World Heritage UNESCO-listed pilgrimage routes. As sister pilgrimages, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan and Galicia Province, Spain have officially twinned to develop friendly relations between regions and countries, and contribute to world peace and development. Though Kumano Kodo is located in the East, while the Way of St. James that leads to Galicia’s Santiago de Compostela Cathedral – one of the three holiest sites of Catholicism – is located in the West, both ancient roads testify to a parallel history of faith, originating in the early 10th century.

Kumano Kodo and the Way of St. James (Spain)

Kumano Kodo and The Way of St. James are the only two World Heritage UNESCO-listed pilgrimage routes. As sister pilgrimages, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan and Galicia Province, Spain have officially twinned to develop friendly relations between regions and countries, and contribute to world peace and development. Though Kumano Kodo is located in the East, while the Way of St. James that leads to Galicia’s Santiago de Compostela Cathedral – one of the three holiest sites of Catholicism – is located in the West, both ancient roads testify to a parallel history of faith, originating in the early 10th century.

Kumano Highlights

Sowohl Wanderer als auch Pilger können ihr Gepäck vorausschicken, während Sie zwischen den Kumano Sanzan-Schreinen auf den Kumano Kodo-Pilgerwegen unterwegs sind. Dieser Service ist auch für internationale Reisende, die mit Koffern unterwegs sind nützlich.

Das Wetter im südlichen Wakayama ist gemeinhin das ganze Jahr recht mild mit wenig Schnee. Der Januar ist der kälteste Monat, die Durchschnittstemperatur beträgt dann nur zwischen 3°C ~ 7°C. Die Temperaturen sind im August am höchsten, dann ist es zudem feucht, wohingegen Mai, Juni, September und Oktober gemäßigte Monate sind. In dieser Zeit, vor allem von Mai bis August regnet es am meisten.

Von Tanabe Stadt, der zweitgrößten Stadt der Präfektur, erreicht man den Kumano Kodo am einfachsten. Das Tourismusbüro in Tanabe hat einen Online-Dienst, der Ihnen helfen kann, Ihre Reise zu planen, angefangen bei den Reservierungen bis hin zur Auswahl eines Reiseleiters.

Die Pilgerwege erstrecken sich von 100–600 Höhenmetern und deswegen sind bequeme Wanderkleidung, Wanderschuhe und atmungsaktive Regenkleidung ebenso notwendig wie ein angemessener Vorrat an Wasser, ein Hut sowie ein Handtuch. Spazierstöcke können helfen, die Belastung in den Knien zu vermindern und sind an den meisten Ausgangspunkten des Weges erhältlich.

Der Kumano Kodo und der Jakobsweg haben ein gemeinsames Programm, des sogenannten “Dualen Pilger”. Diejenigen, die beide UNESCO-Pilgerwege gegangen sind, werden hier geehrt, gewürdigt und ihre Geschichte soll verbreitet werden. Sie können sich im Kumano Hongu Heritage Center oder in der Touristeninformation von Tanabe dafür registrieren.

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