Hidden deep inside cedar and cypress forests, surrounded by hilltop villages, Kumano Kodo is a pilgrimage route in the southern Kansai region of Japan. Today, it remains popular with pilgrims, who walk the same path – a six-day trek – trod upon by emperors of ancient Kyoto almost 1,000 years ago.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, it’s one of only two pilgrimages in the world to have been granted this status – the other being Spain’s Way of St James. Small shrines, temples and waterfalls punctuate this network of seven hiking paths, which snake through the remote Kii mountain range in Wakayama prefecture.
The starting point of Kumano Kodo is the secluded temple precinct of Koyasan, also known as Mount Koya, about 90 minutes by train from Osaka. More than 3,000 residents live in the town, most of whom eke out a living through farming or running small inns. Travellers can also stay overnight in shukubo (temple lodgings) and get a taste of a monk’s lifestyle, eating shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cooking) and praying.
Danjo Garan, one of the holiest sites on Koyasan, is a temple complex made up of about 20 structures, including Shinto torii gates and pagodas. The mountain also houses the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism, founded by 9th-century monk Kobo Daishi.
Hongu Taisha is the first shrine on the trail followed by Hayatama Taisha, which is home to an 800-year-old nagi tree believed to have talismanic properties. The last grand shrine, Nachi Taisha, is perched majestically atop a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
– TEXT BY JESSICA SMITH
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.