Pilgrimage at the Kumano Kodo

The Kumano Kodo is a trail winding through a forest south of Osaka and Kyoto.
One of the reasons the trek feels otherworldly—you might walk through the woods for an entire day without seeing another person. It is a stark contrast from the crowds of tourists hiking Mount Fuji, nearly 300 miles away.

It’s impossible to forget the Shinto origins of this route when every couple hundred yards is another crumbling stone deity or Oji shrine. From moss-covered stones forming makeshift stairs on the mountainside to wooden bridges smooth with decades of use, not much has changed on the trail. There are early recorded visits to this region by Emperor Uda (907) and Emperor Kazan (986 and 987) but the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage became more broadly popular in the 11th century.

The pilgrimage centers around the Three Grand Shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. The Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine epitomizes Kumano’s distinct synthesis of nature and temple. Long before the shrine was constructed, this area was already considered holy because pilgrims came to worship at Nachi Falls, one of Japan’s most famous waterfalls. The Grand Shrine and Seiganto-ji, a three-story red pagoda, were subsequently built to give these pilgrims houses of worship.

The Seigantoji Pagoda, with the Nachi-no-taki waterfall as a backdrop.
The Seigantoji Pagoda, with the Nachi-no-taki waterfall as a backdrop.