The land of the gods
Wakayama prefecture is the spectacular, spiritual heart of Japan.
Just a couple of hours south of the electric city of Osaka, there’s a place where ancient pathways lead to hidden shrines shrouded in mist; where monks worship waterfalls and mystical forests float.
The mountains here are a sacred dwelling for the gods, known for their restorative powers, while healing onsen (hot spring baths) merge with clear waters along the saw-tooth coast.
The sacred sites of Wakayama
Mount Koya is the easiest of these sacred sites to access from Kansai’s major cities, though reaching the misty mountaintop feels like entering another realm. Among the collection of ancient temples nestled along the wooded slopes, many offer overnight stays where you can experience life as a monk. Attend morning prayers and eat vegan Buddhist meals as you follow the pathway towards enlightenment.
All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails lead to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in the mountains of southeastern Wakayama. You can visit all three shrines in one day but it’s worth staying longer for a chance to heal your body and mind in Kumano’s holy waters.
A 1,800-year-old discovery, Yunomine is one of Japan’s oldest hot spring towns and a key stopping point on the Kumano Kodo route. Pilgrims would come here to purify themselves before worshipping at the shrines.
A Guide to Hiking the Kumano Kodo
The incredibly-atmospheric Nachi Taisha shrine stands in front of Nachi waterfall which shrouds the shrine in its godly vapor. You’ll struggle to take a bad photo, but make sure your camera is waterproof. Hayatama Taisha shrine in the town of Shingu is home to a 1,000-year-old tree and a large floating forest that you can feel moving underneath you as you walk.
Katsuura along the coast leading down to the Shionomisaki Cape is onsen galore. Shirahama is another popular onsen resort with a gorgeous white sand beach and plenty of places to stay. You’ll be spoiled for choice.
Discover this ancient holy land at the locations below.