Region
Kansai
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Wakayama
Population
1,069,839

Kumano Sanzan (Three Grand Shrines of Kumano)

Partake in ancient tradition by making a pilgrimage to three of Japan’s most important shrines.

Kumano Sanzan is a trio of revered Shinto shrines situated in the Kumano region of southern Japan. The shrines’ importance stems from the fact that they lie deep in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture’s Kii Mountain Range, an area sometimes called the land of the gods.

Religious pilgrims have traveled between the three—Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha—via walking trails known as the Kumano Kodo for over 1,000 years. While the three shrines are most accessible by car or bus, walking the ancient pilgrimage road is a life-changing spiritual experience.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Kumano Sanzan in Wakayama Japan

Photo by: puffyjet Hayatama Taisha, one of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano.

Kumano shrines, holy places dedicated to this sacred area, are located all over Japan. The Kumano Sanzan, however, are the headquarters of the unique sect of nature worship combining Shintoism and Buddhism popularized in the area.

History of the Kumano Sanzan

The Kumano Sanzan shrine complexes were likely constructed between the sixth and ninth centuries as places of nature worship. Though their locations have remained roughly intact since then, remodeling and reconstruction have been necessary over the years.

kumano kodo

Photo by: Xavi Every year on July 14, portable shrines at Nachi Taisha are set on fire during the Nachi Fire Festival.

In the 11th century, the Kumano Sanzan became a pilgrimage destination for the Imperial family.

By the late 15th century, however, the majority of pilgrims to Kumano were civilians—monks traveling for religious purposes, artists looking for inspiration, and other common folk. The pilgrimage was so popular people began to refer to the long processions as the “Kumano ant pilgrimage.” If you thought congested foot traffic at tourist sites like Mt. Fuji was a new phenomenon in Japan, think again!

The Kumano Sanzan today

Hongu Taisha of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in Wakayama, Japan

Photo by: Nicolas Anglade Hongu Taisha.

Modern development has crept into the sacred Kumano region, covering parts of pilgrimage trails with paved highways and replacing ancient forests with towns and cities. Yet, large areas remain untouched by modern infrastructure making the journey to the three shrines much like it was centuries ago.

Let's Get Spiritual

As the main shrine of the Kumano Sanzan, Hongu Taisha is dedicated to Amaterasu, the sun goddess and Shinto’s most important deity. References to Hongu Taisha go back to the ninth century, although the shrine was likely constructed much earlier.

Due to flooding in 1889, however, Hongu Taisha was moved from its original location to its present site about a kilometer away. The tallest torii (shrine gate) in Japan towers over the entrance at 33m (108ft) high.

Oyu no Hara Torii Gate on the Kumano Kodo trail

Photo by: Anders Lanzen The tallest torii gate in Japan greets pilgrims along their journey.

One of Japan’s most breathtaking sights is a vermillion at Nachi Taisha standing in front of the nation’s tallest waterfall, Nachi no Taki. The splendid view (as seen in the photo at the top of this page) draws many visitors and photographers annually. Nachi Taisha is also conveniently located nearby the coastal onsen resort of Katsuura. If traveling to the shrines on foot via the Kumano Kodo trail, this is a nice place to relax your tired feet.

Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine

Nachi Taisha.

Hayatama Taisha has occupied the same riverside spot since at least the 12th century, though a Shinto creation myth claims that three gods first descended to Earth in the area many centuries earlier. Sacred rocks and trees touched by these deities remain sites of worship. The shrine is also home to a museum housing a myriad of National Treasures.

The Kumano Sanzan and Kumano Kodo are considered a UNESCO World Heritage as sacred sites in Japan.

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Trivia

Let's Get Spiritual

While you're in Wakayama, don’t miss the chance to experience an overnight temple stay on Mount Koya, one of Japan's holiest Buddhist sanctuaries.

More

How To Get There

Address

1110 Hongucho Hongu, Tanabe, Wakayama 647-1731, Japan

By train

The closest station to the Kumano Sanzan is JR Shingu Station on the Nanki Line. For Hayatama Taisha, you can walk from Shingu Station in about 15 minutes. To reach Nachi and Hongu Taisha you’ll have to transfer to a local bus.

By bus

Highway buses connect the towns around the Kumano Sanzan to nearby cities like Osaka and Koyasan. Check the Kumano Kodo’s official website for bus timetables.

By foot

You can hike to Kumano Sanzan on the Kumano Kodo ancient pilgrimage trails. Read our guide to hiking the Kumano Kodo to find out how.

Where To Stay

Kumano Backpackers
  • Hongu 159-1 Tanabe-Shi, Wakayama 647-1731
  • 8.5/10
  • 0.1 km
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Hoshi no Jikan
  • 406-1 Hongu, Hongucho Tanabe-Shi, Wakayama 647-1731
  • 9.5/10
  • 0.4 km
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Tsuki no Akari
  • Hongucho Hongu 1309-3 Tanabe-Shi, Wakayama 647-1731
  • 0.7 km
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J-Hoppers Kumano Yunomine Guesthouse
  • Hongu-cho Yunomine 161 Tanabe-Shi, Wakayama 647-1732
  • 9.5/10
  • 1.9 km
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