KII PENINSULA

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Above: See of clouds in Kumano

APILGRIMAGE INTOTHEPAST

The Kumano Kodo, an ancient and intricate network of six pilgrimage trails traversing Japan’s mountainous Kii Peninsula, spans three provinces and thousands of years in history. With its spectacular gorges and mysterious shrines and temples, the Kumano Kodo offers modern day pilgrims the opportunity to experience the physical and spiritual landscapes of Japan.

For thousands of years pilgrims ranging from members of the Imperial family to well-heeled commoners have journeyed along the Kumano Kodo to visit the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano.

Historically, the return journey from Kyoto took over a month and consisted of long days spent traversing the mountain paths, interspersed with relaxing baths in the purifying waters of the Kii Peninsula’s many hot springs. Travellers also marvelled at natural wonders such as the Nachi Waterfall and worshipped at the many shrines and temples found along the way.

Although pilgrims were undoubtedly glad to reach their destination, the journey along the weathered stone paths of the Kumano Kodo was an important part of their experience. Fittingly, the pilgrimage trail itself has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the sacred temple precinct of Mount Koya and the Yoishino Omine area in Nara.

These days, the Kumano Kodo has been made accessible by modern transport and the availability of maps detailing well-defined trails which are suited to all
ages and levels of fitness.

The trail meanders through the three prefectures of the Kii Peninsula: Wakayama extending down the western side to the southern tip, Nara in the north and Mie in the north east, enabling travellers to sample the distinctive culture and cuisine of each region.

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Jewels of Japan’s history and nature

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World Heritage

In Japan there are 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites, reflecting their Zen Buddhist heritage and feudal past. These are best visited with a winter backdrop of snowy vistas, in the Autumn amid forests of red and orange leaves, or in the Spring when the Cherry Blossoms delight the eyes.

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1. Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage routes, Wakayama: Consists of six traditional pilgrimage trails along moss covered stone steps through Cypress forests leading to temples in Nara, the Three Grand Shrines and the religious hub of Mount Koya.

2. Horyu-ji Buddhist Monuments, Nara: A five-storey pagoda that’s one of the oldest wooden structures in the world
and a time-capsule of Buddhist art.

3. Ancient Nara: Six temples including “Todaiji”, with the world’s biggest bronze statue of Buddha.

4. Kyoto: The ancient capital with the original Zen rock garden and the Golden and Silver Pavillions.

5. Himeiji Castle, Hyogo. A spectacular feudal castle.

6. Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, Hiroshima: The famous red “Torii” gate in the sea in front of a sacred island.
7. Hiroshima Peace Park: A stark reminder of the destructive power of a nuclear weapon.

8. Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, Shimane: Once produced a third of the world’s silver.

9. Shirakawa & Kokayama Historic houses, Gifu: Traditional multi-generational cold-weather houses.

10. Nikko Temples, Tochigi: Lavishly decorated shrines.

11. Hiraizumi Temples, Iwate: “Pure Land” Buddhist temples and gardens from the eleventh century.

12. Sites in Ryukyu: Ruins blending styles from Japan, Korea and China in a once independent kingdom.

13. Shiretoko, Hokkaido: A north-west wilderness that’s a trekker’s paradise. See trout and salmon swarming upriver, ice floes in the winter, an active volcano and dramatic cliff waterfalls.

14. Shirakami-Sanchi, Aomori. A vast primeval forest with deep gorges and gushing rivers in summer.

15. Yakushima, Kagoshima. A mountainous island famous for having millennia-old cedar trees, and both coral and Alpine plants.

16. Ogasawa Islands. Remote Galapagoslike tropical islands reachable by a 25
hour ferry trip.