Above: Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine
Wakayama and the Kumano River
The main shrine of Kumano, Kumano Hongu Taisha, has been a focal point for travellers for hundreds of years. The modern shrine sits high above the Kumano
River for good reason. In 1889 the river broke its banks destroying the original
shrine, except for the 30 metre high stone gates which can still be seen today.
Pilgrims once rafted down the mighty Kumano River and modern day travellers can follow in their wake by boating, rafting and kayaking along the world’s only UNESCO World Heritage listed river pilgrimage route.
The Mount Koya Temple Precinct
The scared temple precinct of Mount Koya, the home of esoteric Buddhism, is located on a plateau almost 900 metres above sea level. The deeply forested terrain is dotted with hundreds of temples and temple lodgings. Staying at these lodgings provides an insight into the daily life of a monastery and the chance to sample beautifully prepared vegetarian shojin ryori (temple food) traditionally eaten by pilgrims because of its cleansing properties. Visitors can also learn calligraphy from a Buddhist monk or attend morning services at the temple.
Waterfalls and Beaches
Another must-see is Nachi Shrine, located at the base of the spectacular Nachi Waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Japan. The southern part of Wakayama prefecture faces the ocean and the coastal town of Shirahama not only boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in Western Japan, but is also one of the oldest hot spring resorts in the country. When not enjoying glass bottom boat rides and visiting aquariums, visitors can sample delicious mandarins, persimmons and ume plums, for which the prefecture is famous, not to mention the local seafood.