- A Winter Sight to Behold: Nachi Falls of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail
- What is the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail?
- Day Trip to Nachi Falls: Walking the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail
- 1. Walking the “Daimonzaka” of Kumano Kodo
- 2. The Long Stairway to Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
- 3. Visiting Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
- 4. Seigantoji shrine & the Three-Storied Pagoda by Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
- 5. Arriving at Nachi Falls - A Grand Waterfall in the Crisp Winter Air
Kumano Kodo is a must-walk spot to visit at least once when traveling to Wakayama prefecture.
Many people may feel hesitation, since the pilgrimage path of Kumano Kodo is known to be challenging. If this is the case for you, there is no need to worry.
This time, we will be introducing the "Beginner's Course" of Kumano Kodo, which goes from from Daimonzaka to Nachi Falls.
Although Kumano Kodo is open for walking throughout the year, a visit to the "Nachi Falls" is especially recommended in the winter.
The beauty of a waterfall roaring surrounded by an environment full of calm nature and clear air is a spectacular view, which can't be seen anywhere else.
This article is an actual report of me walking through the Daimonzaka - Nachi Falls route.On the way, we will also touch on points to be aware of when walking Kumano Kodo during winter.
A Winter Sight to Behold: Nachi Falls of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail
The three-storied pagoda and Nachi Falls seen at the foot of Mt. Nachisan
Nachi Falls is a waterfall located in Nachikatsuura-cho, Higashimuro-gun of Wakayama prefecture.
The mouth of the waterfall is 13m wide, and with the fall from the top to the basin being 133m, it is known for having the largest drop altitude in Japan.
The powerfulness of the waterfall can be felt even when seen from a distance, making it one of the Three Great Waterfalls of Japan along with "Kegon Falls" of Nikko city in Tochigi prefecture, and "Fukuroda no Taki" of Daigo-machi in Ibaraki prefecture.
The Nachi Fall is worshipped as a sacred object of Hirou Shrine, an associated shrine of the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, and it is said that you will receive blessings of longevity when touching splashes of water from the fall.
The divine looks of the waterfall is further enhanced during winter, as it stands out even more when its splashes scatter through the cold air.
On this trip, we head to the Nachi Falls via the Kumano Kodo, which is also known as a part of the world heritage "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range".
Although Kumano Kodo consists of several walking courses, we will use a 2.7km route starting from "Daimonzaka" to "Nachi Falls" this time, since it is considered an optimal route for hiking beginners.
Let's relive the ordeals gone through by the religious people of both the past and modern, by actually walking on this sacred path.
What is the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail?
Kumano Kodo passes through the cedar forest of Mount Nachi
The three grand shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha are known as the "Kumano Sanzan" (three mountains of Kumano), and the pilgrimage trail leading to these shrine is called the "Kumano Kodo", or "Kumano Sankeimichi".
The path has long been believed to be a place where gods dwell, and was therefore used for training by those who put faith in mountain worship.
Walking through the Kumano Kodo with you own feet while closely engaging with the nature of the mountains was also considered a process of training for mountain worshippers.
The Kumano Kodo consists of the following six roads.
＊紀伊路(Kii-ji): A route passing through Osaka prefecture and Wakayama city, leading to Tanabe city of Wakayama prefecture
＊小辺路(Kohechi): A route crossing the Kii Mountains extending north and south from Mt. Koyasan, leading to Kumano Hongu Taisha
＊中辺路(Nakahechi): A path starting from Tanabe city of Wakayama prefecture, leading to Kumano Hayatama Taisha while passing by Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha
＊大辺路(Oohechi): A coastal road connecting Tanabe city of Wakayama prefecture and Nachikatsuura-cho
＊伊勢路(Iseji): Starts from Ise Jingu and ends at the Kumano Hayatama Taisha
＊大峯奥駈道(Oomine-Okugake Michi): A route across Mt. Oomine-san connecting the Yoshino region of southern Nara prefecture and Kumano
The waterfall route from Daimonzaka to Nachi Falls, introduced in this article, is part of the Nakahechi course.
Although the "Kumano Kodo" as a pilgrimage trail includes all of these six routes, it often refers to the Nakahechi trail when used as a term in Sightseeing.
Day Trip to Nachi Falls: Walking the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail
The steep and unmaintained road of Daimonzaka, Kumano Kodo
You should note that you will need moderate equipment even when walking through the beginner's course of Kumano Kodo. Just from the fact that it has been used as a place of training since ancient times, you should not underestimate the difficulty of this path.
If you’re imagining a somewhat leisurely-like stroll, you will definitely face a severe reality once you start walking.
The route we will introduce in this article will also include a climb up "Mt. Nachisan" of Kumano. You should consider it not as a walk, but as a trekking activity, and prepare for your trip accordingly.
Preparing for the Pilgrimage: What to bring to the Kumano Kodo Trail
Suitable equipment for walking the Kumano Kodo Trail include long-sleeve wear, hats, and backpacks.
Comfortable, form-fitting Clothes made from stretchable material is desirable.
To avoid unnecessary sweating, you should wear several thin layers of clothes. This way, you will be able to finely adjust your body temperature according to your comfort .
Innerwears made of quick-drying materials
As your sweat cools down, it can quickly drain your body heat and strength. To avoid this, quick-drying inner wear is preferred.
You should especially keep this in mind and take precautions against the cold when walking in winter.
Thick, tight-fitting socks and shoes
If possible, both shoes and socks should be those made for hiking purposes.
Choose thick socks which comfortably fit your feet, along with shoes of the right size that are neither too tight or too loose. Needless to say, high heels are not acceptable.
High-cut shoes which cover and protect your ankles are recommended, since it makes walking easier, lessens fatigue, and prevents injury.
Let us also check over other pieces of equipment you might need for the trek.
Parts of the equipment we’ve used in this actual walk (Glove, neckwarmer, drinking water, shoes)
It comes in handy when wiping sweat or washing your hands.
You should bring an adequate amount of drinking water since frequent hydration is important.
It is convenient if you bring a bottle that can be attached to your belt.
A Walking Stick
Since the path is quite steep, sticks or stocks used for climbing and walking in mountains will make the trip easier for people lacking leg strength.
Although walking sticks are available for rent at several spots in Kumano Kodo, there are risks of it being already rented and out of stock. Therefore it may be better off for you to prepare one of your own if you want to be certain.
We recommend bringing gGloves for two main reasons. The first is to prevent injury when staggering or falling on your hands, and the second is for protecting your hands from getting cold.
Cotton work gloves are recommended since prices are reasonable.
You can put garbage into a plastic bag anywhere and anytime so that you can take it home after your trip.
It's also good for putting wet clothes and towels.
This is also an important equipment since rucksacks allow you to keep all luggage in a small pack and carry it with both of your hands open at all times.
Whenever possible, it is better to keep your hands empty to conserve energy.
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Begins! The first stop is "Daimonzaka"
The Nadeshiko Japan Memorial Monument standing inside the Daimonzaka parking lot
To start our trip, we will firstly board a bus departing from Kii-Katsuura Station on the JR Line, and get off at the "Daimonzaka" bus stop after a 30 minute ride.
At the parking lot across the road from the bus stop, a memorial monument of the Japanese national women's soccer team "Nadeshiko Japan" stands., This monument was designed based on the team’s crow symbol.
A map of the Kumano Kodo and a toilet is near the monument, so be sure to check the route whilst stopping by at the toilet if needed.Once you start climbing Daimonzaka, there are none available until you complete your walk.
As you walk further in the direction of the bus you boarded, you will see the entrance of the Daimonzaka on your left.
The official path of Kumano Kodo begins here, welcoming you with a steep uphill immediately.
The entrance of Daimonzaka. We will finally start our walk on Kumano Kodo.
We advise doing warm-up exercises at the parking lot, especially for people who don't exercise regularly.
This is because the muscles used during walking on flat surfaces, and those used while climbing up and down on hills and stairs are completely different, and lack of preparation may lead to early tiredness or injuries.
Before starting to walk, make sure that your muscles are relaxed and your body is warm enough.
1. Walking the “Daimonzaka” of Kumano Kodo
A red Furigase-bashi bridge can be seen behind the stone torii
After walking for about 5 minutes from the entrance of Daimonzaka, you will encounter a stone Torii gate and a red bridge known as Furigase-bashi, which is said to be the boundary between the current world and the sanctuary. It is acknowledged as a place for training, where the world in which the gods live exist on the other side of the bridge.
Soon after walking past Furigase-bashi stands the "Daimonzaka Chaya", and a stamp of Tafuke Ouji is installed here.
A stamp of Tafuke Ouji on the side of Daimonzaka Chaya
The term "Ouji" used here does not stand for the general Japanese meaning of "Prince", but refers to "A place to perform rituals on the road to making a pilgrimage".
Similarly, an ouji called "Kujyuku-ouji" also exists at the Kiiji and the Nakahechi of the Kumano Kodo, and the term "Kujyuku" in this case too, does not refer to the number 99 in Japanese. It has a rather abstract meaning standing for "Alot", which is interpreted as any number above 99.
In fact, the Kujyuku Ouji actually consists of 101 shrines and not 99, with the Tafuki Ouji being acknowledged as the last one on the list.
After walking past the Daimonzaka Chaya, a giant cedar tree standing on both sides of the road will catch your eye.
Known as the Meoto Sugi, this 800-year-old cedar tree lined up on both sides is 55m high in height and 8.5m long in tree trunk circumference. Its magnificent appearance looks as if it is a gate inviting you deeper into the Kumano Kodo.
The giant cedars lined next to each other is called the Meoto Sugi. It is also a popular photo spot.
Once past the Meoto Sugi, a forest landscape continues until you reach the top of Daimonzaka.
I felt my body gradually warm and sweat as I walked, but the clear atmosphere of the winter mountain gave my face a refreshing cold touch.
Although the road of Daimonzaka is made from stone, the size of them along with the height of the steps are all unequal, making the path uneven and unflat.
If you feel tired from walking, don't push yourself too much and try advancing little by little.
Also, never forget to hydrate yourself frequently, even if it’s winter.
2. The Long Stairway to Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
The stairway of the pilgrimage path extends endlessly
You will see a highway upon arriving at the top of Daimonzaka. Pass through a path on the side of a private house, you are finally a short distance away from the Kumano Nachi Taisha.
If you look in the indicated direction of the sign above you, you will see a seemingly endless flight of stairs.
The stair consists of 470 steps in total, and a landing is built after every 40 steps or so along with benches made available for a short break, so you can climb slowly at your own pace.
Walking on flat ground at this point, in the rest spaces, cools down the sweat on your skin.
Although Nachikatsuura-cho is located around the southernmost tip of the Honshu Mainland and is a relatively warm region in Japan, the winter air is still quite cold.
3. Visiting Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
The ichi no torii at the Kumano Nachi Taisha. The stairway still continues from here.
You will encounter a red colored "Ichino Torii" at the top of the stairs, to find nothing more than the absence of the worship hall, and even more steps continuing endlessly.
When passing through the second Nino Torii, you have finally arrived at the shrine grounds of the Kumano Nachi Taisha.
By heading right from the torii gate, a majestic worship hall will jump into sight.
The worship hall of the Kumano Nachi Taisha colored beautifully in red
After climbing a total of 473 steps counting from the approach, I was finally allowed to meet with the god.
Although we tend to make wishes when speaking of worshipping in general, I found myself naturally saying words of gratitude when actually putting my hands together in front of the god. I thank them for their support in bringing me there, and for keeping me safe from injury.
A statue of the Yatagarasu stands in front of the Miagata Hikosha shrine
On the left hand side of the worship hall stands the Miagata Hikosha shrine.
The "Yatagarasu", a sacred three-legged crow known to serve as an angel of the Kumano deity is enshrined here.
It is a god who guides matters to the right direction, and is also a symbol of the Japan Football Association under the expectations of it to guide the soccer ball to the right goal.
The crow of the Nadeshiko Japan Memorial Monument you’ve seen inside the Daimonzaka parking lot is also a Yatagarasu.
A 850 year old giant camphor tree. You can enter to see the inside of it.
A giant camphor tree stands on the right side of the shrine.
This is the sacred tree of Shoureisha, which is 850 years old -- even older than the Meotosugi of Kumano Kodo, -- and has been watching over this place since the end of the Heian era.
The inside of the trunk is hollow, and you can enter inside to worship.
Homa sticks are available at the side of the torii, where you can pay 300 yen to write your name and walk through the sacred tree.
An offertory-box is also placed inside, so why not make a wish?
A large omikuji is available in front of the reception
Right next to the Shoreisha is a place offering Omikuji(100 yen) of the 3 shrines of Kumano Nachi Taisha / Miagata Hikosha / Shoreisha.
The omikuji is very big, so go ahead and purchase to tell your fortune.
4. Seigantoji shrine & the Three-Storied Pagoda by Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine
A statue of a Bosatsu crowned with glory, standing in front of the main hall of Seigantoji
After drawing the omikuji at Kumano Nachi Taisha and further walking to the right, you will notice that it is connected to the Seigantoji shrine.
You should visit the Nyoirin-kannon here, but one thing you should keep in mind is that at Seigantoji, you are not allowed to clap your hands. Clapping hands are used when visiting gods of Shinto, and not for Kannon of buddhism.
Watching the Seigantoji main hall from the Kumano Nachi Taisha side
When you finish your prayers, head to the innermost of the precincts by walking around the right hand side of the main hall. Here, you will finally see the Nachi Falls.
Although you can feel its grandness just by looking at it from Seigantoji, since you've come a long way to arrive so close, you should definitely visit the place of worship at the waterfall.
The path leading to the waterfall is a downward slope.
From here, you will descend the stone stairsteps until arriving at the Kumano Nachi Taisha Bestugu Hiro-jinja shrine, where the Nachi Fall is enshrined as a deity.
The footing of the stairs are unstable, since the steps are uneven just like in Daimonzaka.
You will see a three-storied pagoda of Seigantoji on your way, so don't forget to stop by.
The three-storied pagoda of Seigantoji. It is located a bit far away from the main hall.
The three-storied pagoda is 25m high, and enshrines the Hiro Gonge Honji Senjukannon separately from the main temple of Seiganji.
Not only can you receive the Goshuin here, but you can also appreciate a beautiful view of the Nachi Falls from the observatory deck located at the upper floor.
5. Arriving at Nachi Falls - A Grand Waterfall in the Crisp Winter Air
Meeting with the deity in front of the temple office of Hiro Jinjya
By further descending until you arrive at the "Nachi-no-Taki-mae" bus stop, the torii of the Hiro Jinjya stands.
Pass through the torii and walk down the steps to encounter the Nachi Fall right in front of you.
The powerful flow and sound that shake the cold winter air, are truly magnificent.
A reception is located on the left side of the waterfall, and by paying an entrance fee of 300 yen, you can access the "Waterfall Worship Place" to watch it even closer.
The impressive scenery of the waterfall becomes even more divine and overwhelming close by.
The water of the fall pouring from the dragon’s mouth is said to have blessings of longevity
A water place is available just before the worship place, where you can appreciate the "Waterfall Water of Longevity".
From paying 100 yen as a ceremony fee, you will be allowed to drink the fall's water. The god here is enshrined in the water itself, so drinking it means to accept him into you. That does seem like the kind of thing needed to gain longer life.
If you climb the stairs a bit from the water place, you will arrive at a stage-shaped worship place.
This is the spot where you can get the most closest to the god of Hiro Jinjya, the Nachi Falls.
The waterfall with the largest elevation difference and water gauge in Japan will approach you with roaring water sounds, vibrating air, and splashes twinkling under the sunlight.
The Nachi Fall seen from the worship place
The cold of the water along with the tense winter atmosphere will surround your body with the dignity of the sanctuary and a refreshed feel.
The breathtaking scenery made me feel as if the Nachi Falls wiped out the hardship and the fatigue built up after the long trek to get there.
A Mystical Journey from Kumano Kodo to Nachi Falls
Although the route from Daimonzaka to Nachi Falls is considered a beginners route of Kumano Kodo, it was still a very tough course. After all, it was used as a place of training in the ancient days.
After going through this pilgrimage in person, I’ve realized how well-maintained our modern roads are, and how much it has conditioned the way we walk. Unless you are a seasoned hiker, the load on your legs during this hike will be nothing short of abuse.
Even then, the things you see after completing this tough walk is something you won't be able to witness in your everyday life.
It's not an overstatement to say that meeting with the gods, and feeling their existence in the air after overcoming a difficult challenge, is a wonderful and mystical experience.
It’s definitely worth giving it a try, so why not challenge yourself?