Kii Mountains

Set in the dense forests of the Kii Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean, three sacred sites – Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan – linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto, reflect the fusion of Shinto, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism, which was introduced from China and Korea. They reflect a tradition of sacred mountains over 1,200 years, a tradition that is also widespread throughout China. This beautiful area of hills, temples, forest, streams and waterfalls, is still visited for ritual purposes and hiking. Each of the three sites contains shrines, some of which were founded as early as the 9th century. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on account of the sheer beauty of the place together with its unique importance to Japanese religious and social culture.

The site consists of three sacred sites across Nara, Wakayama and Mie prefectures: "Yoshino/Omine", "Kumano Sanzan", "Koya-san" and the pilgrimage routes that connect them:

Yoshino and Omine, situated at the northernmost part of the Kii Mountains, developed as a sacred place for Shugendo, a religion established by combining the original mountain worship of Japan, Tantric Buddhism, and Taoism in the 12th century. Yoshino is famous as a mountain cherry blossom area, and it is said that the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) who boasted overwhelming power at that time held a luxurious cherry blossom viewing party here in 1594. In Kinpusen-ji Temple, the central temple of Shugendo, a large meeting is held for people to confess their sins, and an offering of cherry blossoms is given in April every year. 

Kumano Sanzan is the name for a set of three Grand Shrines situated in the southeastern part of the Kii Peninsula: Kumano Hongu-taisha Shrine, Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine and Kumano Hayatama-taisha Shrine. To fully enjoy the visit, it is recommended that you stay at the Katsuura Onsen or Hongu Onsen Hot Spring. The Nachi Waterfall, 13 m wide and 133 m high, is one of the highest waterfalls in Japan. It is believed that touching the water bestows longevity.   

Koyasan is a religious city on a mountain top with more than 100 temples, of which the most famous is the Kongobu-ji Temple constructed by a monk. Kukai (774-835, founder of the Shingon Buddhist School), in 816. Many temples welcome staying guests (Shukubo or temple lodging), where it is possible to participate in religious services and in the way of life of Buddhist monks. 

The Pilgrimage – Kumano Kodo

The ancient pilgrimage routes connecting these sites are known collectively as the Kumano Kodo (one of only two UNESCO World Heritage registered pilgrimage routes in the world, the other being the Camino de Santiago). The main five routes are Nakahechi, Kohechi, Iseji, Omine Okugakemichi and Koyasan Choishimichi. Parts can be arduous but they are safe and can be tackled by anyone of moderate fitness.  The routes have their origins in the popularity of certain of the shrines from the 11th century, which attracted pilgrims from all over Japan, and who came to require a means of visiting all of them.

The routes themselves pass through some of Japan's most unspoilt countryside. Many of the paths are narrow, sometimes paved or with steps, sometimes rough tracks. "Omine Okugakemichi" is a path that crosses some 1000m mountains, "Kumano Sankeimichi" features various departure points when pilgrimages are at their most popular and "Koyasan Choishimichi," founded by Kukai and used by most to visit Kongobu-ji still retains stone signposts every 'cho' (approximately 109 metres). 

Nakahechi Imperial Route

The Nakahechi pilgrimage route starts from Tanabe and goes east into the mountains towards the Kumano grand shrines. It is the most popular route for pilgrims from western Japan. Starting in the 10th century, the Nakahechi route was extensively used by the imperial family. This trail has traditional lodgings in isolated villages along the way and is excellent for multi-day walks. 

Kohechi Mountain Route

The Kohechi route cuts through the centre of the Kii Peninsula from north to south, linking the Buddhist temple complex of Koyasan and the Kumano Sanzan. It is characterized by steep trails that cross over three passes of over 1000 metres elevation along its 70 km length. The Kohechi is an isolated walk on its northern sections and hikers should be well prepared when attempting it. 

Ohechi Coastal Route

The pilgrimage route runs south from Tanabe along the coast to Fudarakusan-ji Temple. The views from the well preserved passes offer expansive scenic vistas over the Pacific Ocean. During the Edo period (1603-1868), this route was used for both worship and sightseeing, and the beautiful landscape attracted many writers and artists. 

Iseji Coastal Route

The Iseji route runs along the east coast of the Kii Peninsula between Ise-jingu Shrine and the Kumano Sanzan. The use of this trail rose dramatically in the Edo period (1603-1868) with the increasing number of pilgrims to the Ise-jingu Shrine. After paying homage in Ise, devotees would continue on the Iseji route to Kumano. To prevent erosion from heavy rains, extensive sections were paved with picturesque cobblestones. This route has a diversity of mountain passes, bamboo forests, terraced rice fields, and beaches. 


  • Preserve the area as "heritage of all humankind". 
  • Respect the faith of past and present worshippers. 
  • Keep the routes clean - carry out all waste. 
  • Protect the local flora and fauna - do not remove or introduce animals or vegetation. 
  • Stay on the routes. 
  • Be careful with fire - prevent forest fires. 
  • Be prepared - plan your trip and equip yourself properly. 
  • Greet others with a smile and warm heart. 

What To See

A distinctive characteristic of the Kumano Kodo are Oji, subsidiary shrines of the Kumano deity, which line the route. These were important sites of religious rites and offerings and are still essential elements of the Kumano pilgrimage.

Getting There

Kumano Kodo is located south of Kyoto, a rural area accessible by train and bus, though it’s easier to get around by car. Information in English is still hard to come by, but since Kumano Kodo’s World Heritage designation, things are improving. Tanabe City is a good place to base yourself.  The Kii peninsula is south off of the main east west flow of movement between the major centers of Japan: Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto. It is covered in mountains so the major access routes are along the coast including a rail line and highway system. A toll road runs down the west side of the peninusula from the Osaka to Tanabe (Interchange name is Nanki-Tanabe). In Shirahama, the Nanki-Shirahama Airport has daily flights to and from Tokyo, a very quick and efficient way of getting to this area.


Many of the train stations in the Kii-hanto peninsula use the prefix "Kii" to distinguish them from other stations in Japan with the same name. For example Tanabe becomes "Kii-Tanabe" and Katsuura becomes "Kii-Katsuura".

  • From Osaka take the express Super Kuroshio or Ocean-Arrow or JR Kuroshio-go.
  • Tennoji -> Kii-Tanabe (1hr 45min) 
  • Shin-Osaka -> Kii-Tanabe (2 hrs) 
  • From Kyoto take the express Super Kuroshio or Ocean-Arrow
  • Kyoto ->Kii-Tanabe (2 hrs 35min) 
  • From Nagoya take the express JR Wideview Nanki
  • Nagoya -> Shingu (approx. 3hrs 30min) 
  • Shingu -> Kumano Hongu Taisha by bus (approx 1hr)

There are daily flights from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Nanki Shirahama airport. 1hr 10 min. Schedules change often with extra flights offered over holidays. Please check with JAL directly to confirm times.

Kansai International Airport (Osaka) is the nearest international airport. Transfer at Hineno Station for trains south towards Tanabe. 

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