A UNESCO World Heritage site bubbling with deep spirituality and pure hot springs
A deep sense of spirituality is ever-present in the Kumano region, and Hongu's pristine nature and religious significance are no exception.
- The architectural brilliance of Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine
- Immersing yourself in the historic healing waters of a World Heritage hot spring
- Treading the paths of enlightenment on the sacred Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route
How to Get There
You can access the Hongu area via a two-hour bus ride from the stations of Kii-Tanabe or Shingu .
Get off at the Yunomine bus stop to visit the popular onsen town and its world-famous bath, or exit the Hongu-Taisha-Mae stop for the grand shrine and Oyunohara .
The JR Kuroshio Express trains from Shin-Osaka will whisk you down Wakayama's coastline to the stations of Tanabe (two hours) and Shingu (four hours). The JR Nanki Limited Express trains from Nagoya will get you to Shingu in around three hours.
Hidden hall of the mountain gods
One of the three Kumano grand shrines, Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine is the jewel of the Hongu area and houses the shrine's gods. Emerging from the forest paths to see the sweeping wooden roofs set amongst ancient cedar and cypress is very memorable.
Its current location up in the mountains was a consequence of a devastating flood in 1889 that swept away many of the buildings in its original location of Oyunohara . Visit Oyunohara today and you will see a giant 33-meter-tall torii gate, the tallest in Japan.
Healing waters of history
Yunomine Onsen is a tiny mountain hamlet lined with rustic inns that have been pumping up mineral-rich hot water to soothe and heal the weary souls of travelers for centuries.
These springs are an integral part of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route , as the gushing spring waters were used by pilgrims to purify their bodies before worshipping at the grand shrine. The most famous of the baths, Tsuboyu, is a designated World Heritage site that you can enjoy privately (or with one other person) for up to 30 minutes. The bath is richly storied and even featured in a kabuki play.
Dig your own onsen
Located along the same bus route as Yunomine and the grand shrine, Kawayu Onsen has been blessed with a rare gift: the river that separates the cluster of inns and steep mountain slopes forms its own long, winding hot spring as geothermal water bubbles up to the surface.
In the winter, the river transforms into one enormous bath where hundreds can crowd into the warm waters. Out of season, a little work with a shovel by the banks will reward you with your own private outdoor bath.
Following the sacred steps
The ancient pilgrimage route that snakes its way through the rugged terrain of the Kii mountain range is one of only two pilgrimage routes listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites-the other being The Way of St. James in Spain.
For centuries, the paths have been walked by the whole social spectrum of society: from royalty and samurai warriors to monks and lay people, each searching for spiritual enlightenment from the Kumano deities.
The full walk from the coast to Hongu Taisha Shrine is nearly 30 kilometers and involves an overnight stay in between, but if you're pressed for time, you can take a bus to Hosshinmon Oji and stroll the final 7-kilometer section in about two hours.