Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine is one of three grand shrines that make up the Kumano Sanzan. Along with its important role as a pilgrimage destination, its grounds are home to natural monuments sanctified as deities, including a sacred conifer tree, the largest in all Japan. The shrine sits on the banks of the Kumano River. The shrine's original site, Kamikuri-jinja Shrine, is nearby.
The shrine is located a 15-minute walk from JR Shingu station.
The Express train from Shin-Osaka will take you there in just over four hours. Kamikuri-jinja Shrine takes around 15 minutes on foot from Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine.
Similar to Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, the facade of Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine is painted a striking vermillion red
Twelve gods are enshrined behind the shrine's wooden walls
The shrine's treasure room holds over 1,000 holy treasures including gifts from the 15th and 16th century Imperial Households
In the grounds of the shrine sits an ancient Nagi tree. Thought to be around 800-1,000 years old, the tree has been named an official Natural Monument of Japan.
The tree is somewhat popular with couples because the symmetrical structure of its leaves is said to represent a harmonious relationship.
While most of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage route involves trekking through field and forest, one section requires no legwork at all.
A slice of the Kumano River is a designated part of the route and pilgrims could travel to Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine by boat. Today, rustic wooden boats from Hitari transport visitors on a 90-minute trip down the river to the shrine.
The Kamikuri-jinja Shrine, located a short walk from the temple, is the original site for Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine and a strong connection between the two sites remains.
Legend states that the Kumano deities descended to earth and onto the giant rock that dwarfs the site. To get closer to the sacred monolith you need to climb a steep, uneven staircase hewn from the natural rock.
The stone staircase leading up to Kamikuri-jinja Shrine also provides the stage for a dramatic winter event. The Oto Matsuri Fire Festival held every February 6th sees a cascade of local men clad in white storm down the staircase carrying blazing torches.
Akin to a fire-breathing dragon careering out of the gates of the shrine, this festival remains one of the liveliest in the country.