The History of the Kumano Kodo
The History of the Kumano Kodo, Japan's Ancient Pilgrimage Route
The Kumano Kodo is one of Japan’s most famous pilgrimage routes that is scattered across three prefectures in western Japan. It remains one of the least known and least accessible pilgrimage trails in Japan. The Kumano Kodo was an important trading route during the Heian period (794-1192) as it served as a link between the three provinces of Kii, Saitama, and Wakayama. Its natural beauty is extremely rare to find elsewhere in Japan. In this article, we will take you on a journey through history by exploring its ancient temples, sacred waterfalls, and dense forests with hidden shrines. Let’s explore more about the history of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage below!
A Brief History of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route
The Kumano region has a deep history of over 2,000 years. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route was formed over 1,200 years ago. The route was a link between the three provinces of Kii, Saitama, and Wakayama. It was an important trading route during the Heian period as it served as a link between the three provinces. The Kumano region is believed to have been inhabited since the Jomon period, circa 10,000 BCE. The Jomon period is when the earliest inhabitants of Japan made their first pottery. Jomon means “cord pattern”, which refers to the unique designs of the pottery made during that period. These early inhabitants were hunter-gatherers who lived in small groups and subsisted on fishing, hunting, and gathering wild plants.
The Formation of the Ancient Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route
The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route was formed around the year 816. At that time, the people of Kumano, in the Kii Peninsula, started to build a network of trails that connected their shrines, temples, and other sacred sites. This trail system was called “Kumano”, meaning “a path to Kumano”. Eventually, the Kumano pilgrimage route became known as the Kumano Kodo, which means “the way to Kumano”. The construction of the Kumano Kodo was in response to the Kii Rebellion. The rebellion was a revolt by the native people of Kii against the central government in Kyoto. The government had wanted to put down this rebellion, which led to the movement of the capital from Kyoto to the city of Sakai. The government decided to build a new capital in Sakai, which was located in the middle of the three provinces of Kii, Saitama, and Wakayama. For this reason, the government promoted the Kumano pilgrimage route as a way of promoting tourism in the region.
Decline of the Kumano Kodo and Revived Interest
The popularity of the Kumano Kodo route declined after the Edo period (1603-1868). During this time, the focus shifted to the Tokaido, Hakone, and the Yoshino pilgrimage routes. The Kumano Kodo route fell into disuse and became completely abandoned. In the late 19th century, the Kumano Kodo was revived after the construction of the Kii Railway: a narrow-gauge railway that connected the three Kumano regions. The popularity of the Kumano Kodo route increased further after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. At that time, Kyoto had become the cultural and intellectual center of Japan. Many people who wanted to visit Kyoto decided to travel through the Kumano Kodo route to get there.
Confirming the Authenticity of the Kumano Shrines
The Kii Peninsula is home to three Kumano shrines. These are the Shingu Shrine, the Hayatama Shrine, and the Yudono Shrine. The Shingu Shrine is the main shrine of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. According to legend, the Kumano Kodo route was established when the god of Kumano, Hayatomo-no-Mikoto, descended from heaven and made a request to the people of Kumano to build a pathway to connect the three provinces. The people of Kumano accepted the request and constructed a pathway made of stone along the side of the Yoshino River. The Hayatama Shrine is located in the Shingu Temple. It is believed that the shrine was built in honor of the god who asked for the Kumano Kodo route to be created.
The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route is scattered across three different prefectures in western Japan. It remains one of the most beautiful and undiscovered places in Japan, especially due to the rugged terrain and sparsely populated areas of the Kii Peninsula. If you are planning to visit the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, make sure to research the best times to visit each place, or talk to us at Hiking Trails Pty Ltd. The best time to visit is between April and November, when the weather is warm and humid.