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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社), Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Wong, all rights reserved.

This will probably be the last posting for 2018. I wish you and your family a Happy New Year for 2019. The last post this year is for a unique Japanese shrine using the travel blog, rather than my previous end of the year posts in the food blog. I hope you've enjoyed both blogs, and if you haven't already, please "Follow" and give the blogs a "Like" on Facebook (food: https://www.facebook.com/ducksoupeasy/, and travel: https://www.facebook.com/ducksoupeasytravel/). Thanks, and I'll see you next year.

Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) is a Shinto shrine and part of the UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range of Japan.[1] The shrine is one of three sacred shrines, known as the Kumano Sanzan (熊野三山) or the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, located on the Kii peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture, south-east of Osaka. The other two sacred shrines are Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. The shrines are located on a sacred pilgrimage route known as the Kumano Kodō (熊野古道). While it is still possible to walk the original ancient Kumano Kodō, the sites are now accessible by more modern trains and buses. The most notable sight at the shrine is the three-storied pagoda located near the highest single-drop waterfall in Japan. I visited the shrine on 22 Oct 2018.

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Wong, all rights reserved.
Kii Peninsula View From Train

Introduction

There are an estimated 100,000+ Shinto shrines in Japan. The Kumano shrine network is one of the more notable shrine networks numbering over 3,000 shrines.[2] As was stated earlier, Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three major shrines in that network. Kumano Nachi Taisha is located in town of Nachisan in Wakayama Prefecture. When traveling from Osaka or Wakayama, you can take a limited express train that travels along the west and east coast of the Kii Peninsula to Kiikatsuura station, the nearest Japan Rail (JR) train station to the shrine. The train trip is quite scenic as the rail lines travel along the coast of the peninsula. At Kiikatsuura station, you transfer to a bus that takes you to the town of Nachisan, where you walk up many sets of stairs to Kumano Nachi Taisha.

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Wong, all rights reserved.
One set of many stairs to the shrine

The most photographed and scenic sight is the Sanjūdō Pagoda near the 133 meter (436 feet) Nachi Waterfall (那智滝, Nachi-no-Taki), Japan's tallest single-drop waterfall (pictured on the title page). The three-storied pagoda is actually part of Seiganto-ji (青岸渡寺) or Temple of the Blue Waves, which is actually a Buddhist temple.[3] Kumano Nachi Taisha is an example of a place where Shinto and Buddhist religious practices have merged at one site. There are other sights to see in the main complex of Kumano Nachi Taisha, with the main worship hall under renovation until March 2019.

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Wong, all rights reserved.
Kumano Nachi Taisha Main Complex

The site is typical of 
many mountain based shrines: there's a long uphill walk, with many stairs, past many merchants selling food and souvenirs, to get to the shrine. The climb up to the shrine is certainly not the longest that I've done in Japan, and should take 10-15 minutes from the bus station at the base of the shrine. Once you're at the shrine, there's a great view from the mountain to the valley below.

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Wong, all rights reserved.
Symbol of Kumano
Three-Legged Crow, Yatagarasu (八咫烏, "Eight-Span Crow")[4]

Getting There - Part 1 by Train

I was staying in Wakayama, which is near Osaka's Kansai Airport and on the west coast of the Kii Pennisula. So I thought I could visit two of the sacred shrines in one day until I consulted the train and bus schedules online. One of the great online planning tools which I highly recommend and is indispensible in planning train travel in Japan is Hyperdia (http://www.hyperdia.com/en/). This online tool has all the Shinkansen (aka the "bullet train"), train (both JR and private lines) and subway schedules for all of Japan. To use the tool, you insert what station you're coming from and going to, the date and time, and other information. The result is a number of route options around the date and time selected. The tool will also display the cost of the journey, including any reservation and class fees. If you have a JR Pass, train and reservation fees are included in the pass (class fees depend upon the type of JR Pass purchased). The JR Pass will be highlighted and explained in a future post.

It turns out that the trains along the Kii peninsula from Wakayama are few and far between, which means that only one shrine can be visited in a day. I chose to visit the Kumano Nachi Taisha because of its unique pagoda and waterfall combination. Unlike the main rail routes on Honshu, the main Japanese island, where there are frequent Shinkansen trains between the major Japanese cities (like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto), the trains along the Kii peninsula are either limited express or local trains, which run considerably slower and make more stops than the Shinkansen. So the fastest train service from Wakayama to Kiikatsuura, the nearest train station to Kumano Nachi Taisha, takes 163 minutes, where you must transfer to a bus for a 25 minute ride to the shrine. So taking the first express train from Wakayama at 8:50 AM and then transferring to the bus at Kiikatsuura station, you arrive at the shrine at 12:35 PM. The limited express train originates at Shin-Osaka station and leaves that station at 7:33 AM - so this train can be used if you're staying in Osaka and takes 240 minutes. Please note that train times are valid for the visit date and are subject to change, so use Hyperdia to get the latest times.

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Wong, all rights reserved.
Kiikatsuura Bus Station

Getting There - Part 2 by Bus

Tickets for the Kumano Kotsu Bus, Nachisan Line, Bus 31 can be purchased at the bus station across the traffic circle after exiting Kiikatsuura station. Fortunately for my trip, there was a local tourist association volunteer stationed near the exit from the train wicket in the station to hand out bus schedules and direct you to the bus station. The cost of a one-way bus ticket to Nachisan is ¥620 (round-trip ¥1240). There's a special round trip ticket to Nachisan for ¥1000 that can be purchased at the bus station, saving ¥240 off the normal fare. The bus schedule can be found online at: http://www2.tb-kumano.jp/en/transport/pdf/Nachi-Kii-Katsuura-bus.pdf. There was a short wait for the next Nachisan bus after exiting the train station. As usual, bus fares and times are valid for the visit date and are subject to change.

Nachisan, where the shrine is located, is the last stop on the bus route, so it's pretty easy to know when to get off the bus. If you've never taken a bus in Japan, stops are usually announced in Japanese and sometimes in English (and other languages) if you're at a tourist location. However, there's always a display at the front of the bus that displays the stops by number and the fares. Usually when you enter the bus, you take a numbered slip which indicates the stop that you got on the bus (don't forget to do this!). When you exit the bus at the front door, near the driver, you drop the numbered slip into the fare box along with the exact change for the fare. Bus fare is based upon how far you've traveled, so the display is updated after every stop with the fare to let you know how much to pay depending upon where you got on (hence the numbered slip). The fare box also has a change machine, so if you don't have exact change, you can get change for up to a ¥1000 bill. Since you got the special ¥1000 round trip ticket, you don't have to worry about this, since all you have to do is show the driver the special ticket before getting off the bus.

There are two stops before the terminus that might be of interest to some. The third to last stop is Daimonzaka, which is the stop for those that want to hike the portion of the Kumano Kodō to the shrine. Since my time was short, this was not an option for me. The second to last stop is Nachi-no-Taki-mae (Nachi Waterfall). Get off here to walk to and see the tallest single-drop waterfall in Japan (133 meters (436 feet); where there are some sights), and then walk (uphill) to the shrine. You can also walk from the shrine (downhill) to the waterfall, so if you miss this stop, don't worry.
  • Tip: If you want a seat on the return bus trip to Kiikatsuura station, take the bus from the Nachisan (last) bus stop rather than the Nachi-no-Taki-mae stop. I took the return bus from Nachisan and I was one of three people that boarded the bus. At the Nachi-no-Taki-mae stop, there was a long line and people had to stand for the return trip.

Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, Seiganto-ji Temple, 
Sanjūdō  Pagoda,  and Nachi-no-Taki Waterfall

Admission to the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine grounds is free and there are no closing days. Most shrines have their collection of accumulated treasures over their years of existence on display in what's called (to no one's surprise) a treasure house. Be aware that most treasure houses prohibit photography, video, and any other types of recording devices. Some shrines are quite strict, with patrolling priests to enforce the rules and video surveillance! Some treasure houses are worth seeing and some are not (but you don't know if it's worth seeing until you've paid and seen the treasure house!), and there's usually an additional admission fee over and above what's charged, if any, to enter the shrine grounds. The treasure house for this shrine is open from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM and charges ¥300. I did not see the treasure house, so I can't say if it's worth seeing or not.

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Wong, all rights reserved.
Seiganto-ji Temple

Admission to Seiganto-ji Temple is free and there are no closing days. The Sanjūdō  Pagoda, on the temple grounds, is open from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM and can be entered for ¥300. I did not enter the pagoda. I don't know if you can see from the title picture, but there's wire mesh over the viewing areas, so taking pictures from the pagoda would be difficult.

There is no admission fee and no closing days to see the Nachi-no-Taki Waterfall and is open from 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM. There is a viewing platform that charges ¥300, but after reading reviews of the platform, using the platform can be skipped.

Getting Back

The same limited choice of trains that governed getting to the shrine, determines how long you can stay at the shrine before having to return by bus from Nachisan to Kiikatsuura Station, and then by train to Wakayama (or Osaka). In my case, I spent around two hours at the shrine before having to return. This may seem like a short amount of time (it was), but it's enough time to see and photograph the shrine.

Summary

The three-storied pagoda near Japan's tallest single-drop waterfall is one of the most unique sights in Japan that's worth seeing if you're in the area. Since this site is off the usual tourist routes, seeing this shrine requires adequate planning to synchronize your sightseeing with the infrequent trains and buses. This trip certainly cannot be done if you're staying in Tokyo, so plan on staying in Osaka, Wakayama, or a coastal town on the Kii Peninsula near the shrine. The site is worth the long trip and investment of your precious vacation time to experience.

Kumano Nachi Taisha Information and Access

Name:

  • Kumano Nachi Taisha (aka Kumanonachi Shrine)
  • 熊野那智大社
Address:
  • 1 Nachisan, 那智勝浦町 Higashimuro District, Wakayama Prefecture 649-5301, Japan
Access:
  1. The rail trip is fully covered by the JR Pass.
    • Japan Rail Pass (7-, 14-, 21-day):
      • Valid for travel throughout Japan on Japan Rail (with some exceptions).
      • Purchase outside of Japan. Must show passport and have a short-term (90 day) visitor's stamp to redeem at selected airports and rail stations. (This is changing)
      • Once activated, must be used on consecutive days (i.e. cannot skip days).
      • https://japanrailpass.net/en/.
  2. From Wakayama or Osaka, take the Limited Express Kushiro train to Kiikatsuura Station (163- or 240 minutes respectively).
    • From Wakayama: ¥5080 (Unreserved), ¥5800 (Reserved), ¥7830 (Green Seat).
    • From Osaka (Shin-Osaka Station): ¥6370 (Unreserved), ¥7090 (Reserved), ¥10480 (Green Seat).
  3. Transfer at Kiikatsuura to the Kumano Kotsu Bus, Nachisan Line, Bus 31 to Nachisan (25 mins).
    • ¥1000 Special Round Trip Fare from Kiikatsuura Station to Nachisan.
  4. Walk to the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine from the Nachisan Bus Stop (last stop; 10-15 mins).
    • Get off at the Daimonzaka stop (third from last stop) to hike the Kumano Kodō to the shrine.
    • Get off at the Nachi-no-Taki-mae stop (Nachi Waterfall; second to last stop) to see the waterfall and then walk to the shrine.
  5. Note: Prices are valid at time of visit and are subject to change.
Hours and Admission Fees:
  • Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine Grounds: No closing time and no admission fee.
  • Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine Treasure House: 08:00-16:00; Admission: ¥300.
  • Seiganto-ji Temple: 08:30-16:00; No admission fee, admission to enter pagoda: ¥300.
  • Nachi-no-Taki Waterfall: 07:30-16:00; No admission fee, viewing platform admission: ¥300.
  • There are no closing dates for any of the above places.
  • Prices are valid at time of visit and are subject to change.
Websites:

Map




References

[1] Wikipedia. "Kumano Nachi Taisha." Last modified: 12 Oct 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumano_Nachi_Taisha.
[2] Wikipedia. "Shinto shrine." Last modified: 14 Nov 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto_shrine.
[3] Wikipedia. "Seiganto-ji." Last modified: 10 May 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiganto-ji.
[4] Wikipedia. "Three-legged crow." Last modified: 17 Nov 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-legged_crow.

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