Kumano City Guide 熊野市
Kumano-shi (Kumano city) is a pleasant town on the coast of Mie Prefecture.
Kumano is located on the Ise-ji route of the famous Kumano Kodo sacred pilgrimage route, which runs from Ise-Jingu in Mie to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in neighboring Wakayama Prefecture: Kumano Hayatama Taisha in Shingu, Kumano Nachi Taisha in Nachi, and Kumano Hongu Taisha in Hongu.
For a small town with a population of around 17,000 people there is a lot to see and do in Kumano itself and the surrounding hills.
Matsumoto-toge Pass (松本峠)
The hike over Matsumoto-toge Pass from the starting points at either Kumano-shi Station or Odomari Station, which are both on the JR Kisei Line, takes about 2 hours to cover the 5km between the two stations.
The walk passes through bamboo forests up and down stone steps, dating from the Edo Period, through a forest to the summit at 135m. At the top is a stone statue of Jizo, bearing the scars of an encounter with a hunter, who is said to have mistaken the statue for a goblin.
Onigajo Rocks (鬼ヶ城)
If you wish to extend your walk, head south to the Oniga-jo Center, past the scant ruins of the Muromachi Period Oniga-jo Castle. From the Oniga-jo Center a narrow path leads around the headland for superb close-up views of the tuff cliffs of the UNESCO World Heritage Onigajo ("Demon's Castle") rocks.
The spectacular, amber-colored rock wall stretches about 1.2km around a small cape with not only superb views of the rocks but also out to sea.
The path from the Oniga-jo Center will bring you back to Kumano-shi in about 45-50 minutes.
Shichiri-mihama Beach (七里御浜)
Shichiri-mihama Beach is visible from the Onigajo Rocks and is the longest shingle beach in Japan.
The name "shichi-ri" refers to the old Chinese and Japanese distance of one ri, which is around 3.93km, so seven ri would be approximately 27.5km. The beach is actually nearer 22km long and is a beautiful natural phenomenon.
Shichiri-mihama Beach is part of the Yoshino-Kumano National Park and is known as a breeding place for loggerhead turtles between May and September each year.
The beach is also the venue for the annual Kumano Fireworks Display held on August 17, one of the largest and most spectacular displays in the country.
Shishiiwa ("Lion Rock"), is located on Shichiri-mihama Beach, south of the center of Kumano-shi. Shishiiwa is a 25m-tall rock, shaped like a lion, that has been formed over thousands of years by the force of wind and waves.
From around the middle of May for around a month the sun can be seen in the "jaws" of the lion and furthermore in November and December, the moon can be viewed in a similar position.
Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine (花窟神社)
Said to be one of Japan's oldest shrines, though there are dozens of "oldest shrines in Japan," Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine is located at the foot of a 45m-tall and 80m-wide cliff. Hana-no-Iwaya is said to be the location where the mother of all gods, Izanami Mikoto, who gave birth to Kagutsuchi Mikoto, the god of fire, was buried after being burned to death during the child's delivery.
The cliff face at the shrine is pocked with small holes caused by erosion and it is considered propitious to place a white stone in one of the holes while making a wish. Prayers for health, peace, happiness are written on the stones. For countless generations, visitors had been leaving such messages. Up-to-date prayers for safe driving and passing college entrance examinations can be seen as are more customary expressions of hope for health and happiness.
Time-honored religious ceremonies that date back over thousands of years are still performed at Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine every year in on February 2 and October 2, when the Otsunakake Shinji (Rope Changing Ritual) is held.
Shinto priests dance in dedication to the gods and a 170-meter long giant rope is lowered from the top of the cliff and attached to a sacred pine tree.
Ubuta Shrine (産田神社)
Ubuta Shrine, like Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine, is connected with the local version of the Izanami Mikoto myth. According to Japanese mythology, Izanami Mikoto and her husband Izanagi Mikoto were the creators of land on earth (the islands of Japan) through their offspring. Izanami later gave birth to Kagutsuchi Mikoto, the god of fire, which led to her being burned to death during the child's delivery.
Ubuta Shrine is thus associated with safe childbirth. The main hall of the shrine is surrounded by stones from nearby Shichiri-mihama Beach and another belief is that prospective mothers can predict the sex of their future offspring by closing their eyes and reaching behind them to pick up a stone. A round stone indicates a girl, a more elongated stone, a boy.
If the prediction comes true and the birth is successful, the mother brings a stone to the shrine from Shichiri-mihama Beach.
Kumano City History & Folklore Museum (熊野市歴史民俗資料館)
The Kumano City History & Folklore, close to Ubuta Shrine, has an eclectic collection of exhibits ranging from Jomon and Yayoi period earthen pottery and stone implements found in Mie Prefecture to weapons and calligraphy scrolls from the Edo Period to World War II uniforms to post-war paraphernalia.
Back in town, Kumano has some pleasant, historic streets to stroll, which include a couple of traditional public bath houses (sento), several small information and cultural centers (Kinan Tour Design Center, Kumano Kodo Omotenashikan) and the odd shrine and temple including Kinomoto Shrine and Shohoji Temple.
Look out for workers drying fish outside (himono) and for lots of mikan oranges on sale. Both are food specialties of the area.
The Tourist Information Center in Kumano-shi is opposite the train station and has a wealth of pamphlets and bus timetables.
A 50 minute bus ride away from Kumano-shi in the interior mountains are a number of interesting spots to visit. Places to see include the spectacular Maruyama Senmaida Rice Terraces, and the Kiwa-cho Mine Museum. For here it is short walk to Little Britain, a memorial to British POW's who died working in the mines during World War II.
JR Kumano-shi Station is the main point of access whether by train or bus.
The first express train to Kumano-shi Station from Nagoya Station is the 8.05am Wide View Nanki that arrives in Kumano-shi at 11.13am. The present fare is 7,050 yen.
Buses back to Nagoya leave from behind the Tourist Information Center opposite Kumano-shi Station. Other buses from Kumano Station run to Shingu (50 minutes) and the Seiryu-so Onsen near the beautiful Kitayama River (also about 50 minutes).
Coming by Kuroshio Limited Express train from Tennoji Station in Osaka, visitors will need to change in Kii-Katsuura (with about an hour wait) or Shingu. Journey time is about 5 hours and the fare would be covered using a Japan Rail Pass. Slightly quicker is to take Kintetsu from Namba Station or Tsuruhashi Station to Tsu and then change to a JR Limited Express Nanki to Kumano-shi.