Shichiri-mihama Beach (七里御浜), Shishiiwa (獅子岩) & Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine (花窟神社)
Shichiri-mihama Beach, Shishiiwa and Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine near Kumano-shi (Kumano city) in Mie Prefecture are part of the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sacred Sites of the Kii Peninsula (紀伊山地の霊場と参詣道), which includes the Kumano Kodo.
Shichiri-mihama Beach (七里御浜)
Shichiri-mihama Beach is a long, shingle beach running from the Onigajo Rocks to the mouth of the Kumano River. 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 the longest shingle beach in Japan.
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"), located near the northern, Kumano-shi end of Shichiri-mihama Beach, is a 25m-tall rock, shaped like a lion, that has been created over thousands of years by 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.
Mount Hiba, near Yasugi on the border of Shimane and Hiroshima prefectures, has a better claim to that distinction, however, as it is recorded in The Kojiki, Japan's oldest book still in existence. Indeed, the dominant story of Izanami is set in Izumo (present-day Shimane), with the entrance to Yomi, the underworld also located in Izumo.
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.
Next to the shrine is the Otsunachaya Michi-no-eki or roadside service station where local souvenirs and snacks are on sale.
Kumano-shi Station is the nearest station to Shichiri-mihama Beach and Shishiiwa. It is a 20 minutes walk to the next station Arii Station, which is nearer to Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine.
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).
Close to Arii Station and Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine is the interesting Kumano City History & Folklore Museum and about 1 kilometer inland the Ubuta Shrine, where Izanami actually gave birth to Kagutsuchi, before her burial at Hana-no-Iwaya Shrine. Matsumoto-toge Pass is north of Kumano-shi Station.