Nachi 那智, 熊野古道
Nachi, a small coastal town near the southern tip of Wakayama Prefecture, is home to the tallest waterfall in Japan, the stunning 133 meter high Nachi no Taki (Nachi Falls), and next to it the Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, one of the Kumano Sanzan, the three shrines at the heart of the area, and also Seigantoji Temple, part of the same complex.
The area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. Since ancient times the area has been an important spiritual center, at first focussed on the powerful mountains and waterfall, then later as an important Buddhist site, and over the centuries millions of pilgrims made the arduous journey here.
The various pilgrimage routes that connect to the Kumano Sanzan is known as Kumano Kodo, literally "roads to Kumano". Three routes converge on Nachi. The Nakahechi Route, often called the Imperial Route as it was the one used by imperial family members and other elite pilgrims from the capital, runs north across the mountains to Hongu, another of the three Kumano Sanzan.
Running north up the coast from Nachi a relatively short route connects to the other Kumano Sanzan, Hayatama Taisha in Shingu. From there the Iseji route continues on up the coast towards the great shrine at Ise in Mie Prefecture. The other route from Nachi, heads down the coast and around the tip of the peninsula and up to Tanabe, a town known as "The gateway to the Kumano Kodo".
From Nachi Station it is about 8 kilometers up a narrow valley that gets progressively steeper to reach the waterfall, shrine and temple. There are regular buses but many choose to walk.
At the station is a very small Tourist Information Office and an onsen. A few hundred meters away is the first site worth a visit, Fudarakusanji Temple, a place made famous by "suicide monks".
According to the legend it was founded by a monk from India in the 4th century, several hundred years before the official introduction of Buddhism to Japan. Fudarakusan is the Japanese name for Mount Potalaka, a mythical place believed to be in the ocean south of India, and the site of Kannon's Pure Land. A pure land is basically a Buddhist paradise, and the whole area of the Kumano Sanzan was considered a representation and manifestation of Kannon's Pure Land.
Monks at Fudarakusan would be sealed inside a small boat and set adrift to journey to paradise, though are there are stories of them jumping overboard to drown soon after being towed out to sea. A replica of such a boat is on display in the temple grounds. The temple itself is open from 8.30am to 4pm, though the boat can be seen in the grounds outside of these times.
348 Hamanomiya, Nachikatsuura-cho, Higashimuro-gun, Wakayama 649-5314
Tel: 0735 52 2523
Up the valley, below the falls and shrines is Daimonzaka, which means Great Gate Slope, a 600 meter long stone-paved stairway winding up through a forest of ancient, and sometimes huge, trees.
If you arrive by bus you get off at Daimonzaka Chushajo bus stop where you will find toilets, refreshments, and a box filled with bamboo walking staffs, free to use. For those not planning on doing any extended hiking along the Kumano Kodo, this is an easy option to get a feel for, and to soak up the atmosphere of the pilgrimage. It's easier on the knees and legs to go up rather than down. Near the start of the climb there is a small tea shop, Daimonzakachaya, that rents out costumes of Heian Period pilgrims. They are open from 9am to 4pm, 7 days a week and prices start from 2,000 yen.
392-4 Nachisan, Nachikatsuura, Higashimuro, Wakayama 649-5301
Tel: 0735 55 0321
Nachi Taisha Shrine
The streets are lined with coffee shops, restaurants, souvenir shops etc. There is still some more steps to climb to reach Nachi Taisha Shrine, but the views back down the valley are great. Nachi Taisha is a large shrine complex with many vermilion-painted, bark-roofed buildings.
It is believed that originally Nachi Taisha was built down closer to the base of the waterfall. The shrine is free to enter and is open at all times, though there is a treasure hall displaying art and artifacts that is open from 8am to 4pm and charges 300 yen entry.
Nachi Taisha Shrine
1 Nachisan, Higashimuro-gun, Nachikatsuura-cho, Wakayama 649-5301
Right next door to the shrine is Seigantoji Temple though there is no real demarcation between the two. Since ancient times they were considered the same place and it was not until about 150 years ago that they were formally separated.
According to the legend it was founded by the same Indian monk who founded Fudarakusan Temple in the 4th century. As well as being part of the Kumano Pilgrimage, Seigantoji is the first temple on the Saigoku Pilgrimage that visits 33 temples dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, throughout the Kansai region.
There a is a lot of statuary and several different building within the grounds, the Nyohodo, rebuilt by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587, commonly called the hall of lanterns, being particularly worth a visit.
The most iconic building, and the one seen is most photos from Nachi, is the Pagoda. This version was built in 1971 to mark the three hundredth anniversary since the original burned down. It can be entered and climbed to get a closer look at the falls for an entry fee of 300 yen.
Most people prefer to take photos of the falls with the pagoda next to it in the frame though. Behind the main temple buildings is the Nakahechi, the path that climbs further up the mountains and over towards Hongu Taisha, 2 days walk away.
8 Nachisan, Higashimuro-gun, Nachikatsuura-cho, Wakayama 649-5301
Tel: 0735 50 401
The main focus of any visit to Nachi is obviously the waterfall. However, if you are walking down from the shrine and temple you will pass by car park with a Chinese-looking gate in it. If you walk up on top of what appears to be an old hotel you will find an abandoned temple with three Chinese-style buildings.
Covered in brightly painted, ornate carvings, it makes a great place for unusual shots of the falls. The falls have their own shrine at the base, Hirou Shrine, set among the ancient trees and the mist caused by the thundering water falling more than 100 meters. It is not difficult to experience awe and humility, the feelings behind the choice of this place for veneration and worship.
There are several places of interest near Nachi. Nachi Kogen Koen (Nachi Highland Park), is located high above Nachi Taisha and offers stupendous views over the surrounding mountains and down to the sea and beyond. It is a thirty minute walk up a path from Seigantoji Temple, or about twenty minutes by car. About halfway along the road is Myohosanamidaji Temple, an atmospheric mountain temple.
There is a walking trail to Myohosanamidaji from Seigantoji, but it closed following landslides a few years ago. Worth checking to see if it's open again.
Down the coast a little ways is Taiji, the fishing village made infamous by the award-winning documentary The Cove. A little further south is Cape Shionomisaki, the southernmost tip of Honshu and a popular spot for Hatsuhinode, the viewing of the first sunrise of the year.
Accommodation Near Nachi
There are various accommodation options in the area for different budgets. On the coast around Nachi and Kii-Katsuura are many seaside resort hotels, ryokan and minshuku as well as a few business hotels. The most dramatic place to stay though is the shukubo, temple lodgings, at Seigantoji itself.
The following recommended places to stay are in the town of Kii-Katsuura just south-east of the Nachi Falls, near Kii-Katsuura Station on the Kisei Main Line. They are arranged here according to budget.
Hotel Charmant is a refreshingly lemon-hued accommodation, clean and simple, with all the facilities and conveniences needed for a comfortable stay. Free Wi-Fi, free lockers/luggage storage, free parking, 24-hour reception.
Hotel Urashima offers great mid-range accommodation with the novel feature of hot spring bathing inside the cave on the premises. Spacious Japanese-style rooms, and - being out on the end of a small peninsula - great ocean views.
Yukai Resort Koshinoyu is one of the best places to stay in the area, offering space, quietude and comfort, Japanese-style, looking directly out over the sea. Features superb Japanese cuisine that takes advantage of its ocean proximity.
The biggest festival in Nachi is held on July 14th. The Nachi Fire Festival, one of the three greatest fire festivals in Japan takes place at the base of the waterfall and involves a dozen massive torches weighing 50kg purifying a dozen 6 meter tall portable shrines (mikoshi).
Access - Getting to Nachi
The Kumano Kodo is located south of both Osaka and Kyoto, in a rural area easily accessible by train and bus from those two cities as well as Kobe and Nagoya. From Nagoya Station it is 3 hours, 30 minutes on a Limited Express Wide View Nanki to Shingu Station. Change at Shingu Station for a JR Kinokuni Line train for Kushimoto for Nachi Station (about 20 minutes). The Japan Rail Pass is valid on this route.
There are regular flights to Osaka from both Beijing and Shanghai.
Kumano Kodo Video
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