Kumano Hayatama Taisha

Shingu 熊野速玉大社, 新宮, 熊野古道

Jake Davies

Kumano Sanzan

Kumano Hayatama Taisha in Shingu is one of the three Kumano Sanzan shrines. The two other most sacred shrines of the Kumano Kodo are: Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine in Nachi and Kumano Hongu Taisha in Hongu.

These three shrines have been visited over centuries on inter-connecting pilgrimage routes from the most sacred of Japanese shrines at Ise. These pilgrimage routes are known as the Kumano Kodo - lit. "Kumano old roads."

The mysterious mountains where the shrines are located became the focus of religious rites and ascetic practises. The original pilgrimage routes would have been travelled by monks and nuns going to and from the different centers of worship which, after the introduction of Buddhism, grew into a syncretic mix of Buddhism and more indigenous religions, Taoism and what is now called Shinto. Later came Emperors, nobles and other members of the elite.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
Kumano Hayatama Taisha.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine is the foremost attraction in Shingu, and the place around which the town grew. Shingu literally means "new shrine" and in these terms the old shrine is Kamikura Shrine on the mountainside. Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine is located near the mouth of the Kumano River where the water from the Kii Mountains flows in to the ocean.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine in Shingu.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine in Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture
Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine in Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine in Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture

At some point before the 12th century, the gods were transferred from the mountain down into the new shrine building and the town of Shingu grew up around it. The grounds of Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine are spacious and their abundant nature integral to the shrine. The architecture of the shrine is on a grand and magnificent style.

Notable in the grounds is Nagi no Ki, a tree believed to be 800 years old. Over the centuries pilgrims including Emperors and Shoguns have left many offerings at the shrine and the most important are on display in the shrine's Treasure House.

Many are registered as National Treasures. On October 16th during the Mifune Matsuri, nine boats race up the river starting from in front of the shrine.

Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine
1 Shingu, Shingu-shi, Wakayama 647-0081
Tel: 0735 22 2533

The shrine is free but the Treasure Hall is 500 yen to enter for adults.

Kamikura Shrine in Shingu at sunrise.
Kamikura Shrine in Shingu at sunrise
Bridge at the entrance to Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine in Shingu.
Bridge at the entrance to Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine in Shingu

Kamikura Shrine

On the mountainside overlooking Shingu, a large outcropping of bare rock named Kotobiki-Iwa is, according to the ancient myth, the place where the three gods of the Kumano shrines, Kumano Hayatama no Omikami, Kumano Musubi no Omikami and Ketsumi Miko Omikami, originally descended to the land.

From here they were later transferred to the new shrine down below. Just in front of the rock itself is the small Kamikura Shrine, kamikura translating as "seat of the gods", and the giant rock itself is wrapped with a large shimenawa (sacred rope).

After passing through a couple of torii (Shinto gates) down at street level the way up the mountainside to Kamikura Shrine starts with a winding rough stone stairway of almost 538 steps. Expansive views over the town below and to the sea beyond await those willing to make the effort. Kamikura Shrine's most important festival is the Oto Matsuri on February 6th.

After a day of purification and consumption of liberal amounts of sake, men dressed all in white, with a sacred rope around their waist, carry torches on a visit to several shrines in the town before heading up the mountainside to the Kamikura Shrine. When everybody is ready the torches are lit from a single fire and en masse they race down the hillside making it appear like a huge fiery serpent is descending the mountain.

Kamikura Shrine
Kamikura, Shingu-shi
Wakayama 647-0044

Stone stairway leading up to the Kamikura Shrine in Shingu.
Stone stairway leading up to the Kamikura Shrine in Shingu

Shingu has numerous reasonably priced hotels as well as traditional ryokan and minshuku. Some recommended places to stay include Shingu Sunshine Hotel, Shingu UI Hotel and Hase Ryokan.

View over Shingu from Mount Kamikura.
View over Shingu from Mount Kamikura, Wakayama Prefecture

Access - Getting to Shingu

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. The Japan Rail Pass is valid on this route.

There are regular flights to Osaka from both Beijing and Shanghai.

Shingu is a JR railway station on the Kisei Line. Tokyo is five hours away, and Osaka a little over fours hours. Access to Nachi Taisha is the same train line and takes 20 minutes. Hongu Taisha is accessed by an 80 minute to two hour bus journey depending on the route.

Kumano Kodo Video

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