Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine

Kumano Hongu Taisha 熊野本宮大社

Jake Davies

Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the three Kumano Sanzan major shrines, is the shrine around which the town of Hongu grew up. For most of its history the shrine-temple complex was located nearby on a sandbank of the river called Oyunohara.

In 1889 a severe flood seriously damaged or destroyed much of the shrine and so it was relocated to its present site on the hilltop. A long flight of stairs leads up from below to the main gate. Inside the main compound the shrine buildings are lined up beyond a large area of white gravel.

The main gate to Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine.
The main gate to Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine, Wakayama Prefecture
The main buildings of Hongu Taisha, Wakayama Prefecture.
The main buildings of Hongu Taisha, Wakayama Prefecture

What is noticeable here, compared to the other two Kumano Shrines at Shingu and Nachi where much of the architecture is vermilion, is the dark, almost sombre use of natural dark wood, allowing the shrine to blend in with the forest surrounding it.

One symbol you will see around the shrine is a three legged crow. This is Yatagarasu, an ancient symbol first seen in China 5,000 years ago. In the founding myths of Japan Yatagarasu appeared to the mythical first emperor Jimmu in the Kumano area and led him to what is now Nara where he established the Japanese state. There is no entry fee to the shrine, but the Treasure Hall, which displays various artifacts, paintings and masks etc, is open from 9am to 4pm has an entry of 300 yen for adults.

Kumano Hongu Taisha is the head shrine of the around 3,000 Kumano shrines in Japan. The shrine is dedicated to Kumano Gongen and also enshrines the deities of Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha.

Kumano Hongu Taisha
1110 Hongucho, Hongu
Tanabe, Wakayama 647-1731
Tel: 0735 42 0009
Hours: 6am-7pm
Admission: Free

Dressing up in the costume of elite Heian Period Pilgrims is popular at several sites including Hongu Taisha.
Dressing up in the costume of elite Heian Period pilgrims is popular at several sites including Hongu Taisha
The biggest Torii in the world marks the original site of Hongu Taisha.
The biggest Torii in the world marks the original site of Hongu Taisha

Oyunohara

Oyunohara, the site of the original Kumano Hongu Shrine, is a short walk from the Heritage Center. Passing through rice paddies you approach a truly massive torii, the iconic Japanese "gate" that demarcates sacred space.

This one is actually the biggest in the world, is made of steel and weighs 172 tons. It was erected in 2000 and is almost 40 meters tall. During festivals it is illuminated at night. After passing through the torii the path, lined with tall, ancient trees, continues on to the site of the original shrine. Not all of the gods were moved to the new site and some remain at the original site enshrined in stone.

Banner in front of Hingu Taisha depicting Yatagarsu, a mythical three-legged crow from Japanese legend.
Banner in front of Hongu Taisha depicting Yatagarasu, a mythical three-legged crow from Japanese legend

Accommodation Near Hongu

There is very little accommodation right in Hongu itself, most visitors staying at one of the nearby hot spring resorts, the largest and most famous being Yunomine Onsen.

Some recommended hotels and ryokan and minshuku in the area include:

Ashita no Mori is a classic-looking, wooden A-frame guest house overlooking the river (with its warm bathing holes) and with its own hot spring bath inside. The proprietors are very hospitable and freely share their knowledge of the area. Comfortable, spacious, alpine-cabin-type rooms, all in wood, spic-and-span interior, good food. Great value.

Watarase Onsen Hotel Himeyuri is a gracious, beautifully laid-out hotel in landscaped grounds with lily ponds and pools and a variety of big onsen hot pools, both public and for guests' use only. Spotlessly clean and very comfortable, with warm and helpful staff.

Yunominesou is a spacious ryokan inn with delightful onsen hot spa facilities, including open air baths and reservable private baths. Traditional rooms are tatami floored, with sliding paper doors, for unhurried, carefree Japanese-style comfort. Excellent cuisine if you choose the meal option. Only 10 minutes' walk from the Ise-ji Route of the Kumano Kodo.

Hongu Taisha is just a bus ride away from these inns.

Hongu Festivals

There are numerous small festivals throughout the year in the area, but the two major festivals that take place in Hongu are the Annual Festival held from April 13th to 15th, and the Yata Fire Festival held on the last Saturday in August n honour of the Yatagarasu crow. Both comprise of many ceremonies, parades, costumed participants, and music and the Yata Fire Festival finishes with fireworks.

Access - Getting to Kumano Hongu Taisha

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.

There is no train access to Hongu, only bus. The most frequent buses run from Shingu Station on the JR West Kisei Line. The journey takes about 80 -120 minutes depending on the bus route. From Kii Tanabe Station on the same train line but located on the opposite coast of the peninsula frequent buses take 2 hours. There are also a couple of buses a day from the nearby Shirahama Airport that take 2 and a half hours.

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.

Kumano Kodo Video


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