The Kumano Sankeimichi, locally known as the Kumano Kodo, is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes across the Kii Peninsula and an integral part of this World Heritage site. Geographically,Oyunohara, the former shrine ground of Kumano Hongu Taisha, is the epicenter with the pilgrimage routes radiating towards it from every direction, each with its own unique history. Most of the trails along the coast, excluding some passes, have been developed over, but the paths in the mountains are in good condition of preservation.
The Kumano pilgrimage was started in the 10th century by Japan’s Imperial ancestors, who lived in the ancient capital of Kyoto. Over time, people from all over the country travelled by a variety of routes to the Kumano region in the southeast of the Kii Peninsula.
The Kiiji route follows the west coast from Kyoto to Tanabe, where it splits in two. The Nakahechi route runs east into the mountains towards the Kumano Sanzan, while the Ohechi route continues south along the western coast. The shortest but steepest route connecting Koyasan and the Kumano Sanzan is the Kohechi route. The Iseji route links the holy shrine Ise-jingu with the Kumano region. Together, these five comprise the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route network.
In addition to the Kumano Kodo network, there are two other important mountain trails. The Koyasan Choishi-michi leads to Koyasan, an esoteric Buddhist mountaintop temple complex founded by the famous religious figure Kukai (Kobo Daishi). Stupa signposts made of stone are located 109 meters apart to mark the trail.
Between Yoshino & Omine and Kumano Sanzan, the rugged Omine Okugake-michi is the training grounds for the Shugendo sect of mountain asceticism. This trail is difficult and isolated, and should not be attempted by the inexperienced hiker.
The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes and the Way of St. James in Spain share many common aspects and are the only two pilgrimage routes to be registered as UNESCO World Heritage.
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