Kumano Hayatama Taisha is located at the mouth of the Kumano-gawa River where the continuous flow of waters from the sacred heights of the Kii Mountains empty into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
The nature in and around the shrine is an integral part of this Grand Shrine’s precincts and annual rituals. The ancient 800 year old Nagi-no-Ki tree (Podocarpus nagi) highlights the areas deep tradition of nature worship.
On October 16th, during the Mifune Matsuri, nine boats filled with muscular local young men race up the Kumano-gawa River to Mifune-jima Island in a burst of power.
Another natural object that is revered as a deity is the Gotobiki-iwa, a gigantic rock located halfway up Gongen Mountain. At the base of this monolith is a shrine called Kamikura-jinja, which is the site of another dynamic event.
The Oto Matsuri is a fire festival held every year on February 6th. Men of all ages dress is white clothes with a thick straw rope wrapped around their waist.
During the day of the event participants, called noboriko, only eat white food (white symbolizes purity) and some perform shiogori, a purifying ritual in the ocean, before heading up the steep stone staircase towards a clearing below Gotobiki-iwa.
Each participant carries a torch which is lit from a sacred fire. As the torches start to burn, the tension rises and finally erupts as the shrine gate bursts open, releasing the fiery dragon to race down the mountain.
The sky is illuminated orange as the sacred light reflects off of the blooms of rising smoke carrying the men’s hopes and wishes up to heaven.