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Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, one of the UNESCO World Heritages in Japan

Visit Historical Kii Mountain Range

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World Heritage in Japan 12
Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes
in the Kii Mountain Range

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
(Culture, registered in 2004)
The Kii Mountain Range covers most of the Kii Peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. A mountain range of 1,000-2,000m runs from East to West and from North to South and over 3,000mm of annual rainfall supports deep forests

Kii Mountain Range has been believed as special area where Gods stay from the mythological times Buddhism which came from China also regardes this thickly forested mountain range as 'Jodo (heaven)', so Buddhist monks have performed ascetic training here to obtain the special power which Buddha has. Thus, three sacred sites and pilgrimage routes were formed and became very influential place for the development of Buddhism in Japan having many visitors from all over the country.

The main features of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range which lie over three prefectures (MIe, Nara and Wakayama) are the sacred sites and pilgrimage routes, and the cultural landscapes around them that could not have been formed without the nature of the Kii Mountains. Unique in Japan and rare even in the world, they are very valuable properties

Yoshino-OmineYoshinoyama with cherry blossom
The sacred site for Shugendo Yoshino and Omine, which consists of steep mountains reaching altitudes of over 1,000m, is divided into two parts. North of Mt. Aonegamine of the Omine Mountains, which is the water divide of the Kii Mountains, is called "Yoshino" and south of it is called "Omine". Already in the mid-10th century, the status of this region as the most important sacred mountain in Japan had been established to such extent that its reputation reached China.

Yoshino that had been the object of the mountain worship from ancient times became increasingly active and influential, received attention largely in association with En no Gyoja. Shugendo, which put importance on mountain ascetic practices, calls walking through the mountains with hard practice 'Okugake' or 'Mineiri', and Omine is the stage for it and became the model of mountain worship sites.

Yoshino is also famous for cherry blossom which was planted because they regards the cherry tree as sacred tree. So, Yoshino gives unprecedented cultural landscape in Japan.

Kumano Sanzan (Kumano Three Shrines)Kumano Nachi Taisha
Located at the southeastern part of the Kii Mountain Range, Kumano Sanzan includes the three shrines of 'Kumano Hongu Taisha', 'Kumano Hayatama Taisha' and 'Kumano Nachi Taisha', and two temples of 'Seiganto-ji' and 'Fudarakusan-ji' that are distributed 20 to 40 km apart from each other and connected by 'Kumano Sankeimichi Nakahechi'.

Although these three shrines have original distinctive forms, they have exchanged their gods with each other and have been worshiped as 'Kumano Sansho Gongen'. They came to be revered as the destination of the Kumano Pilgrims by 'the Shinto-Buddhism Unity Theory' that teaches God is the manifestation of Buddha and the fact that their main gods were considered as the incarnation of 'Amida-nyorai', 'Yakushi-nyorai' and 'Senju-kannon'

The pavilions of Kumano Three Shirines have very unique form and became the standard for 3,000 affiliated shirines all over the country.

Koyasan includes 'Kongobu-ji' that was built by Kukai in 816 as the principal stage for esoteric Buddhism on a 800m high mountain basin, 'Jison-in' that was built as an administrative office to facilitate the construction and management of Kongobu-ji, 'Niukanshofu-jinja' that was constructed as a guardian shrine to protect the Niukanshofu estate of Kongobu-ji and 'Niutsuhime-jinja' that is situated in the Amano basin between Kongobu-ji and Jison-in which is closely connected to Koyasan and enshrines 'Koya Myojin,' who legend tells gave land to Kukai when he choose the compound of Kongobu-ji, and 'Niu Myojin', who legend tells guided him, and all of them are connected by the pilgrimage route 'Koyasan Choishimichi'.

Having 1200 years of religious history, Koyasan is a mountain top religious city formed by 117 temples, combined with the surrounding steep mountain ridges and deep forests, it produces a cultural landscape related to faith.
Especially Okunoin where Kukai (Kobo-daishi) became living Buddha in Heian era and believed still alive, people still continue to build tomb stone together with the belief in Kukai.

Pilgrimage RoutesKumano Sankeimichi
There are folliwing Pilgrimage Routes which connect three Sacred Sites.
- Omine Okukake Michi
- Kumano Sankeimichi
 (Kohechi, Nakahechi, Ohetchi, Iseji)
- Koyasan Chosekimichi
The total length is 307.6q.
It is the second world heritage as 'route' following to the Pilgrimage Routes of Santiago de Compostera in Spain and France.

Three Sacred Sites of Kii Mountain Range were different each other at the begining, but by the connection with these routes, Buddhism integrated with Shinto.

(Reference: Website of Wakayama Prefecture the World Heritage Registration Association, and Wakayama Tourism Federation)

How to access to Yoshinoyama (example)
Tokyo Station-(Shinkansen)-Kyoto Station-(Kintetesu Line)-
Yoshino Station-(ropeway)-Yoshinoyama
Total time: about 5 hours

How to access to Kumano Hongu Taisha (example)
Tokyo Station-(Shinkansen)-Nagoya Station-(JR)-Shingu Station-
(bus)-Hongu Taisha Mae
Total time: about 6.5 hours

How to access to Koyasan (example)
Tokyo Station-(Shinkansen)-Shinosaka Station-(JR)-
Shin Imamiya Station-(Nankai Line)-Gokurakubashi Station-
(cable car)-Koyasan
Total time: about 5.5 hours

* Area is very large over 3 prefectures, so the accesses are different by the destinations.

map of Kii Mountain Range

Seigantoji Temple and Nachi Waterfall
Three-Storied Pagoda of Seigantoji Temple and Nachi Waterfall

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