Kumano Hayatama Taisha
The Last of the Kumano Sanzan Three Shrines
Kumano Hayatama Taisha is one of the 3 great Kumano Kodo pilgrimage shrines located in Shingu city, at the south-eastern end of Wakayama prefecture. The shrine was built at the mouth of the Kumano river, that flows into the Pacific Ocean, and celebrates both the power of nature and the place where the mythical couple at the origin of Japan supposedly arrived from the land of the kami.
Despite being in the top 3 of the most important shrines of the sacred Kumano Sanzan area, Kumano Hayatama Taisha is the least frequented of the three. It is possible that visitors give up on its exploration due to its location, a bit secluded from the other sites and its architecture which is rather classical, and therefore less attractive.
Nagi no Ki, the sacred natural monument
Hayatama great shrine’s grounds shelter typical Shinto elements such as the famous large torii ⛩️ gates, secondary pavilions and the sacred enclosure materialized by walls and the Shinmon gate topped by a big shimenawa braided rope. The present days’ buildings are reconstructions dating to 1951 and look new and colorful, displaying a range of orange vermilion hues, dark green and white.
A sacred, nearly a thousand years old giant pine tree, called Nagi no Ki, is majestically standing on the esplanade. It is without a doubt the highlight of the shrine. It was offered in 1159 by Taira no Shigemori (1138 – 1179), a noble samurai. The leaves of this tree are specific as they are difficult to tear off, and they can be kept as lucky charms for wealth or a happy marriage. They also symbolize the sturdy and unbreakable relationship of the pilgrims with the deities of Kumano.
Insights on the history of the shrine give significant hints to understand its importance in the Shinto cult.
Kamikura-jinja, the original shrine
Kumano Hayatama Taisha is a place to worship Hayatama no Okami and Fusumi no Okami, a deity couple more notorious as Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto. They are indeed the famous mythological founders of the Japanese archipelago and also parents of many Shinto deities, starting by the sun goddess Amaterasu.
According to the legend, they first set foot in the area on a rock named Gotobiki Iwa, located in Kamikura-jinja’s grounds, higher up on Mount Gongen and a couple hundred meters from Hayatama. It is reachable by a narrow and irregular stone stairway, that leads to a place also used as an observation platform on the mouth of the Kumano-gawa.
The 2 shrines therefore have a strong connection, with Kamikura being at the origins of Kumano Hayatama Taisha. The latter was later moved down to its current location in the 12th century.
Despite a weaker appeal than Kumano Hongu or Nachi-san, Hayatama great shrine offers a quiet visit, without walking difficulty and easily accessible by car 🚙 or by train 🚅. Those who like historical objects may be interested in visiting the Shinpokan Museum (Treasure Hall), preserving a collection of 1,200 sacred treasures, such as lacquered boxes or beautiful fans.