Kumano Nachi Taisha
The Grand Shrine in the Mountains
Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three great pilgrimage shrines of the Kumano Kodo, located in Nachikatsuura, in Wakayama prefecture. The complex is one of the most famous views of traditional and spiritual Japan, with its vermilion pagoda and its sacred waterfall. The beauty of the constructions and of the natural environment bring out the magic of the site.
Kumano Nachi Taisha dates back to the 5th century and its sacred origins are in connection with Nachi no Taki, one of Japan’s most beautiful waterfalls, of an impressive 133 meters high. The fall 🍁 is said to connect the world of the living with the world of the spirits and the cosmos.
The complex, affectionately nicknamed Nachi-san, spreads on a vast 3,000m² superficies in the heart of Wakayama mountains, and at a maximal altitude of 350 meters above sea level. It is rightfully called the most beautiful shrine on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.
Several transportation means (on foot, by bus or by car 🚙) allow a large number of people to reach it. However, visiting the grounds requires to be in good shape as it is generous with stone stairways and hilly paths. We highly recommend to arrive by the former Daimonzaka paved trail that crosses a multi-centennial cedar forest and belongs to the Kumano Kodo sacred roads’ network.
Touring the main buildings and the must-see natural sites takes at least 2 hours. At the entrances of the shrine’s grounds, you will find small local shops as well as cafes that serve food for lunch or a snack, but close at nightfall.
Nachi-san benefits from a great serenity, and despite its fame, the tourist attendance is not too high, allowing for the Kumano pilgrims’ quest of quietness and spirituality.
Shinto and Buddhist complex
The shrine’s main esplanade is home to many vermilion constructions, of which the most remarkable are:
- The main pavilion Hondo, which is in fact a group of 5 Shinto halls, and;
- The hall of worship Haiden, sheltering worshipers’ prayers and the rituals performed by Kumano Nachi Taisha’s miko priestesses.
The tour includes a great 850 years old sacred camphor tree, whose trunk harbors a passage to its inside, into which one can enter after offering ¥300 (~US$2.26). We recommend this magic experience that provides an incredible energy from the nature.
The site used to be syncretistic and still includes Buddhist constructions gathered under the Seiganto-ji temple. That is where you will find one of Nachi-san’s symbols, its great pagoda.
Seiganto-ji temple’s vermilion pagoda
Seiganto-ji’s 3-story pagoda stands out in the middle of a small plaza, with a mountain landscape in the background and the Nachi waterfalls. The panorama is impressive and on a clear weather day the view unfolds up to the ocean.
You can climb into the tower for a fee, to reach an elevated observation platform, interesting yet not a must-see. You may find better to take the time to seat at one of the tables at the bottom of the steps to enjoy a landscape that is both natural and spiritual. The fascinating waterfall in the distance seems to be calling and inviting visitors.
Nachi sacred waterfall
The mystical journey continues deep into the forest to reach one of the most iconic waterfalls of Japan. The largest one, called Nachi Otaki, is 133 meters high for 13 meters wide. Considered as a divine entity on its own, where the kami Okuninushi is said to have appeared, it is the main pavilion of its own secondary shrine Hiro-jinja.
An observation platform, also accessible for a fee, is available on the side of the waterfall and offers a better view. For an additional ¥100 (~US$0.75), it is also possible to drink the holy water from a fountain shaped as a dragon head, with a nice engraved cup, that one can keep as a souvenir. The miraculous water is said to give a long life and a good health.
Nachi-san sanctuary is enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage, and its beauty makes it without a doubt an important visit of the Kumano Sanzan three shrines. We recommend visiting early in the morning to take your time and immerse in the mystical atmosphere. It also allows to enjoy the cooler temperatures in summer, the morning fog and being almost the only visitors in the grounds.