Pilgrimage to Kumano

Have you ever heard of the term nature worship?
The spirit of nature worship is said to have been deeply rooted in the Japanese people for a long time.
However, this kind of spirituality is no longer something that is familiar to us in today's lifestyle.

First of all, what is nature worship? There is a word related to nature worship: animism. In the 19th century, British anthropologist Edward Tylor defined it as a characteristic of primitive religions in his book Primitive Culture. Animism comes from the Latin word anima, which means "soul," and is the idea that all things, including trees, stones, and other living things other than humans, have souls.
It is a concept that is important in the religions and customs of various ethnic groups around the world.
Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, is also based on this animism. If you have the opportunity to visit a shrine, you may have seen shimenawa with paper streamers attached to huge rocks or trees. This is a physical manifestation of the spirit of nature worship.
A more prominent example is Omiwa Shrine in Nara Prefecture, which is located at the foot of Mount Miwa, and Mount Miwa itself is its sacred object. Originally, there was no main hall to enshrine the gods, and the original form of a shrine remains, where people worship directly at Mount Miwa.
There are many places in Japan where you can experience this spirit of nature worship, but one representative example is the Kumano Kodo , which is now known as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range."
This pilgrimage route consists of Mount Koya and the Kumano Sanzan in Wakayama, and Mount Omine in Nara. It is considered a sacred place for a variety of faiths, including Buddhism, which was introduced from China, Mount Omine, which is rooted in nature worship, and Shugendo, which combines these.
Among them, the Kumano Sanzan are made up of three shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha, and each shrine enshrines Susanoo, Izanagi, and Izanami.
As a place where you can feel the spirit of nature worship, Hiro Shrine, a branch shrine of Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, enshrines Nachi Falls as a sacred object. 
The 133m height and roaring sound of the waterfall inspire awe at this natural phenomenon, and people have prayed to the gods who reside there.
(The three-story pagoda of Seiganto-ji Temple and Nachi Falls)
Another shrine where you can see the primitive way of worshiping gods is Kamikura Shrine. After climbing 538 steep stone steps to the top of the hill, you will find a huge rock called Gotobiki Rock. This is said to be the place where the Kumano gods first descended, and this huge rock has been worshiped as a sacred object since ancient times.
As an aside, the view of Kumano city and the Kumano Nada Sea from the top is spectacular.
In Japanese Shinto, mountains, rivers, trees, stones, and everything else are worshipped as sacred objects. It seems as though there is a kind of miraculous power that cannot be experienced in everyday life. Successive emperors and retired emperors have visited Kumano many times, with Emperor Gotoba visiting 28 times and Emperor Goshirakawa visiting 34 times. There must have been something special about Kumano that made them willing to make the arduous journey, far removed from the convenient modern transportation network, and take about 15 days each way. Since the Muromachi period, Kumano pilgrimages have spread widely among the general public, and so many people have visited the area that it is called "the ant's Kumano pilgrimage." Even today, many people from all over Japan and even overseas visit Kumano to receive the protection of the gods and Buddhas.
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