Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes 
in the Kii Mountain Range (2004)
Japan

Back to index

Set in the dense forests of the Kii Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean, three sacred sites - Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koyasan - linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto, reflect the fusion of Shinto, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan from China and the Korean peninsula. 

The sites (495.3-ha) and their surrounding forest landscape reflect a persistent and extraordinarily well-documented tradition of sacred mountains over 1,200 years. The area, with its abundance of streams, rivers and waterfalls, is still part of the living culture of Japan and is much visited for ritual purposes and hiking, with up to 15 million visitors annually. Each of the three sites contains shrines, some of which were founded as early as the 9th century. 
  • Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. 

    • Nachi-no-taki falls. 

    • Engetsutou island.

Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. Nachi-no-taki falls, and Engetsutou island.

Japan 1970. Mt Yoshino in the Kii range. Japan 1970. Nachi-no-taki falls in the Kii range. The Kii Mountain Range is located in Wakayama Prefecture, south of Kyoto and Nara, ancient capital cities that ruled Japan for over 1300 years. The mountains occupy most of the area known as the Kii Peninsula, a landmass that juts outwards into the Pacific Ocean. The mountains are covered with a dense blanket of green forest and have been Japan's spiritual heartland through the ages, a sacred place to where, it is said, the gods of Shintoism and Buddhism descended to reside. 
  • Japan 1970. Mount Yoshino in the Kii range. 
  • Japan 1970. Nachi-no-taki falls in the Kii range. 
Over time, three mountain areas in particular, Yoshino-Omine, Kumano Sanzan and Koyasan, came to be revered as sacred places associated with certain religious groups. Respectively, these were the Shugen sect of ascetic Buddhism, another sect practicing Shinto-Buddhist Syncreticism (the belief that Japan's traditional gods are incarnations of Buddhist deities), and the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism, each with their own distinct identity, yet interacting.
  • Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. 
    • Koyasan. 
    • Kongara-douji, National Treasure. 

Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. Koyasan, and Kongara-douji, National Treasure.

Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. The Old Path for Kumano. Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. Four stamps showing various views of The Old Path for Kumano. Stamp #1 of four. Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. Four stamps showing various views of The Old Path for Kumano. Stamp #2 of four. Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. Four stamps showing various views of The Old Path for Kumano. Stamp #3 of four. Japan 1999. Wakayama Prefectural issue. Four stamps showing various views of The Old Path for Kumano. Stamp #4 of four.

Along the Omine Okugakemichi pilgrimage route, the strict 'okugake' training rituals of the Shugen sect continue to be practiced and the Kumano Sankeimichi and Koyasan Choishimichi pilgrimage routes also draw large numbers of people seeking such paths to enlightenment. All of these have had a profound influence on the formation of Japan's spiritual culture. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Japan (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Japan for further information about the individual properties. 

Back to index


Revised 21 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus
All Rights Reserved