Just a couple of hours south of the electric city of Osaka, there’s a place where ancient pathways lead to hidden shrines shrouded in mist; where monks worship waterfalls and mystical forests float.
Located on the remote Kii peninsula on the southern coast of Kansai, Wakayama Prefecture makes up a large part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sacred Sites and pilgrimage routes called the Kumano Kodo. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails lead to the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano in the mountains of southeastern Wakayama.
One of the easiest Sacred Sites to get to in the prefecture would have to be Mount Koya. Climbing up the misty mountain top feels like entering another realm.
Among the collection of ancient temples nestled along the wooded slopes, many offer overnight stays where you can experience life as a monk. Attend morning prayers and eat vegan Buddhist meals as you follow the pathway towards enlightenment. Mount Koya is also home to Okunoin Cemetery, the largest graveyard in all of Japan.
The incredibly atmospheric Nachi Taisha shrine stands in front of Nachi waterfall which shrouds the shrine in its godly vapor. You’ll struggle to take a bad photo, but make sure your camera is waterproof. Hayatama Taisha shrine in the town of Shingu is home to a 1,000-year-old tree and a large floating forest that you can feel moving underneath you as you walk. You can visit all three shrines in one day but it’s worth staying longer for a chance to heal your body and mind in Kumano’s holy waters.
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