Premium Cultural Experience Tour: 2 Days and 1 Night in Wakayama
Witness the excellence of true Japanese culture in the Kansai region, the reputed home of ironically Japanese traditions and essence. Take part in a custom-tailored tour to meet world-class artisans in exclusive spaces like never seen before.
Here in Wakayama, Embark on a two-day spiritual journey as you walk in the same footsteps of the pilgrims who have made this sacred pilgrimage for over 1000 years. Visit World Heritage sites that are home to ancient Japanese deities, walk the tranquil stone-paved Kumano Kodo, and feel with all your senses the origins of Japanese nature worship.
Kumano Hongu Taisha Special Cultural Experience
The tour begins with a visit to Kumano Hongu Taisha, an ancient shrine that is registered as a component of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. Located deep in the mountains that are home to the kami themselves, you will get exclusive access to this sacred shrine. A Shinto priest will get you through the shrine, culminating in a visit to the Shojo-den. This is the structure where the gongen deity Ketsumiko-no-okami is enshrined, and where monk Ippen Shonin (1234-1289), the founder of the Jishu sect branch of Pure Land Buddhism, famously received a vision that would change his life. You will then be invited to sit in contemplation under of the cloister of the Shojo-den, and learn more about the importance of the shrine, the nature of Japanese spiritualism, and why Kumano has been revered as the “land of rebirth” since antiquity.
Kumanoko Shokudo Restaurant
Enjoy a delicious lunch in a renovated traditional Japanese farmhouse. The menu makes use of fresh organic produce grown on the restaurant’s own farm, as well as game meats including wild deer and boar caught by local hunters. Enjoy the authentic flavors of Kumano in a refined space.
After lunch the tour will visit Oyunohara, the former site of Kumano Hongu Taisha. The shrine grounds were once located on a broad sandbar where a number of rivers converge, but they were largely washed away in a devastating flood in 1889. Now a vast 34-meter grand torii gate marks the entrance to where the original shrine once stood. The gate is the largest of its kind in Japan, and while the original shrine is gone beyond a number of stone monoliths and shrines, you can still feel the spiritual significance of this site. This was after all, the spot where legend has it the gods descended to earth from the heavens, and watched over by the towering gate you are sure to be caught up in the mysterious atmosphere of this place.
Kumano-gawa River Boat Ride Experience
You will have an experience with a ride down the Kumano-gawa River in a private traditional wooden flat-bottom boat. The Kumano-gawa River was a vital section of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route between Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha.Traditionally, this sacred waterway was considered an object of worship. The Kumano River, part of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ride a slow-moving boat down the river to Kumano Hayatama Taisha. Spend around 90 minutes experiencing magnificent nature and listening to the calls of wild birds as well as an explanation of points of interest provided by a "storyteller". And you can also enjoy a traditional bamboo flute performance played by a guide.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha, Kamikura Shrine
The next stop is Kumano Hayatama Taisha, one of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano, and a place of great spiritual energy associated with successful matchmaking and marital success. After offering prayers to two of the deities enshrined here, Hayatama-no-okami and Fusumi-no-okami, you will receive a talisman called Kumano-goou-houin, a talisman given to pilgrims over the centuries. The tour will then continue on to nearby Kamikura Shrine. The shrine is perched on a cliff-face at the end of a 538-step stone path, and enjoys exceptions views of the nearby area.
Check in to this picturesque resort hotel located on an island in Katsuura Bay surrounded by crystal clear waters. The island is serviced by its own boats that depart from a nearby port which makes for a stunning approach. All the guest rooms boast elegant modern Japanese interior design punctuated with natural materials and earthy color schemes, as well as their own private open-air baths to relax in while you enjoy the bay views. For dinner, the hotel takes pride in its local menu presented as part of a formal Japanese banquet. Ingredients include tuna and abalone caught in the bay surrounding the island, as well as other local delicacies such as succulent Kumano wagyu beef, and delectable Kishu Nanko plums. （The food shown in the photograph below is only an example. Actual meals may vary depending on season and your chosen stay plan.）
Katsuura Fishing Port
The second day starts early with a visit to Katsuura Fishing Port to observe the early morning auction as buyers bid for the best of the best in fresh tuna. This port boasts the largest catch of fresh tuna in Japan, and the amazing sight of one giant tuna after another being purchased in a lively auction is an invigorating way to start the day. Afterwards, return to the hotel and relax over breakfast and take a walk around the island before checking out.
The Nachi Pilgrimage Mandala is an intricate painting depicting the temples, shrines, and pilgrimage route of Kumano in the style of a mandala. An engaging guide will narrate the journey depicted in the mandala and explain the themes of life, death, and rebirth containing in it. The mandala will transport you back to the adversities pilgrims in centuries past will have faced and the spiritual practice they gained in overcoming them. The explanation will include many sites you will go on to visit later in the day.
Daimonzaka Trail (Kumano Kodo)
The Daimonzaka cobbled ascent of sacred Mt. Nachi is one of the most iconic areas of the Kumano Kodo. The worn stone steps are interwoven with thick moss, and the 800-year-old towering cedars that flank the route remind you that you are a guest amongst the powerful forces of nature. This is a perfectly preserved snapshot of the earliest days of the Kumano pilgrimage, and along the path you will see many sights such as torii gates and arched bridges depicted in the Nachi Pilgrimage Mandala.
Kumano Nachi Taisha
After a lunch of soba noodles, a favorite among pilgrims in the past, the tour continues with an exclusive experience at Kumano Nachi Taisha and a visit to sacred Nachi Waterfall. The waterfall has a drop of 133 meters and is an example of Japanese nature worship where a natural phenomenon is deified. After a formal visit to the shrine, we will tour the grounds and view the exhibits in the Treasure House. For the Japanese people in the Kumano faith, the primeval forest surrounding the shrine is considered a place where the spirits of one’s ancestors dwell, so in praying to nature you are in commune with all who have gone before you.
Standing close to Kumano Nachi Taisha is Seigantoji Temple. As you visit and admire the soaring pagoda your expert guide will explain the complicated relationship between the Shinto shrine and Buddhist the temple is an easy-to-understand manner.
This revered waterfall bursts through the primeval forest with its powerful flow. The mouth of the waterfall is 13 meters wide and the plunge pool some 10 meters deep making it a powerful presence from afar. While sacred, in the Kumano faith you are not only encouraged to get close to it, and actually drink the water. Amongst pilgrims in centuries past the water was said to endow the drinker with longevity and remains a welcome reward after the climb.
Mt. Myohozan Amidaji Temple
The tour continues on to an ancient temple towering 749 meters above sea level at the summit of Mt. Myohozan with excellent panoramic view of the Kumano Sea. It largely retains its original appearance from when it was first founded 1,000 years ago, and local belief has it that this is a gateway to the afterlife, through which all departed souls must pass on the way to the next life. Ringing the temple’s hitosu-kane bell is the goal for many visitors, and it is said that every person must ring the bell at least once in their lifetime to ensure peace in the present world and for the ongoing happiness of one’s departed ancestors.
On the way to the station, the tour will take in the scenic beauty of the Irokawa area. The rural landscape spans tea fields and terraced rice fields that stretch out from the gentle slopes of the mountains. Traditional farmhouses and buildings complete this quintessential Japanese landscape and way of life largely unchanged over the centuries.
About this tour
This tour has been planned as part of our efforts to help achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) adopted by the United Nations in 2015. A portion of tour fees paid by all participants will be used to maintain and pass on the tangible and intangible cultural assets of Kansai, the origin of Japanese culture, to the next generation. This aims to create a positive cycle of cultural tourism; we look forward to your participation.