Kumanokodo Road (熊野古道)
Kumanokodo Road (Kumana kodo) is a generic term of pilgrimage routes leading to Kumano Sanzan (three major shrines, Kumano-Hongu-Taisha, Kumano-Hayatama-Taisha and Kumano-Nachi-Taisha).
Kumanokodo Road mainly refers to the following six pilgrimage routes. Most of them were designated as historic sites of Japan, as `Kumano pilgrimage route' in 2000. In 2004, Kumanokodo Road was registered as a world heritage site (cultural heritage) of UNESCO, as `Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range,' but Kiiji route is not registered. It is a rare example of roads which have been registered as a word heritage site, along with ` Way of St. James' (Spain).
Kiiji route (from Watanabe no tsu to Tanabe)
Kohechi (from Koya-san Mountain to Kumano Sanzan [three major shrines, Kumano-Hongu-Taisha, Kumano-Hayatama-Taisha and Kumano-Nachi-Taisha], approximately 70 kilometers)
Nakahechi (from Tanabe to Kumano Sanzan)
Ohechi (from Tanabe to Kushimoto, Kushimoto to Kumano Sanzan, approximately 120 kilometers)
Ise-ji Route (Kumanokodo Road) (from Ise Jingu Shrine to Kumano Sanzan, approximately 160 kilometers)
Kii Peninsula is one of regions that have a large amount of rainfall in Japan. For this reason, remains of stone pavements are found in spots. Ichirizuka (a milestone between "Ri"s, about 3,927 kilometers), which were prepared by the Kishu Domain in the Edo period, are occasionally found.
However, some Kumanokodo Roads were merged into national routes or urban districts. For instance, the route, which was once known as Totsukawa Road, was merged into National Route 168. The fact that Kiiji route (from Osaka to Tanabe) is not registered is due to similar circumstances. Even in terms of routes which have been registered, most of Ohechi and Ise-ji Routes are taken by National Route 42.
The geography of Kii Peninsula is one of reasons that made these things happen. The central part of Kii Peninsula has no visibly high mountains, but is covered in endlessly extending mountains and valleys. For this reason, development of transportation facilities has been difficult since ancient times and areas for construction of traffic routes were limited. With the exception of roads including Kohechi and Omine Okugake-michi (paths), roads developed by ancient people and current major traffic routes are often paralleled (examples: Nakahechi and National Route 311; portion of National Route 42 and the JR Kisei Main Line included in Kii Peninsula and Ohechi and Ise-ji Routes) or often overlapped (as prescribed earlier). In addition, with rise and decline in popularity of pilgrimages to Kumano Sanzan, adequate routes are left unclear in some districts, and how to treat the routes derived from historical changes is not fixed. It must be noted that not all the Kumonoko Roads are registered as a world heritage site. There are some movements to rediscover `the forgotten' routes by local people.
The area around Kumano, which appears in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), used to be a place of nature worship.
It is said that the first visit to Kumano was the visit by Emperor Uda in 907.
It is said that Kumano Sanzan came to be frequently visited after a visit to Kumano by the retired Emperor Shirakawa was made in 1090. After that, the retired Emperor Shirakawa made visits to Kumano nine times in total. The pilgrimage to Kumano Sanzan among court nobles came to be common in Kyoto after this. The retired Emperor Goshirakawa also visited Kumano 33 times in total.
In the Edo Period, a pilgrimage to Kumano Sanzan became popular among common people, along with a pilgrimage to Ise. At one time, it seems that 800 travelers stayed in hatago (inn with meals) in the vicinity of Kumano in a day.
After the Maiji Restoration, the number of shrines around Kumanokodo Road dropped significantly. The custom of pilgrimage to Kumano almost died out.
Kumanokodo Road itself had been used as a community road for the neighborhood people until national routes were developed from the Taisho Period through the Showa Period.
Kujuku Oji (A series of Shrines which were established from 12 century to 13 century by the Kumano Shugen priests.)
In Kumanokodo Road (especially in Kiiji route and in Nakahechi), there was Kujuku Oji, where nearly 100 Kumano Gongen were worshipped, extending from Watanabe-no-tsu (Kubotsu, Kubotsu) at the mouth of Yodogawa-river, the base of Osaka to Kumano Sanzan. Few sacred places remain today.