Yoshino is another name of the southern area of Nara Prefecture. It is a mountainous region from Mt. Yoshino to Mt. Omine and its name means that good field suitable for hunting. Yoshino is divided into Kuchiyoshino and Okuyoshino. Okuyoshino is a mountainous region in which mountains continue and it was called Omine in ancient time and, in strict definition, it was not included in Yoshino. Mountains of Omine continue to Kumano. The road to Omine was opened from Kumano by mountain ascetics.
In is located in the middle of Kii Peninsula and to the south of Nara Basin. Highlands, basins and mountainous regions exist together. Kuchiyoshino is located in the basin of Kino-kawa River and Okuyoshino is located in the basins of Totsu-kawa River and Kitayama-gawa River. Yoshino-gawa River continues to Kino-kawa River and flows into Kii Channel and Totsu-kawa and Kitayama-gawa Rivers continue to Kumano-gawa River and flow into Kumano-nada Sea.
It is a rainy region comparable to the Kumano region (from the southern part of Mie Prefecture to Higashimuro County, Wakayama Prefecture) and, at the same time, a typhoon Ginza (an area where typhoons frequently pass). Yoshino cedar is deemed as one of the three most beautiful forests in Japan together with Akita cedar and Kiso hinoki (Japanese cypress), and forms a major forestry region in Japan.
It is famous for cherry blossoms, but most of cherry trees are not Someiyoshino (Prunus yedoensis), the name of which includes Yoshino, but Prunus jamasakura and so on.
In 2004, sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii mountain range were registered as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
The scope of 'Yoshino' and 'Yoshino region' changed with times and expanded to deeper and deeper as we go forward in time. Originally, Yoshino meant the wildland on the north bank of Yoshino-gawa River. That is, it was the southern slopes of Mt. Takatori and Mt. Ryumon-dake.
By the narrowest definition, it means Mt. Yoshino and Yoshino no miya (Miyataki ruins) sometimes.
The first appearance of Yoshino in history books is the article of Jinmu tosei (Eastern expedition of the Emperor Jinmu) in the "Kojiki" and the "Nihonshoki" and it is described as the point to be passed through from Kumano Province to Yamato Province. Needless to say, as it is a story of half-mythical world, it is difficult to identify correctly, a region along Yoshino-gawa River such as present Kawakami-mura (Nara Prefecture) or Higashiyoshino-mura is considered.
Yoshino which was recorded as the place of the Emperor Ojin's pleasure, places of Yoshino no miya (Miyataki ruins) as a detached palace established in 654, a place for seclusion for Furuhito no Oe no Miko after Taika no Kaishin (Great Reformation of the Taika Era) or Oama no Miko (later, Emperor Tenmu) and his wife, Uno no Himemiko (later, Empress Jito) immediately before Jinshin War, and the destination for imperial visit of the Empress Jito is considered to mean the detached place, Yoshino no miya, which was located in the vicinity of Miyataki of present Yoshino-cho.
From and after the Wado era (708-715), Yoshino was written as '芳野' and the Emperor Shomu often made imperial visits as a place of connection for the dynasty of Tenmu line. Also, it was a place of utamakura (a place famed in classical Japanese poetry) in ancient times.
In the Heian period, Kinpusen-ji Temple, for which En no Gyoja (A semi-legendary holy man noted for his practice of mountain asceticism during the second half of the seventh century) is deemed as the founder, was established and Mt. Yoshino became the place for Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts).
From the Kamakura period to the Edo period
In the late stage of the Kamakura period, Imperial Prince Morinaga, who was a prince of the Emperor Godaigo, raised an army in Mt. Yoshino to overthrow the shogunate. After demolition of the shogunate, Godaigo carried out the Kenmu Restoration in Kyoto, but he moved to Yoshino in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) and established Yoshino Imperial Court (Southern Court) by setting up a palace and administrative organs. Mt. Yoshino of Yoshino-cho was the center, but in the former Nishiyoshino-mura, there was the Ano Imperial residence as an angu (emperor's temporary abode). Traditional places exist also in Kawakami-mura. After the unification of Southern and Northern Courts, it became the place of activities of the force of Gonancho (latter South Court).