Three World Heritage Sites~Two Days in Kumano:First day~

Three World Heritage Sites~Two Days in Kumano:First day~

It’s rare that you can visit three world heritage sites in a single day, even more rare to be able to visit three within 30 minutes! Join me on my trip to Kumano, Mie where I explore the old and discover the new!

About 3 hours by car from Nagoya City, the last 30 minutes of the drive into Kumano includes several tunnels and valleys. Coming through the last tunnel, I turned down into a valley surrounded by large (for this area) mountains, heading toward the coast. The valley is full of coniferous and deciduous trees, blanketing the area in green and creating many scenic spots you can enjoy as you drive. Just gorgeous! If you open your windows as you go down the hill, you’ll hear the sound of a river rushing down the mountain.

I reached the coastal area of Kumano City and as I came around the last corner to Onigajo Center, the ocean suddenly came into view. And what a view it was! Even though today was overcast, it was simply breathtaking! There was a free parking lot directly in front of the visitor center, and only a short walk to the center.

Inside, you’ll notice a small lounge to your right with local tourist information available in several languages. On the left, and also straight ahead, you will find many locally produced souvenirs and snacks for sale. 

There is a restaurant on the second floor with a wonderful ocean view, and is open for lunch from 11:00 to 3:00 PM. (The restaurant on the third floor is available only for large groups.)

If you miss the restaurant times, you can always go to the small shop on the first floor, on the ocean side of the building. They have a limited menu, but their ice cream is EXCELLENT! Made from local dairy milk and ni-hime,a local unique citrus fruit, it has a hint of cheesecake flavor to it. So… enjoy cheesecake without all the guilt?

After the delicious ice cream, I was ready to go see Onigajo, or “Demon’s Castle”, a World Heritage Site. Just next to the Onigajo Center was a path leading down to the ocean.

Depending on the angle, Onigajo either looks like the face of a formidable demon, or like an impenetrable castle. It is a natural wonder of solid stone carved away by the endless crashing of waves.

From a lower angle, you can see just how rough this rock formation is. It’s going to hurt if you fall down! Fortunately, the rough surface also provides really good footing.

The waves crashing against the bottom of the rock wall was a constant reminder to watch my step. There were ropes, chains and other “safety bars” along the path, but are just high enough for me to stumble over and fall into the water.
Surprisingly little sea smell.

The trail continues on for nearly a full kilometer before coming out to Shichiri Mihama Beach. For more information, check out this website:

Located on the shore, Hotel Nami is in the perfect location for visiting Kumano and offers an amazing ocean view. You can enjoy the morning sun as it rises over the Pacific Ocean. It’s only 500 meters from Onigajo Center!

Each month, about 10 foreign guests stay at Hotel Nami, which sometimes has an English-speaking staff member on site, but can reach English support by phone if necessary.

The best feature of Hotel Nami is the ocean view. There is a spacious deck in front of the restaurant and you could not ask for a better view! The rooms are a bit small and the breakfast should be given a pass, but dinner was enjoyable and the prices were reasonable. I would recommend having breakfast somewhere else in town - perhaps after an early morning walk.

The following morning, I woke up just before 6 o’clock in hopes to catch the first rays of sunlight coming across the ocean. Even though my hotel was right on the shore and I had an ocean view from my room, there was a mountain in the direction of the sunrise, so I headed back over to Onigajo and walked down the path a bit.

I realized I would have to walk quite a distance to clear the mountain that stretched across the bay. And, anyway, there was a thick blanket of clouds rising from the horizon which would surely prevent viewing the sun as it came up, so I headed back to my car and went down to Shichiri Beach.

And by sheer luck it seems I had stumbled onto another World Heritage Site! I looked to the south and I saw an interesting rock formation. This was Shishi-iwa, or Lion Rock. I had read about this in a guidebook I saw at the hotel.

I could see several people fishing from the beach. Depending on the season, you can catch amberjack, sawara, bonito, hailfish, and even mahi-mahi! It seems you can even catch carp and flounder!

My next stop was a nearby shrine - less than a minute away to the south, along the same beachside road. A large road sign indicated that Hananoiwaya Shrine is a world heritage site,one of many in Mie Prefecture, including Onigajo and Shishi-iwa. It’s located just across the road from Shichiri Beach. There’s a great place to park just another 150 meters past the sign. You can use the parking lot at O-Tsuna Chaya Cafe.

I read that Hananoiwaya Shrine is dedicated to a huge rock rising more than 40 meters over the beach. This is one of the oldest shrines in Japan, so be sure to check it out when you come to Kumano! This early in the morning, there was very little traffic - perfect for a nice morning walk! You can find the entrance just 30 meters or so in from the main road.

A long path, flanked on both sides by tall purple nobori, or flags, led from the main gate to an inner gate. The early morning sunlight shone in at a low angle, creating a unique atmosphere that can be experienced only in the morning.

Another path went off to the left through a series of red torii. I subconsciously ducked each time I went under, even though I easily cleared the beams overhead. About 20 meters in there were two small shrines. I thought the large, white pebbles on the ground were a nice contrast to the red gates above.

Back on the main path, you pass through a small building as well as a couple more wooden torii. Then, into a small clearing with a stone wall rising high above. As I walk into the clearing, I thought where is the shrine? And I looked up…. Wow!!

It’s hard to capture with a camera exactly what you can see here, but to describe it, it seems as if there’s a face carved into the rock wall resting above a massive boulder. There is also some kind of rope or net strong between the rock and the trees. Simple, yet impressive.

As I left through the building, I noticed several photos hung on the wall showing what appeared to be some kind of festival where they performed some kind of tug-o-war using the rope strung above, to connect with the ocean.

I left the shrine and went across the road to the seawall. Looking back at the shrine, I noticed that the rope attached to the giant rock formation reached all the way out to the corner by the main entrance and the road next to the beach!

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