The Kumano Hongu-Taisha Shrine is a World Heritage registered Grand Shrine located deep in the rugged mountains of southeastern Wakayama. It is the head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano Shrines across the country and part of the Kumano Sanzan, the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano. The other two are Kumano Nachi-Taisha Shrine and Kumano-Hayatama- Taisha Shrine. Originally, each of these three Grand Shrines had their own distinctive form of nature worship; later in the 10th century, they started to be worshipped as a set under the influence of Buddhism. Kumano Hongu-Taisha Shrine was originally located at Oyunohara, a delta at the confluence of the Kumano-gawa and Otonashi-gawa Rivers. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes lead to this mystical sandbank encompassed by mountains; it is the spiritual heart of Japan.
There are three hot spring areas in the Hongu area each with their own unique history and atmosphere: Yunomine, Kawayu and Wataze. Yunomine-onsen Hot Spring is said to be discovered over 1800 years ago and is famous for its healing powers. The small Tsuboyu bath is the only World Heritage registered Hot Spring in the world that you can bath in. In the summer you can dig your own hot spring bath and during the winter the river is transformed into the giant outdoor bath called Sennin-buro. Wataze-onsen Hot Spring is home to one of the largest outdoor baths in Japan.
In the 11th century these Grand Shrines became a pilgrimage destination for the imperial family and aristocrats. By the late 15th century, the majority of pilgrims to Kumano were commoners. There were so many people visiting this area that it was referred to as “ant processions to Kumano”. From prehistoric times until the present, the Kumano area was, and still is, considered a place of healing; a sacred, mystical abode of the gods.
In 1889 there was a tremendous flood that destroyed a large portion of the shrine complex. The salvaged materials were used to rebuild the pavilions at their present location, on a ridge 500 meters northwest of the former shrine grounds.