Spotlight: Nachi Taisha (Wakayama)

While my rainy weekend on the Kumano Kodo earlier this month changed our itinerary quite a bit, that change was actually a blessing in disguise. One of the highlights of the Kii Peninsula is the Nachi Shrine (Nachi Taisha) and the Nachi Waterfall right next to it and as our original itinerary stood, we wouldn’t find ourselves anywhere near Nachi.

Sometimes rain can be a great gift. 🙂

So instead of hiking, we found ourselves in the Nachi area late on the first day of our adventure. Nachi Shrine is one of the three main Kumano Shrines, along with Hayatama Taisha and Hongu Taisha. While a shrine was first built here to venerate Shinto Gods, the arrival of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century didn’t disturb the shrine in any way. Rather, a temple – Seigantoji – was built right next door and the temple’s pagoda has become one of the most iconic sites of the area. Both shrine and temple were popular destinations for pilgrims in the Middle Ages who would journey from the Kyoto area to visit the main religious sites of the Kii Peninsula.

Pagoda in the fog
Pagoda in the fog

One of Nachi’s most famous photos involves the pagoda in the foreground with the Nachi Waterfall tumbling behind. Sadly, on my visit, anything beyond five feet was obscured by a heavy fog but we did hike down the forest path to the base of the Nachi Waterfall. Tumbling 133 meters from top to base, this is one of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls and the highest one in Japan. It’s incredibly impressive in any weather, but in clear skies start first with the full view from the platform above the pagoda.

Nachi Waterfall
Nachi Waterfall

A two-day pilgrimage route leads through the mountains from Nachi Taisha to Hongu Taisha but for those who simply want a small taste of the trails, the next best thing is a hike up the Daimonzaka (literally “big gate slope”). This ancient stone staircase leads visitors from a small parking area to the base of the Nachi Shrine and a short walk down the road from the Nachi Waterfall. While it’s a beautiful visit at any time, it’s particularly atmospheric on rainy days or in early mornings when the mountain mists hang thick over the stairs and the entire area feels rather otherworldly. For those who really want to get into character, a shop at the very base of the Daimonzaka rents out old pilgrimage outfits. Gorgeous to look at but how people hiked in them, I’ll never know!

The Daimonzaka path
The Daimonzaka path

Buses serve the Nachi area, including a stop right in front of the Daimonzaka. There are also numerous parking area, both near the Daimonzaka and the waterfall.

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