Higashi-kishu, which comprises the five towns of Kihoku, Owase, Kumano, Mihama and Kiho, is located in the Kumano region of southern Mie Prefecture.
We are home to the place of various legends in the Nihon Shoki, which celebrated its 1300th year anniversary last year, such as Kumano City where Izanagi and Izanami’s gave birth to the gods, the Hana no Iwaya Shrine, and Tategasaki, which was said to be where Emperor Jinmu landed on his eastern expedition. There is also a shrine dedicated to Jofuku on Hadasu Beach, where Jofuku, who came in search of a spiritual elixir of immortality under the orders of the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty in China 2200 years ago.
Why is it that so many of these legends, traditions and mythical sceneries still remain to this day?
This is most possibly due to the huge Kumano caldera volcano eruption that happened 15 million years ago. The magma that flowed out of the earth created a massive rock, that was worshipped at the Hana no Iwaya Shrine.
People probably felt the massive amount of energy and power that came from the core of the earth exuding out of the rock.
We also have a multitude of scenic spots: the beautiful islands of Ki-no-Matsushima floating in the Sea of Kumano; the miracle spring Choshi-gawa River; Onigajo with its countless rock formations and caves; the 300m tall Onigura Cliff, a sacred site for Kumano Shugendo; Shichiri-Mihama Beach, the longest pebbled beach in Japan spanning over 20km across Kumano City, Mihama Town and Kiho Town; Doro-kyo Gorge; Yunoguchi Onsen, and so on.
The large rock formations near Magose-toge Pass straddling Owase City and Kiho Town, which have recently gained popularity among trail hikers and mountain climbers, are also the remains of magma. There is a saying that goes, “A big vessel is born in a big environment”, and this can be said to be the perfect phrase to describe Higashi-Kishu.
Iseji Route has been used as a pilgrimage route since the Heian period. From the Muromachi to the Edo periods, many people have made the pilgrimage from Ise to Kumano Sanzan as part of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
Upon reaching Tsuzurato-toge Pass in Kihoku Town, pilgrims would have entered the borders of Kumano, and enjoyed a view of the calming waters of the sea. There are endless slopes to scale in Kumano, and pilgrims would have to go through numerous grueling trails passing through Hajikami-toge, Magose-toge, Mount Yakiyama, Sone-Jiro-zaka Taro-zaka, Okami-toge, Matsumoto-toge in order to get to the sacred region of Mount Nachi and Kumano Sanzan.
They endured the difficult journey of Iseji by holding on to their firm belief that “no matter how hard it is, as long as we get to Kumano, the goddess Kannon will save us”.
Now, the trail is well-paved, and there are storyteller guides and various guide maps to make the journey easier, making it easier for people to experience the hike for themselves. We also have many delicacies, such as fresh seafood caught in the Kumano Sea like lobster, tuna, amberjack, and local beef, pork and chicken, which you can enjoy together with a calming soak in the hot springs here.
We look forward to welcoming you at Higashi-Kishu, the treasure trove of world heritage.
Chairman of the Mie Kumano Studies Research Society