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【Wakayama】 Boat tour on Kumanogawa River, ancient pilgrimage route2015.08.31

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About a thousand years ago, ancient pilgrims took a boat on the Kumanogawa River to travel between major shrines in the mountainous Kumano region on Kii Peninsula, western Japan. This sacred journey can partially be experienced by taking a boat tour in Shingu city, Wakayama prefecture.

The river was a key section of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes between Kumano Hongu Taisha in Tanabe city and Kumano Hayatama Taisha in Shingu city. They are two of the Three Kumano Grand Shrines. Both of them are located along the river. The shrines, Kumano Kodo and the 40-kilometer waterway are part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2004. It is the only river pilgrimage route among the World Heritage Sites worldwide.

The boat tour was launched in 2005, the year after the UNESCO registration. It takes about 90 minutes to travel the 16-kilometer course on the river known for its distinctive blue water. Along the way, a boatman explains as “a storyteller” the history of the pilgrimage routes and the points of interest including several waterfalls. In the middle of the course, participants land a small island to take a break when weather permits. They may also encounter a Japanese serow, a special natural treasure.

The city of Shingu has flourished thanks to many visitors to Kumano Hayatama Taisha. It is believed that aristocrats used the Kumanogawa River pilgrimage route in around the 11th and 12th centuries during the Heian Period. There were as many as 400 flat-bottom boats operating along the river at their peak in the Edo Period. The river was also used to transport timber.

 

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