Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three famous temples in the Wakayama region, home to the Kumano Kudo trail. Since there are far too many temples in Japan to list, I’ve chosen to write about Kumano Nachi Taisha as this temple had some of my most memorable moments, maybe because I had just finished a three-day hike and was glad to rest and take in all the scenery, but maybe because this temple was less touristy than the Wakayama region it gets far fewer tourist than other parts of Japan.
This temple doesn’t just have one of the most picturesque pagodas in Japan, but is also home to the largest waterfall in Japan. I found myself at this temple after a three-day hike across the Kumano Kodo trail. This temple is the easiest out of the three temples across the Kumano Kodo trail to reach as it is not far from a city, unlike the other two, which are in the middle of the mountains. So if you don’t want to hike the full Kumando Kodo but want to experience the Wakayama region, then this temple will give you an authentic and non-touristy feel compared to some of the cities’ rammed packed ones while meaning you can get a comfortable train from Osaka.
At the centre of the temple complex, where the pagoda is, you can take two paths, leading to two massive temples at either the highest point or leading down to the waterfall.
Both of these paths left an experience that I will never forget. At the bottom of the waterfall was a rock carved into the shape of a dragon. But the dragon was carved so that water flowed from the waterfall into the dragon and out his mouth. A old wise Japanese man, I could tell he was wise from his very long moustache and the fact that he was holding a bamboo pipe said to me that if I am to drink from the mouth of the dragon, he will add years to my life and ensure any illness will leave my body.
So after drinking from what is apparently the fountain of youth, I chose to head all the way up, following the long path to where the two temples were, one Shinto and one Buddhist. I was able to tell the difference between the two, from one being more orange than my hair and one having a statue of Buddha inside and more paint on the outside.
While exploring the temple garden, I started to feel like Alice in Wonderland, and no, not because I was running around in a white dress, but because outside the temples was an old tree with a tori gate in front of it. As I went closer, I noticed that the tree was hollowed out but still alive, and I was able to climb into the tree, which went down into its roots first, following some dimly light lantern in the centre of the tree through a tunnel under the tree, I was able to find some carved steps that lead all way to the top of the tree
After I had returned to the real world, coming out of the rabbit hole, I did what all tourist will do in temples. Not knowing exactly what to do, but to take pictures and admire the beautiful architecture. But this time unlike all the temples in the cities I also go to gaze at mountains and think about how I will now be heading back into busy cities away from this peaceful region.