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Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range
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Koya
Kumano
Yoshino/Omine
Iseji

A Shugendo sacred site consisting of steep mountains with altitudes from 1,000 to 2,000 meters is divided into two parts: "Yoshino" to the north and "Omine" to the south. Already in the mid-10th century, the status of this region as the most important sacred mountain in Japan had been established to such an extent that its reputation reached as far as China.
Yoshino, as the Shugen sect of ascetic Buddhism became increasingly active and influential, received attention largely in association with En no Gyoja (7th c. to 8th c.), who is believed to have been the founder of Shugendo. Omine is the area of mountains that link Yoshino and the group of shrines known as "Kumano Sanzan". Mountain ascetic practices, emphasized in the doctrine of the Shugen sect, put special importance on training rituals called Okugake or Mineiri, in which practitioners confine themselves in the mountains to undergo and complete a series of ascetic practices, proceeding along the pass through the mountain. Omine is a famous stage for this Okugake, attracting many ascetic practitioners from throughout Japan and inspiring the formation of sacred mountain sites in other places in Japan based on this model. Formidable ridges which are closed off by ice and snow in the wintertime have been revered as subjects of worship and chosen as the locations of numerous ascetic practice stages, temples and shrines, all of which are connected by the pilgrimage route "Omine Okugakemichi" which runs from ridge to ridge.
Yoshino, on the other hand, is famous for cherry blossoms and cherry trees, historically planted as part of a religious activity offering the cherry tree as a sacred tree for worship. Here the mountain slopes and valleys covered with vast numbers of cherry trees form a peerless cultural landscape in Japan.


This pilgrimage route connects the sacred sites Yoshino and Omine in the south and Kumano Sanzan in the north. This is a stage for ascetic practices for Buddhist priests, starting from Yoshino and reaching Kumano Hongu Taisha via Ominesan-ji and Tamaki-jinja. Most of the route passes along the severe, undulating mountain ridges at altitudes of 1,000m to 2,000 m above sea level, with many places en route for ascetic practices called "Nabiki". Legends tell us that this pilgrimage route was constructed by En no Gyoja in the early 8th century; to walk through this pilgrimage route is considered to be the most important ascetic practice, known as "Okugake". Any person who undertakes ascetic practices is required to complete the Okugake and it was considered important to repeat the Okugake as many times as possible. At the Bukkyogatake peak (altitude 1915m) on this route, there remain natural forests including the Bukkyogatake Primeval Forest and the Oyamarenge Native Growth.


Yoshino Mikumari-jinja is a Shinto shrine which had its origin of worship in the ancient worship for the watershed. In the 12th century, under the influence of Shinto-Buddhist fusion, it came to be believed that the shrine deity was an incarnation of the Jizo bodhisattva (Ksitigarbha) and accordingly the shrine received high reverence.

Kimpu-jinja is a Shinto shrine which had its origin of worship in the ancient worship for minerals including gold. This shrine, together with Yoshino Mikumari-jinja, played a significant role in the Yoshino area coming to be revered as a sacred mountain.

Kimpusen-ji is a central shrine for the Shugen sect of ascetic Buddhism, receiving great reverence as the religious center at Yoshino, the sacred site for the Shugen sect. In April each year, the traditional ritual called Hanakueshiki Hanakusempoe is observed with great enthusiasm, an event in which cherry flowers are offered to the chief deity in prayer for the absolution of human sins.

Yoshmizu-jinja has been a Shinto shrine since the decree to separate Shintoism and Buddhism and the decree to annul the Shugen sect were issued in the 19 century; however, originally before that, it had developed as a central temple among the temples affiliated with Kimpusen-ji and had provided accommodation to those who undertake ascetic practices or pilgrimage.

This cast copper Torii gate is the first gate for those who undertake ascetic practices to pass through on their way to the Ominesan-ji Hondo on Mt Sanjogatake, the mountaintop shrine dedicated to Zao Gongen. Also known as Hosshimmon, where people confirm their decisions to start on the series of ascetic practices, the gate played a significant role.

"Nabiki" were places for ascetic practices which were installed along the way of Okugake and were considered by the Shugen sect of ascetic Buddhism to be the most important practice.
According to a historical document, in the 12th century there were about 120 religious centers called "Shuku"; they were consolidated into 75 "Nabiki" in the late 17th century.

This is a natural forest of Veitch's silver fir trees (Abies veitchii), the representative species of evergreen coniferous trees that can be seen in the Kii Mountain Range.

Oyamarenge (Magnolia sieboldii) is a plant species of deciduous shrubs whose growths can be found in the forest beds and peripheral areas of silver fir forests.

Although the religious origin of this shrine is considered to have been the ancient nature worship of Mt Tamakisan, the shrine was dedicated to the same deity as Kumano Hongu Taisha and has enjoyed prosperity as a stage for the Shugen ascetic practices.


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