The Kii Peninsula 紀伊半島
The Kii Peninsula, the spiritual heart of Kansai
The Kii Peninsula is the largest peninsula on Honshu and stretches south-east from Osaka and is considered Kansai's spiritual heart. However, besides Mt Koya, travelers rarely visit this area, but it is home to some of Japan's true wonders. Discover more about the Kii Peninsula.
The Kii Peninsula brings together four prefectures: Wakayama, Osaka, Mie and Nara. It is a very spiritual place in Japan, with many sites sacred to both Shintoism and Buddhism. Its central mountains are home to many famous pilgrimage routes.
To travel around the peninsula and its best attractions, we recommend renting a car or purchasing either the JR Pass or the regional JR Pass (JR Kansai Wide Area Pass). Thanks to its flexibility, traveling by car remains, in our opinion, the best option.
What to see on the Kii Peninsula?
Koya-san is a must-see in Kansai, extremely important in Japanese Buddhism. It is dedicated to the Shingon branch and was founded by the monk Kobo Daishi. With its many temples and its cedar forests, this sacred mountain has spirituality and a calm that is difficult to describe. From Mount Koya and its cemetery, Okuno-in emanates an aura of mystery and magic. The walk between the tombs and the ancient cedars is an experience in itself.
The village is located in the heart of the many temples (110), in particular the Kongobu-ji and its sublime zen garden, or the Danjo-Garan complex, the first built by Kobo Daishi.
We recommend staying at least one day in this unique place, even two, if you would like to spend the night in one of the temples (shukubo) run by the monks.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Motokoka, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.fr
Zen garden in Koya san
Credit: Aymeric Geoffre-Rouland
Mount Yoshino is another beautiful place to visit, especially in the spring during the hanami. More than 30,000 cherry trees of different varieties are scattered all over the mountain, which is entirely pink in March and April ... Mount Yoshino is classified as a sacred site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, small shopping streets lined with shops and cafes, and hiking trails dot the mountain. Mt. Yoshino is the perfect place to admire cherry blossoms in Kansai, or to enjoy the beautiful views in summer.
Kumano and its pilgrimage routes
The Kumano region is home to three significant shrines (Hongu, Nachi and Hayatama) and the famous forest pilgrimage routes (Kumano Kodo), five trails that connect these shrines to Mount Koya. For any hiking enthusiasts recommend embarking on these forest paths in the heart of the Kii Mountains.
There are also two Buddhist temples in the region, the Seiganto-ji temple and the Fudarakusan-ji temple. The Seiganto-ji is famous for its location in the heart of the forest, and its red pagoda against a waterfall background. It is located very close to the Nachi-taisha, one of the three great shrines. Hongu-taisha is embedded in the mountains, 30 km as the crow flies, while Hayatama-taisha is located in the town of Shigu along the coast.
- Find out more: Kumano
Nachi Waterfall and Seiganto-ji Temple Pagoda
Credit: Pixabay, IT-Studio
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, ttshr1970, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en
Kumano Hongu Taisha
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Nekosuki, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
The great shrine of Ise is made up of several buildings, the most important of which is dedicated to the kami Amaterasu, the sun goddess who offered the sacred insignia of the Imperial family. In line with the Shinto belief of renewal, the shrine is rebuilt identically every 20 years.
Another highlight of the city, the two "married couple rocks" (Meoto Iwa) a few meters high, linked together by a shimenawa (sacred rope made of rice straw), and representing the bonds of marriage.
Not far from Ise is Mikimoto, the pearl island, where it is possible to observe divers with the secular technique, who dive in search of pearl oysters.
Other places to visit
If you want to wander around the area, you should take a trip to Wakayama, not far from Osaka on the west coast of the peninsula and home to a beautiful castle. If you pass by, be sure to stop at Bandoko Gardens.
Further south, you will find Shirahama Beach, a charming stopover in summer to cool off. This area is very popular with tourists.
In the extreme south of the peninsula is Kushimoto, a small town which shelters the rocks of Hashiguiiwa, the southernmost point of Honshu.
The Bandoko-teien gardens
Credit: Juliette Rivière
Credit: Flickr Henry Burrows, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/