A Quick Guide to Visiting Nachi Falls on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage
Nachi-Katsuura (那智勝浦) is a small coastal town in the southern part of the Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. It is home to the Nachi Falls, the tallest waterfall in Japan, and a section of Kumano Kodo, a network of pilgrimage routes and sacred sites within the Kii Mountain Range.
It is here, in Nachi-Katsuura, that you can experience a part of the priceless spiritual journey on one of the Kumano Kodo trails if you don’t have the ability to complete a full route. This quick guide will take you to Nachi Falls, Nachi Shrine, and Seigantoji Temple.
How to Get to Nachi-Katsuura & Nachi Falls
First things first, how do you get to this small town? Well, there are a few ways that you can get to Nachi-Katsuura, the first is by car. During the time that we visited, we were on a road trip around many areas of Japan including the Wakayama Prefecture. We found it relatively easy to travel to Nachi-Katsuura by car and had very little traffic!
Once you arrive at Nachi-Katsuura there is paid parking next to the Daimonzaka trail and next to the three-story pagoda at Seiganto-ji Temple and Nachi Falls, two of the sights we will cover in this Kumano Kudo guide.
The second way to get to Nachi-Katsuura is by train and bus. If traveling from Wakayama City you can take the JR Kuroshio Line from Wakayama Station to Kii-Katsuura Station. From Kii-Katsuura Station you can take the bus to Nachi Shrine which costs ¥620 one-way and takes roughly 30 minutes.
There is also another bus route to Nachi Shrine and Nachi Falls that leaves from Nachi Station and costs ¥490 one-way and takes roughly 20 minutes. For both of these routes, buses depart every 45-minutes for Nachi Shrine.
Bus Stops for Nachi Falls & Shrine
- Daimonzaka Bus Stop: Stops at the entrance of the Daimonzaka Trail where you can hike to Nachi Shrine.
- Taki-mae Bus Stop: Stops at the entrance of Nachi Falls
- Nachi-san Bus Stop: Stops at the base of Nachi Shrine
Where to Stay in Nachi-Katsuura
There are a few different places that you can choose to stay at during your time in Nachi-Katsuura, however, I highly recommend staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan or minshuku (bed and breakfast) because these two types of accommodations allow you to become more immersed in traditional Japanese culture and they typically offer meals. Here are a few places to check out for your stay in Nachi-Katsuura.
Oyado Hana: This tiny, budget-friendly bed and breakfast has a cozy and welcoming atmosphere for guests to relax in after a long day of hiking. There is also a small restaurant nearby and free miso soup, tea, and coffee at the inn. It also offers free parking for guests who drove and is close to the train station for guests who took public transportation.
Manseiro: This mid-range ryokan is located along the harbor so it offers pretty views from most of their rooms. They also have a private onsen that you can reserve and kaiseki-style dinner and traditional Japanese breakfast for guests.
The History of Kumano Kodo
For over one thousand years, a network of religious and spiritual trails have been used in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan known as Kumano Kodo (熊野古道). Originally, Kumano Kodo was created as a way for religious leaders, samurai, and Japan’s wealthy elite to move between the sacred areas, but today anyone can take this journey.
Along these routes, you’ll find Kumano Sanzan, the three cherished shrines of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. These shrines are Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha.
This pilgrimage isn’t for the faint of heart. It is considered to be a challenging spiritual journey as you make your way through difficult mountain terrain and riverways. But if you do decide to make the journey, the collaborative relationship between nature and spirituality is not only evident, it is also moving.
The Trails of Kumano Kodo
Although in this post, we are focusing on the Nachi area shrines and temples along Kumano Kodo it cannot be left unsaid that the Kumano Kodo trails also link to a number of other important sites.
Also, I want to point out that when we visited Nachi-Katsuura we weren’t able to hike any of these trails completely, but we did hike the path up Daimonzaka (which we will discuss in a moment). This gave us a small taste of Kumano Kudo and is perfect for those who are pressed for time like we were. Regardless, we wanted to share a little about each of the Kumano Kodo trails and the sites you’ll find along their paths.
The Ohechi Route is the furthest south and passes along the coast from Tanabe to Nachi Taisha. From what I’ve read, this trail can be hard to find because of the modern developments built around it.
The Iseji Route connects to Ise Shrine in the Mie Prefecture. Similar to Ohechi, modern developments of buildings and roads have faded parts of this trail away and there are only short paths of outdoor scenery.
Omine Okugake Route
The Omine Okugake Route connects to Mount Omine to reach Yoshino. Of the trails, this is one of the most challenging and dangerous routes that require physical endurance and preparation. When taking this trail, there are very few towns you’ll pass through as well.
The Kohechi Route has one of the most popular places to visit in this area, Koyasan. Koyasan is the home to Shingon Buddhism. But like the Omine Okugake Route, this trail is long and challenging as well. However, if you do visit Koyasan you can even enjoy the unique experience of staying in a Buddhist temple.
The Nakahechi Route, also known as the Imperial Route was once only used by members of the imperial family. From what we’ve read, completing the entire Nakahechi Route takes about two days.
Most people stop in Chikatsuyu Oji where you can stay in a small minshuku (bed and breakfast) for the evening. Although the trail is hilly, it isn’t too difficult to walk on and has a lot of scenic landscapes and villages to pass through along the route. This trail also connects to all three of the Kumano Sanzan (shrines).
For our time on Kumano Kodo, we hiked a small portion of this route to Nachi Taisha and Nachi Falls where we were able to visit a few religious sites special to Kumano Kodo as well as one of Japan’s most famous waterfalls.
Kumano Kodo Attractions in the Nachi-Katsuura Area
First, let’s start our journey by hiking Daimonzaka, which is a 600-meter section (a little over ¼ mile) of Kumano Kodo that leads to Kumano Nachi Taisha.
When we visited, we didn’t have time in our schedule to complete the entire Kumano Kodo path so we settled for hiking Daimonzaka which only took about 30 minutes.
In my opinion, Daimonzaka was the best way to get a feel for the pilgrimage if you have a limited amount of time such as a day trip or only enough time for a one-night stay. The 267 cobblestone stairs are lined with massive Japanese cedar trees and moss where at that moment, you can feel one with nature.
If you take the bus to Nachi-Katsuura you can easily reach the start of this trail via the Daimonzaka Chusajo bus stop. However, if you drive to Nachi-Katsuura there is a parking lot close to the bus stop as well.
At this bus stop there are public restrooms, a small spot to buy drinks, and a box of bamboo walking sticks that are free to use on the Daimonzaka trail, just make sure you return them when you leave!
If you want to complete your experience, you can also rent a Heian Period pilgrim costume to wear from Daimonzaka Chaya, a small tea shop that is at the entrance of the hiking trail.
Hours: 9am-4pm daily
Cost: Rental costumes starting at 2,000 yen
Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社)
After hiking Daimonzaka you’ll come out to a street that is located close to Kumano Nachi Taisha, one of the main shrines to visit on Kumano Kodo. If you aren’t hiking there are some smaller areas here to park as well.
The streets you’ll walk to get to Nachi Shrine are lined with small restaurants, souvenir shops, and cafes. We stopped and grabbed some ice cream to enjoy since it was a hot day!
After we walked over to the entrance of Kumano Nachi Taisha where we were immediately amazed by the beauty of this distinguished shrine. The harmonious balance of nature and spirituality was exceptionally moving.
While at Kumano Nachi Taisha I recommend taking some time to visit the treasure hall where many religious documents and mandala (ancient pictures) are stored. Another place I recommend visiting at Kumano Nachi Taisha is the paid viewpoint for the falls which allows you to get up close to this powerful waterfall.
Hours: Main shrine is always open, Treasure Hall 8am-4pm daily
Cost: Free (300 yen to visit the treasure hall)
Nachi Falls (那智滝)
By now we’ve talked about this waterfall enough you’re probably anxious to hear about it. Nachi no Taki, also known as Nachi Falls is the tallest waterfall in Japan at 436 feet (133 meters) high and 43 ft (13 meters) wide and has a water flow of one ton per second! In my humble opinion, it is also one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world too.
The two best places to view Nachi Falls are from Hiro Jinja and Seiganto-ji. Hiro Jinja is located at the bottom of the waterfall. At this location, you can be close enough to hear the roaring of the powerful water as it tumbles off the edge of the cliff.
Another place to view Nachi Falls is from the front of the three-story pagoda at Seiganto-ji temple which is located on the side of Nachisan Mountain.
Hours: 7am-4:30pm daily
Cost: Viewing Platform from Kumano Nachi Taisha: 300 yen
Seiganto-ji Temple (青岸渡寺)
Nearby Kumano Nachi Taisha is Seiganto-ji, a Buddhist temple. In fact, it is so nearby, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. But I have to say, this temple is by far one of the most picturesque places we’ve ever seen in Japan, maybe even the world.
While this temple is stunning to look at, it also has a rich history dating back to the 5th century. It is considered to be the oldest structure in the Kumano area and it houses many cultural and religious artifacts inside. Below the main temple is a bright red three-story pagoda that stands in front of a lush mountain backdrop with Nachi Falls alongside it.
Hours: 8:30am-4pm daily
Cost: Free (300 yen to go inside the pagoda)
Would you like to visit Nachi Falls and Kumano Kodo?