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Kumano Journey Part4 Visiting Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine’s Chief Priest Kuki

Our final destination was Kumano Hongu, where we were greeted with the magnificent and largest torii gate in Japan. Standing at a staggering 33.9m high, this is Oyunohara, the former site of Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine.

This shrine was once built on river island at the confluence of three rivers, and was believed to be the place where gods descended. There was no bridge there, so people had to walk across the river getting wet, which was also a way for them to purify themselves before praying at the shrine.

In river island, within the grounds of 33,000 square meters, there were 5 buildings and 12 shrines, as well as Kagura Hall and a Noh stage.

However, most of these were destroyed and washed away in the great flood of 1889. This was also the year that the Constitution of the Empire of Japan was established, and then after, Japan plunged into the Russo-Japanese War.

The current Oyunohara through the great Torii gate is a flat area surrounded by trees and greenery, with only a sacred space remaining where the gods are enshrined in stone monuments. This gate was built by the previous chief priest in a year when a series of dark incidents occurred in Japan.

He believed that Kumano Hongu had a mission of warding off worldly disturbances and evil spirits, and despite much opposition he went ahead with the construction of the gate as symbol of the power of Kumano faith.

The four shrines that survived the great flood were relocated to higher ground a short distance away where the Hongu shrine sits today. Evoking the past, this is a spectacular building and a feat of Japanese craftsmanship.

The chief priest mentioned that Kumano specializes in protection from evil spirits, and is determined to pray for peace as the world enters these seemingly dark times of pandemics and war.

The chief priest believes that Shiozawa has the creativity and conviction to convey the significance of Kumano faith in a dedication painting that will serve our future generations with a message of peace, and a reminder that our priests are our best defense against evil.