Kumano (熊野市 : Kumano-shi) is a small city in the Deep South of Mie with an estimated population of about 21,000.
It literally means "Bear field", with 「熊」 being "bear" and 「野｣ being "field.
The name "Kumano" is an ancient name referring to the entire Nanki area of Japan, the mountainous region that contains southern-most Mie as well as eastern and south-eastern Wakayama Prefecture. The famed "Kumano Kodō" refers not to the city of Kumano, but to the old Kumano region which is where the pilgrimage road passed through. There are other places in the region bearing the "Kumano" name, such as the river and the shrine (Kumano Hongū).
Compared to the word "Kumano" as used for the region, the city itself is quite new. It was formed in the 1950's when a variety of towns and villages bearing other names merged to form a new "city". At the time of the merger leaders had to choose a new name and, like a few other places in Mie such as Ise and Suzuka, the city chose to name itself after a famous local feature that already had wide name recognition throughout Japan.
As far as the origins of the word "Kumano", it would be difficult to trace exactly as the name is ancient.
It is on the not-terribly-convenient JR Kisei Main Line. The main station in town is Kumanoshi (熊野市) Station.
From Matsusaka or Taki, take the train south (heading towards Shingū or Kii-Katsuura), but make sure it's not going to Ise (a different line). It takes about two hours on the Limited Express from Matsusaka Station (you have to pay extra but you get a much more comfortable journey). It is about 3-4 hours on the local train. Warning: the trains to Kumano are not very frequent and the last ones in and out are pretty early. Check your times before you attempt to make the journey, especially if you need to be somewhere - like school!
If you're thinking of visiting Wakayama-ken or the southern Kii Peninsula, the tokkyu (Limited Express) that runs through Kumano goes down to Shingū and Kii-Katsuura in Wakayama and is fairly fast.
On the night of the Kumano Fireworks, trains will be very crowded but are the best way to get down to Kumano as Route 42 will be backed up for hours. The number of trains that run are increased quite a bit just for that night, and they run back from Kumano up to northern Mie late into the night. The Fireworks are held a mere 5 minute walk from Kumanoshi Station.
If you want to go from Kumano to Tokyo or vice versa there's an overnight Sanco bus to and from Ikebukuro Station, which also stops in Matsusaka.
Take Route 42 south from Matsusaka, which leads directly into central Kumano. While the road is windy and often slow, the scenery is amazing and you'll easily be able to get to the beaches etc.
If you're coming by the Ise Expressway, take the Seiwa-Taki junction (勢和多気JCT) and head down the newly-constructed Kisei Expressway. Currently it goes as far as Ōuchiyama and this will greatly speed up the first part of your drive down south. Currently the future route of the Kisei Expressway is planned as far as Owase. Further extension to Kumano and Shingu are likely but not for quite a few years.
In or near town
- Kumano Kodō (熊野古道)
- Kumano is set in the beautiful Southern Kishu Mountains and the area offers numerous opportunities for cycling and hiking. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kumano Kodo is made up of many ancient pilgrimage trails linking the Kumano Sanzan, the three grand shrines of Kumano in Wakayama-ken (Hongu-taisha, Nachi-taisha and Hayatama-taisha). There are a number of beautiful hikes along the moss-covered stone paths of the Kodo (see Hiking in Mie-Ken). The Tourist Office by the Kumano Train Station should have an English trail guide available. The Matsumoto-Toge Trail is easily accessible from Kumanoshi and Odomari Stations and has a great view over Kumano, Odomari Beach, Shichiri Beach and the Pacific Ocean (Kumano Nada).
- Castle of the Ogre (鬼ヶ城 onigajō)
- On a small peninsula at the north end of Shichiri Beach, the rock face of Onigajo owes its fascinating shape to years of wind and sea erosion and several large earthquakes, resulting in countless cracks, crevices and grottos of all shapes and sizes. Legend has it that pirates hid in the caves here. You can access the 1km path that follows the coast around Onigajo from a parking lot, just off Route 42, at the north entrance or, it's a 20-minute walk from Kumano Station to the south entrance. There's no charge to enter from either side, however you do have to pay to park your car at the north entrance. There is also a trail to the top of the hill with a great view overlooking the Pacific Ocean (Kumano Nada) and Odomari Beach from the Onigajo parking lot. This hill is a great place for viewing cherry blossoms in the spring.
- Lion Rock (獅子岩 shishi iwa)
- Located on Shichiri Beach, about 10 minutes on foot from Kumano Station along Route 42, Shishi-iwa is a much-photographed natural rock formation, which, from certain angles, looks like a roaring lion's head. The Santiago Coffee Shop opposite is a good place to relax and enjoy the views of Lion Rock and the coastline stretching down towards Wakayama-Ken. Be warned, however, that the coffee shop is rumoured to be haunted by the ghosts of criminals who were executed in a small cave behind the building during the Edo era.
- Flower-Rock Shrine (花窟神社 Hana no Iwaya Jinja)
- According to the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), the oldest history book in Japan, Hana no Iwaya is the burial place of the goddess Izanami no Mikoto, the mother of the Fire God. The shrine stands at the bottom of a 45m cliff that has been pockmarked by the ravages of the sea and weather, a short walk from the Lion Rock and right next to Route #42. A thick hemp rope stretches across from the top of the cliff to a grove of trees below. Every year in on February 2 and again on October 2, a festival is held to replace the rope, and it is stretched across Route #42 and all the way down to the beach. Ropes, flowers and sacred fans with the Hinomaru (Japanese flag) design are attached to it.
- A large rock quay, 100m high and 600m around, Tategasaki is made up of hundreds of rock columns rising out of the sea. It is said that in the 7th century, Emperor Jinmu landed here on his way to his conquest in the East. It's an approximately 50-minute walk from Nigishima Station (4 stops north of Kumano on the local train). Walk north along the road along the harbor and up the hill to Route 311, follow 311 and you will see signs for the wooded trail to Tategasaki, which will be to your left off 311. Tategasaki can also be reached by a scenic boat ride along the coast (reservation required).
Outside of town
- Maruyama Senmaida (丸山千牧田)
- Literally translated as "a thousand rice fields", these are some of the most well preserved terraced rice fields in Japan. The hundreds of small rice fields climbing up a mountain are beautiful in every season. Accessed most easily by car (35 minutes inland from Kumano near Kiwa-cho), Senmaida is also reachable by bus from Kumano Station. Rice planting is usually done around the last Sunday in May, and harvesting is done in early September.
- Kiwa Town (紀和町）
- Kiwa Town, although now technically a part of Kumano, still kind of feels like it's own town. It's a charming place - about 40 minutes from Kumano proper, there are no train lines at all, and when it was independent it had less than 2,000 residents. It also used to be known for its a mining industry which you can learn about at the mining information center/museum off route 311 in the center of town. Not far from there you can find Seiryuso and Yunokuchi, two awesome onsens quite close to each other. IN FACT, they are connected by a tiny mining rail car line with only two stops! The shaky little train is a great attraction. As for the actual onsens, Seiryuso is part of a hotel and Yunokuchi has natural water pumped in from deep under the mountains. Oh, and don't miss the castle ruins! Yeah, 赤木 (Akagi) castle can be found on route 40!! Crazy! To get there get on a bus headed for Seiryuso (清流荘) or drive route 311.
- Doro Gorge (瀞峡 Doro kyō)
- Dorokyo Gorge is one of the most beautiful and secluded gorges in Japan. The gorge is located in Yoshino-Kumano National Park, which runs along the borders of Wakayama, Nara and Mie prefectures. In summer, the jet-boats, which travel up and down the Kumano River through the rugged Dorokyo Gorge are a popular attraction. To get to the boats, take the bus from Shingū station to the Ogawaguchi stop in Shiko. The bus takes about 45 minutes and is coordinated with boat times.
- Onigura (大丹倉)
- Onigura is a 300m high, 500m wide red cliff protruding out of the hills of central Kumano. It was once a place for ascetics to train and today it is a great place to watch the sunset over the mountains. Onigura is a 40-minute ride by car or bus from Kumano Station: turn right out of the station and cross the Ido Gawa River and take a right at the signal. Turn left at the next signal past Jusco and follow this road (Orange Road) through the tunnel into Arima-cho. Once in Arima-cho look out for signs for Onigura, the turn will soon be on your right. From there, follow the signs.
Once in the mountains, the road to Onigura is narrow and windy, not for nervous drivers.
Events and Festivals
- Kumano Fireworks (熊野大花火大会 Kumano Ōhanabi Taikai)
- Mie Prefecture's finest fireworks show. A fantastic extravaganza, lasting well over 2 hours, with all the usual festival trimmings (food stalls etc). It is an annual event held on August 17th and one of the best fireworks displays in Japan. Hopefully some local JETs will peg a bit of the beach out for you. This is the one day of the year that the trains are plentiful and run late, although both the trains and the roads are jam packed all night. If you're driving, come early because parking can be hard to find.
- Kinomoto Matsuri (木本祭)
- This weekend festival is usually held over two days in the middle of October. Local groups carry portable shrines around town and perform dances and maneuvers with the shrines. One group is know for fighting anyone that it can get its hands on, even members of their own group. Local ALTs often help carry the shrines and partake in the massive amounts of drinking and eating that go along with the festival.
- The Jalympics
- This event is held in March every year. It is an exhausting 10km run along a shale beach in the nearby town of Mihama by teams or for fit/stupid individuals. This is also a good excuse to get drunk!
- Shopping Street
- An aptly named row of shops just outside Kumanoshi Station. It is home to a number of small locally owned shops, including a craft store, a small arcade, and a sporting goods store. While there are places to buy clothing, if you are desperate, the nearest place to really go shopping is the Aeon center, or the Super-center in Shingu which has a Uniqlo.
- The following stores can all be found south of Kumano-proper along Route 42.
- Footpark - Shoes
- Fashion Park - Really cheap clothing, well-priced linens
- Eiden - Electronics
- Daiki - Home goods (Formally known as "O-Joyful")
- Party House - Clothing
- Komeri - DIY shop and home stuff
Food and Drink
- Fairly standard grocery store, has a tasty bakery attached. Well. Technically it's an Aeon mall now.
- Arima Okuwa
- Located on route 42 in Arima. Smaller than Jusco, but will still have the standard groceries.
- Downtown Okuwa
- On "Shopping street", turn left, coming out of the station, and walk straight until you see it on the left.
- Tom Tom
- Little bakery located on a side street near Jusco. Great spot, try the cheese buns.
- Mon Image
- Cake shop located just down the road from the 24 hour Okuwa.
- Shifu no Mise
- Also on 42, around Arima.
Restaurants and Bars
- Cafe Bougie
- located across the street from Kumano station, this little spot is great for a snack or a relaxing lunch. It has a charming atmosphere and they play nice relaxing music. The staff is really friendly, and after a couple of visits, will remember any special requests! The best coffee to be had in Kumano is served at this little spot. They often have second hand clothing for sale, located near the door. The sign may say that the breakfast set is only served till 11, but as long as they have the ingredients, they'll whip it up for you.
- located near on a little street, parallel to the street with the station. Leaving from the station, walk up the red street towards town hall, turn left at the first street. Rozen will be on your right, looking like a log cabin. They serve all sorts of things, including meat spaghetti, curry, sandwiches and so on.
- Great food, amazing Chuhais in giant glasses (They'll let you split one between two people, separate glasses and everything, if it's too much to handle!) Located near Jusco, within walking distance of Kumano ALT housing (A little farther for the high school ALT, but not too bad) The owner is really friendly.
- Cous Cous
- Italian food. Nice spot, however, it is on the pricey side. Located in Arima, off the main road. May be hard to find if you've never been there, but ask around and someone will be able to point you in the right direction. They offer a wide range of tappas. Try the gnocchi!
- Mos Burger
- Nothing too special about this particular Mos Burger, but we do have one! Located along route 42. Open late-ish. Now remodeled with more room for hanging out! Try the coffee shake.
- Sushi Wakamaru
- Kaiten sushi located along route 42, to the south of Arima, by Eiden. Pretty standard sushi, relatively well priced. Great spot for the southern ALTs to get together to de-stress after a tough day.
- Not sure how this is pronounced, but it's a Taiwanese place (台湾料理）on route 42 in Arima open until 2am! It has a big yellow sign with lots of tables and fancy red decor on the inside. Seems to be run by actual Taiwanese people. Huge menu. Not far from Arii station.
- Past the Komeri heading south on the road behind (parallel) to route 42. Picture of Popeye on the sign. Has a nice feel to it. Psedo-Italian food and cafe.
- A Chinese restaurant located just south of Popeye's. Best Ramen in the deep south!
- Ok, so, it's not in Kumano, not even close, however, there is a little "Indian" curry place in the Shingū Jusco food court. It is most likely the best curry you will find in the area (if not Japan) It's run by these fabulous guys from Nepal. They've come to expect us. Though it's about a 40 minute drive, but it's well worth the trip.
Recreation and Entertainment
- There are many dive shops in the Kumano area. Some are in Odomari near the beach, the newest of which is called Nemo, which is also a restaurant by day and bar by night with a great view (www.nemo-kumano.com). They have a guide who speaks English. There is also the Dive Resort Kumano Nada in Hadasu-cho (www.jf-net.ne.jp/mekumano). To get to Hadasu-cho, take the local train to the second stop north from Kumano, or take a local train south from Owase and get off at Hadasu Station and walk up the hill to Route 311. Follow 311 to the north and you will see signs for the resort. If you are driving, follow Route 311 north or south to Hadasu and look for signs for the resort.
- Atashika Beach (新鹿海水浴場 atashika kaisui yokujō)
- One of the best beaches in Japan! It is located in the small town of Atashika, which is accessible by car from Odomari viausing Route 311, or from Atashika station.
- Ōdomari Beach (大泊海水浴場 ōtomari kaisui yokujō)
- Oodomari Beach, although not quite as nice as Atashika, is still a great place to hang out and, after a storm, is a popular spot with local surfers. It can be reached by walking from Kumano along the Onigajo Coastal Route (just over an hour on foot from Kumano Station), by walking from Kumano along Shopping Street, pass Daisan Bank on your right and continue down the small hill, you will see a fork in the road. The road to the left goes to Kinomoto High School, but take the road to the right and go over the small bridge and then up the hill (here you will also see signs for the Kumano Kodo's Matsumoto-Toge Trail) and through the tunnel and then connect with 42 and go down the hill to the beach (about 45 minutes), or by Local train (get off at Odomari, 1 stop north of Kumano). There's a great Korean restaurant in Odomari Town called Kan, located just up the street from the Shell Station (go under the train bridge and you'll see it on the left, closed on Mondays). Keep an eye out for sting rays. In late fall, swimming is not as enjoyable due to the possibility of stinging jellyfish.
- Shichiri Beach (七里御浜 shichiri mihama)
- A 5-minute walk from Kumano Station, Shichiri-hama stretches 22km south from Kumano into Wakayama-ken, making it the longest pebble beach in Japan. It is known for the loggerhead turtles that come ashore there to bury their eggs. Although a sharp drop off and dangerous riptide mean swimming there is not allowed, it is a popular spot for fly-fishing.
- City of Kumano - Official site
- Kumano Kodō - Tourism site (English) - Well-made site and great overview of the Kumano trail
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