Introducing places of interest: Yoshino-Kumano National Park
Situated at the northern tip of the Omine Mountain Range, Mt. Yoshino is the site of many historic ruins as well as temples and shrines and is also famous as the finest site of wild cherry trees in Japan. In the beginning, a statue of Zao Gongen, the principal object of worship of the Shugendo school of Buddhism, was sculpted using the wood of a cherry tree by Enno Gyoja and enshrined at Mt. Yoshino. Cherry trees continue to be planted in the area by persons wishing to donate what is considered a sacred tree. Visitors are invariably captivated by the sight of the entire slope of the mountain gradually becoming tinged from bottom to top by the color of cherry trees in bloom.
The Omine Mountain Range is a fold mountain region consisting of mountains rising 1,500 meters to 1,900 meters above sea level and extending for about 50 kilometers from north to south in the approximate center of the Kii Peninsula. A profound mountainous area known as the "Roof of the Kinki Region" comprises, from north to south, a series of famous peaks, namely, Mt. Sanjogatake (the birthplace of the Shugendo school of Buddhism), Mt. Hakkyogatake (the highest peak in the Kinki region), and Mt. Shakagatake (the dominant peak of the southern part of this area). These mountains have been protected since days of old as the sacred dwelling places of holy spirits and ancestral souls. Many ruins and other cultural artifacts can still be found here. Ascents by pilgrims—particularly up Mt. Sanjogatake—continue to be actively undertaken today.
Odaigahara is a plateau of gently undulating hills rising between 1,400 meters and 1,600 meters above sea level. The highest peak in this area is Mt. Hidegatake (1,695 meters above sea level). It is surrounded by cliffs and steep escarpments that plunge into a V-shaped ravine. With average annual precipitation at over 4,000 millimeters, the area is known as a site that receives among the highest amounts of rainfall in Japan. Precipices, waterfalls, and other formations created through erosion caused by heavy rains make up a majestic landscape. The area is home to natural forests of spruce, birch, Abies homolepis, and other species of trees. Visitors are drawn to the sight of rhododendron flowers and azaleas in the spring and are captivated by autumnal foliage in the fall. The decline in the local flora has been worsening in recent years due mainly to damage wrought by wild deer.
The Dorokyo Gorge is a gorge located downstream of the Kitayama River, a tributary of the Kumano River, which is fed by waters flowing down from the Omine Mountain Range and Odaigahara. The gorge is divided into several sections—namely, from upstream to downstream, Oku-Doro, Kami-Doro, and Shimo-Doro. Shimo-Doro is also referred to as Doro-Haccho. This area features a diverse array of linked scenic elements comprising vertically sheared cliffs created through the erosion of clay slates and sandstone, oddly shaped rocks, and deep pools of water. Board a hovercraft or other type of vessel to explore the beautiful allure of this extraordinary gorge.
Onigajo and Shichirimihama
Shichirimihama Beach extends from Onigajo, famous for its sea cliffs in Kumano City, Mie Prefecture, to the mouth of the Kumano River and comprises a straight-line coastal area that is rare for the Ise Peninsula, which is primarily bordered by a sawtooth coastline. Against the backdrop of a forest of black pines and other seacoast species of trees, the broad cobble beach draws a gentle arc and beautifully showcases the white waves of the Pacific Ocean. Since Shichirimihama is a breeding ground for loggerhead sea turtles, vehicles are restricted from entering the beach area during the egg laying and hatching season, which extends from May to September.
Boasting a vertical drop of 133 meters, Nachi-no-Taki (Ichi-no-Taki) is a famous waterfall fed by rivers flowing from the Nachi Primeval Forest. The sudden rush of falling water from the lip of this waterfall induces a sense of awe in visitors. Worshipped as a deity since ancient times, this waterfall is also used as place for ascetic training as are other falls that are located throughout the mountain. The surrounding area is filled with various historic ruins and cultural assets, including Kumano Nachi-Taisha Shrine (one of the three grand shrines of the Kumano Sanzan, the destination of pilgrims who walked on roads so busy as to resemble a "procession of ants on their way to Kumano"), Seigantoji Temple (the first of thirty-three temples that comprise the Saigoku circuit pilgrimage), and Kumano Kodo (the pilgrimage road leading to Kumano Sanzan). These sacred sites and the pilgrimage route leading to them were collectively registered as a World Heritage Site in 2004.
Visitors to the Ugui Peninsula, an area that is affected by the warm waters of the Kuroshio Current, can be fully immersed in the rich natural landscape that is particular to the Minamikishu region. Many forests here are of the broad-leaved evergreen variety. As the vicinity of Mt. Mesame has long been protected as a shrine forest, Castanopsis sieboldii, E. sylvestris var. ellipticus, and various other examples of species that are native to this location remain untouched. The peninsula is also a living repository of insects that are typically found in southern regions, such that visitors can spot Graphium doson butterflies, large Red Helen butterflies, Eucorysses grandis beetles, and more. The coast comprises sections that directly face the Pacific Ocean and those that are made up of coves and inlets. Differences in the countenance of the water between the open sea and inland seas can be discerned.
Situated in the southern end of the Kii Peninsula, Hashigui-iwa refers to approximately 40 large and small rocks jutting out in a 850 meter line towards Oshima Island. Over time, the waves of the ocean washed away much of the beach, leaving behind only hard rocks that resemble bridge pilings, hence the name Hashigui-iwa ("Bridge Post Rocks"). This site has been designated a natural monument and a place of scenic beauty by the national government.
Kushimoto Marine Park
At the southernmost tip of the main Japanese island of Honshu lies Kushimoto Marine Park, the first of its kind designated by the Japanese government. High average water temperatures attributed to the Kuroshio Current account for the presence of various types of tropical life forms. The park is notable for the prevalence of reef-building corals that are conducive to the creation of coral reefs. From positions in underwater observation towers, glass-bottom boats, and other facilities, visitors can explore colonies of table-shaped Acropora hyacinthus coral and colorful tropical fish. In 2005, the Kushimoto coastal area, which encompasses the Marine Park, became a inherited wetland under the Ramsar Convention, which aims to promote the preservation of internationally important wetlands (especially in terms of their use as waterfowl habitats) and protect the fauna and flora that live and breed in such locations.