With declining rural communities as well as less Shinto followers across Japan, local religious and cultural local festivals might be struggling to maintain community interest and participation. S0 I say to fellow visitors in particular – seek out and celebrate small festivals.
One such festival is the Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival, in Hongu, Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture in mid-April every year. With shrine ceremonies and procession of mikoshi, this festival is like many others just smaller scale.
Here Veronica and I observed the strength in local people working together to both celebrate and respect the religious and spiritual significance of Kumano Hongu Taisha. Refreshing was the involvement of young people, those who will be responsible for maintaining the spirit of Kumano for generations ahead.
The festival has a schedule but was not led by raucous announcers over public address systems. So it was very special to be standing at the right place at the right time when without fanfare a group of esoteric priests arrived at one of the outer shrines, took place in front, and chanted rhythmically for some minutes expressing the immense spirituality of the place.
Hongu is a central place in the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes which are registered as UNESCO World Heritage and part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”. The shrine complex sits atop 200 stone steps. And very steep they are too!
Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau has a great website with details about all the Kumano routes, sights and accommodation – as well as about this festival and others in the region.
For a sample of images from the 2016 festival, see this post