Shrouded beneath the thick branches of the Nachi Primeval Forest, the Kumano Kodo—the most sacred pilgrimage trail in Japan today—zigzags through the Kii Mountains of the Wakayama Peninsula. The five ancient routes that make up the Kumano Kodo lead to one of the most spiritual places in the country: Nachi Falls.
Three shrines surrounding Mt. Nachi, together referred to as Kumano Sanzan, are the headquarters for the more than 3,000 Kumano shrines across the country. The most visited is the Kumano Nachi Taisha, a shrine poised just beneath the famed falls. The Nachi Falls, measured from top to drop, are 133 meters in length—the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in Japan—and one of 48 in the Kii Mountains.
The sharp cliff and glistening falls, catching the afternoon light, are the backdrop for one of the oldest and largest annual fire festivals in the country, Nachi no Ogi. Nachi Falls marks the entrance to the mountain range, and is believed to house the god of eternity: many make the journey to receive a blessing for the afterlife beneath the mist.
Nachi no Ogi celebrates life, the afterlife, and everything in between. The festival connects the old site of the shrine, built 1,700 years ago, to the smaller and newer Hiro Shrine. The site has been renovated dozens of times due to storms, slides, and fires. Today the festival is held every July 14 from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon. These centuries-old traditions are still practiced: they are meant to unite the gods of the Kii Mountains and bring good health to the living, bountiful crops to the hungry, and a blessed eternity for those who have passed.