Set in-between the prefectures of Wakayama and Mie, Kumano is famous for its mountains listed as a World Heritage Site. They shelter 3 Kumano Sanzan sanctuaries, dedicated to the 3 sacred mountains, Hongû, Shingû, and Nachi, linked by a route of pilgrimage. The Kumano Sanzan has been a major place of pilgrimage for centuries.
Every year, on July 14, the mountains light up during Nachi no Hi Matsuri, one of Japan’s 3 great fire festivals. Kumano Nachi-taisha sanctuary is at the center of this festival: 12 mikoshi (portable sanctuaries), 6-meter high and decorated with fans and mirrors, show the image of the Nachi no Otaki falls, worshipped like a deity and located close to the sanctuary. 12 huge pine torches, representing both the 12 deities living in Kumano and the 12 months of the year, are waved near the mikoshi, to make it look like they’re about to go up in flame.
During the festival, people run up the sanctuary stairs, carrying the portable sanctuaries and yelling. From up the stairs, other people with pine torches on fire run down. The celebration come to an end at the Nachi falls.