Helicopter Pilgrimage to World Heritage Sites

Nestled in the base of Kii Peninsula and the border of Nara and Mie Prefecture, Sasayuri-ann sees Kyoto to the north, Ise to the east, and Nara and Osaka to the west. Furthermore, the two most sacred sites, Mt. Yoshino and Mt. Koyasan is to the south, which makes Sasayuri-ann a central location and a hub to travel around Kansai area. In addition to the conventional land transportation, we are excited to provide a memorable air travel that surely will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Three holy grounds (Yoshino, Omine, Mt. Koya and Kumano Sanzan) and its pilgrimage routes (Omine Okugakemichi, Koyasan Choishimichi, and Kumano Sankeimichi) were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 7 July, 2004 as “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”

Although these World Heritage Sites attract many domestic and international tourists, it is too huge a natural tourism resource to be covered in a short period of time due to the means of transportation.

The area around Kii Peninsula and Nara is the birthplace of Japan as a nation and the land where the basis of Japan’s culture, religion and traditions were nurtured. However, being one of Japan’s most mountainous areas, it has also been a secluded region that does not allow easy access for tourists.

Now, Sasayuri-ann has opened its exclusive heliport, providing two flight courses for travelers to make a day trip to these vast sacred sites in the mountain.

Flight Course 1: Yatagarasu Okugakemichi in the Air

In a dragon-like figure, Omine mountain range with 1500m class mountains stretches out north to south in Kii peninsula from Yoshino to Kumano.
It is also a central training site established by En-no-gyoja, the founder of Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism).
Until today, Shugendo training in Okugakemichi is considered to be one of the hardest; ascetics run approximately 170km along the ridge of Omine mountain range.

Yoshino Kinpusenji temple in Mt. Omine enshrines Kongo-zao-daigongen in two places; Ominesanji temple on top, and Yoshinoyama Zao-do beneath the mountain. Kongo-zao-daigongen is the principle object of worship in Yoshino Kinpusenji temple which was enshrined by En-no-gyoja who sought the spiritual image after 1000 days of training in Mt Omine Sanjogatake. The helicopter takes off from Sasayuri-ann’s private heliport and arrives at another heliport near Mt. Yoshino.
First visit of the tour will be at Zao-do on the foot of the mountain, and later, the view of Ominesanji temple will be enjoyed from the sky. Flying south along Omine-okugakemichi, the helicopter will take the next stop at the heliport near Kumano-hongu. After visiting three grand shrines, Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha, travelers will take a return flight back to Sasayuri-ann.

According to Nihon-shoki (Chronicles of Japan), Kii peninsula was the place where Jinmu-tosei (Eastern expedition by the Emperor Jinmu), a historically significant event deeply related to the foundation of Japan, took place 2600 years ago (BC660, the first year of Emperor Tenmu’s reign).
Emperor Jinmu started his expedition from Hyuga in the west, and after overcoming numerous hardships and sufferings, he led his troops from Kumano to Odaigahara, Uda, Yamato and the present Kashihara in Nara Prefecture, and was enthroned as the first Emperor of Japan in BC660 February 11th(now a Japanese holiday; the National Foundation Day).

As legend goes, Yatagarasu (mythical raven) appeared as a rescuer sent by Amaterasu-omikami (goddess of the sun) and navigated the Emperor in Mt. Omine to make his way from Kumano to Uda.
Established on the sacred ground where Yatagarasu flew over, Kumano Hongu Taisha uses Yatagarasu as its logo. There is also a Yatagarasu Shrine existing in Haibara, Uda City near Sasayuri-ann.

Nowadays, Japan Football Association adopts Yatagarasu as its logo to commemorate the auspicious bird related to the foundation of the nation.

Flight Course 2: Kukai's Rout

There is an old road in Yoshino and Koyasan. These two sacred sites are the origin of the faith and spirit of Japanese people that has been passed down until today. 1200 years ago, Kobo-daishi, the founder of Shingon esoteric Buddhism, entered the holy site of Mt. Omine from Yoshino and practiced mountain religion in the quest of finding the truth of the universe, although at that time he was a youth studying in Nara to become a government official. Consequently, he reached Mt. Koya and founded the central training center of Shingon esoteric Buddhism.

“As a young boy, Kukai was eager to observe and train himself around mountains and waters. Starting from Yoshino, he walked one day to the south and two days to the west till he found a spiritually inspiring plain where he called Koya.”

The “Route of Kobo-daishi” has been realized after 1200 years since Mt. Koya was established as a training site.

Even for a short period of time, we believe this pilgrimage by air will deeply touch modern day travelers ?recall the historical significance of the two mountains, get the feel of the great nature and the holy ground, and sense the strong determination of En-no-gyoja and Kukai seeking the truth through asceticism.

Having a deep relationship with the sacred grounds, the owner of Sasayuri-ann has been strongly motivated to realize this travel plan. He is a lay practitioner of Shugendo who entered the priesthood in Yoshino Kinpusenji Temple and completed Okugakemichi and Goma-kegyo training. Moreover, growing up in a family that supported a temple of Koyasan school of Shingon sect (Jorakuji), the owner made himself familiar with Odaishisan (a.k.a. Kukai); as he have achieved four rounds of the Shikoku Pilgrimage to the 88 temples, he has also been designated as an official Sendatsu (pilgrim guide).