SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.20 (2024)

Practicing the History of the “Road of Kumano”:

A Case Study of the “Shingu Yamabiko Group”, an Organization Supporting
and Maintaining the World Heritage “Omine Okugakemichi”


Department of Comparative Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

Shingu Yamabiko Group, historical practice, world heritage, local community, Omine Okugakemichi, Shugendo

This study clarifies the process how the Shingu Yamabiko Group, a mountaineering club comprising non- specialists in history, maintained the Road of Kumano to visualize the “path” as a part of the Kumano faith and allowed the local community to share its history. It also discusses the significance and value of the contemporary history of the Omine Okugakemichi, which was revitalized under the leadership of Shingu Yamabiko Group, and examines the nature of knowledge production and social practice in the field of historical studies. The activities of the Shingu Yamahiko Group are ethnographically described through field research from a public history perspective, with reference to the results of studies.

The primary focus of public history is considered to be opening up “places” for historical study. Various sites where historical studies are conducted have been broadly opened to the public, regardless of whether the “place” is for profit or not. The southern half of Omine Okugakemichi, the World Heritage Site of the Road of Kumano, is considered to be a “path” that was created in recent years by shugen and mountain climbers who walked the route. The Shingu Yamabiko Group, a mountaineering club based in Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture has been maintaining the path, and the Group’s activities have been undertaken with the participation of people who wish to be involved in the history of the Road of Kumano.

What makes this paper unique compared to previous studies of public history is that it addresses the fact that the Group does not intend to create history on the “path” or seek registration of the “path” a cultural heritage site. The Group does not publicize its activities, and activities are conducted as part of its mountaineering activities. Members have not worked with specialists in the field of history to carry out the road project. Their activities, however, eventually came to be recognized by the local community as a cultural and historical event. Under their philosophy of “studying history, culture, and the way of life of Kumano,” their activities were initially conducted only by private citizens. The activities of modern history through their practices, therefore, are not referred to, recorded or evaluated in academic reports or historical books, including those on World Heritage sites.

This paper explores how the Shingu Yamabiko Group’s activities and its significance to the local community are related to and influence each other with the “official” history as recorded when Kumano Path was registered on the World Heritage list. The paper also presents a methodology how contemporary history is created from the standpoint of field research by bringing both histories into dialogue and examining the history of the Road of Kumano as a World Heritage Site.