Unusual shrines in Japan


When it comes to shrines, the famed walkway of a thousand torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha is known and loved by many. But as magnificent as it is, the hordes of tourists can be a turn off for some. To escape the crowd, check out these 10 unusual shrines in Japan that are off the beaten path, literally and figuratively.  


– Chūbu –


1. Kawaguchi Asama Shrine – Yamanashi


Unusual shrines - kawaguchi asama shrine
Image credit: @kenkeno215

As Japan is a land dotted with active volcanoes, due diligence has to be done in order to protect the population from volatile eruptions.  

Unusual shrines - kawaguchi asama shrine
Image credit: @yamadairy 

In Japan, one precaution comes in the form of Asama Shrines – shinto shrines that are specifically built to revere the kami (神; god) of volcanoes. After a 10-day long devastating eruption of Mount Fuji in 864, Kawaguchi Asama Shrine was built the following year to worship the goddess of Mount Fuji, Asama no Okami (浅間大神). 

Unusual shrines - chigo no mai
The traditional chigo no mai
Image credit: Kawaguchiko.net 

Every year, on 25th April and 28th July, the traditional chigo no mai (稚児の舞; children’s dance) is performed to appease the god. Children aged 11 to 12 years old, typically girls, dance in front of the shrine to the tune of flutes.  

Unusual shrines - matchmaking cedar trees
Matchmaking cedar trees
Image credit: Kawaguchiko.net 

Look out for the 7 thousand-year-old cedar trees that line the path towards Mount Fuji and the shrine. In particular, Futahashira (二柱), a pair of cedar trees, is well-known for its matchmaking properties.  

Opening hours: 24 hours, Daily
Address: 1 Kawaguchi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, 401-0304, Yamanashi
Telephone: 0555-76-7186 


– Kansai –


2. Shirahige Shrine – Shiga


Unusual shrine - shirahige shrine
Image credit: @misaki.omt 

Boasting a long history of over 1,900 years, Shirahige Shrine is situated in Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. The shrine is famous for its “floating” red lacquered torii gate, making for a picturesque view that can rival Itsukushima Shrine’s beauty. 

Though Shirahige Shrine is dedicated to Sarutahiko of Mikoto, the god of longevity, you can pray for divine blessing in every aspect of your life, from traffic safety to a smooth childbirth.  

Unusual shrine - shirahige shrine
Image credit:
@juuuntrip 

After sunset, the torii gate is lit up for 2 hours on weekends and even longer on special days such as New Year’s Eve. We recommend visiting during the late afternoon, then staying for the illumination so that you can enjoy the scenery in both the day and night.

Located along National Route 161, the main shrine and torii gate are divided by the national highway. There are no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings, so look out for any incoming vehicles before you cross the road. 

Unusual shrine - shirahige shrine
Image credit: @shirahigesup 

If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a paddleboard and explore the lake around the torii gate. Rental costs ¥4,500 (~USD43.13) for 2 hours and it comes with professional guidance from instructors, as well as free time to explore the lake. 

Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily
Address: 215 Ukawa, Takashima 520-1122 Shiga Prefecture
Telephone: 0740-36-1555


3. Futami Okitama Shrine – Ise


Unusual shrines - futami okitama shrine
Image credit: @kenken710 

Popular among newlyweds and couples, Futami Okitama Shrine is the place to be for those seeking blessings in their love life and marriage. 

You’ll be able to spot the Meoto Iwa (夫婦岩), or “wedded rocks”, right at the entrance of the shrine. The inseparable pair of rocks – the big one representing the husband and the small one the wife – are connected by a shimenawa (sacred rice straw rope). 

Unusual shrines - futami okitama shrine
Image credit: @murosangram 

Between May to July, visitors can catch a glimpse of the fabled sunrise view, where the rising sun is perfectly wedged between the two rocks. 

Unusual shrines - futami okitama shrine
Image credit: @ta28asa 

Venture a bit further and you’ll arrive at the main shrine. First-time visitors may be confused by the amount of frog motifs and statues, but these amphibian ornaments serve an auspicious purpose. The word for “frog” in Japanese is “蛙”, which is read as “kaeru”. It is considered a homophone for “帰る” (kaeru; to return), which connotes positive meanings such as objects and people returning safely. 

Opening hours: 7.30AM-4.30PM, Daily
Address: 575 Futamichoe, Ise, 519-0602, Mie
Telephone: 0596-43-2020


– Chūgoku –


4. Motonosumi Shrine – Yamaguchi


Unusual shrines - motonosumi shrine
Image credit: @muracome 

Skip the tourist-filled Fushimi Inari Taisha and visit the less crowded Motonosumi Shrine in Yamaguchi Prefecture instead. 

Unusual shrines - motonosumi shrine
Image credit: @shino908 

Legend has it that in 1955, the spirit of a white fox instructed a local to build a shrine. Obliging the deity’s request, the man built and lined 123 red torii gates along the edge of a cliff. Today, the shrine attracts visitors who are hoping to pray for wealth, studies, pregnancy, and even fishing. 

Thanks to its stunning coastal view and vermilion lacquered gates juxtaposed against the lush greenery, Motonosumi Shrine was named one of 31 Most Beautiful Places in Japan in 2015 by CNN. 

Unusual shrines - motonosumi shrine
Image credit: @hopper_pzd 

The nearest train station is JR Nagato Furuichi Station, but walking from the station takes around 1 hour. Granted, the shrine is not the most accessible, but the view alone is worth the trip. Rent a car or make a reservation for Yamaguchi Sightseeing Taxi, a private tour that will take you to the shrine and other attractions in the city.  

Opening hours: 5.30AM-5.30PM, Daily
Address: 498 Yuyatsuo, Nagato, 759-4712, Yamaguchi
Telephone: 0837-26-0708


– Shikoku –


5. Takaya Shrine – Kagawa


Unusual shrines - takaya shrine
Image credit: @mitwo_310_dayo 

Dubbed the “torii in the sky”, Takaya Shrine in Kagawa Prefecture sits atop the 404m-tall Mount Inazumi. The torii gate of the main shrine overlooks a panoramic view of the city of Kanonji and Seto Inland Sea.   

Unusual shrines - takaya shrine
Image credit: @tossy.243 

To get to the top, start your drive or climb uphill from the outer shrine (下宮, gegū) at the base of Mount Inazumi. As the mountain roads are quite narrow, keep a lookout for oncoming vehicles. There are signs along the way directing you to the main shrine, so don’t worry about getting lost.  

Unusual shrines - takaya shrine
Image credit: @junya3_3 

After passing through the mountain roads, you’ll arrive at the foot of the main shrine and a staircase with 270 steps leading to the scenic spot. Once you’ve conquered the stairs, stand back and slowly take in the breathtaking view.  

Opening hours: 24 hours, Daily
Address: 2800 Takayacho, Kanonji, 768-0002, Kagawa
Telephone: 0875-24-3957


– Kyushu –


6. Sakurai Futamigaura – Fukuoka


Unusual shrines - sakurai futamigaura
Image credit: @nunznana 

While the Meoto Iwa in Ise is better known for its sunrise views, travellers flock to Sakurai Futamigaura in Fukuoka to watch the sun set. Named as one of Japan’s 100 most scenic places, the shrine is widely considered to be one of the best spots in Kyushu for sunset views.  

Unusual shrines - sakurai futamigaura
Image credit: @sai_._ias 

Situated right in the middle of the Genkai Sea and just 150m from the shore, the pristine white torii gate and “couple rocks” of Sakurai Futamigaura have been revered as sacred sites since ancient times. The 2 rocks – 11.8m and 11.2m high respectively – are connected by a thick shimenawa, which symbolises a happy marriage. 

Unusual shrines - people changing shimenawa
Image credit: @o_o.fumi 

Every May, a ceremony is held during low tide to change the shimenawa. As the rope measures over 30m in length – almost half the width of a football field – and weighs over 900kg, as many as 50 people are mobilised for the switch.  

Opening hours: 24 hours, Daily
Address: Shimasakurai, Itoshima, 819-1304, Fukuoka
Telephone: 0923-32-2080


7. Udo Shrine – Miyazaki


Unusual shrines - udo shrine
Image credit: @pitschrader 

The cliffside Udo Shrine is perched on the rocky Nichinan Coast, south of Miyazaki City, surrounded by magnificent waves. 

Unusual shrines - udo shrine
Image credit: @manaty888 

According to ancient myth, the shrine is said to be the birthplace of Ugayafukiaezu no Mikoto – the father of the first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu. 

Legend has it that Toyotama-hime, a goddess of the dragons and sea, went into labour on land. A maternity hall was built in a hurry, in a sacred cave, and Toyotama-hime gave birth to Ugayafukiaezu no Mikoto, who was later enshrined as a deity.  

Unusual shrines - udo shrine
Image credit: @tate.masa 

Today, the birthplace is better known as the main shrine of Udo Shrine. Thanks to its history, a visit to the shrine is considered to be beneficial for couples trying to conceive, and expecting mothers praying for a safe pregnancy.  

Unusual shrines - undama at
Image credit: @yumi___kai 

After soaking in the beautiful seaside views and praying at the main shrine, head to the terrace near the entrance of the cave. There, you can purchase 5 undamas (運玉; lucky stones) for ¥100 (~USD0.96). Throw the lucky stones at the target marked on a rock. If your stone lands within the cordoned area, or into the hole, it is considered a sign of good fortune.  

Opening hours: Mon – Fri 6AM-4PM | Sat – Sun 6AM-5PM
Address: 3232 Miyaura, Nichinan, 887-0101, Miyazaki
Telephone: 0987-29-1001


8. Amano Iwato Shrine – Miyazaki


Unusual shrines - amano iwato shrine
Amano Yasukawara, the cave where Amaterasu hid in.
Image credit: @nobphotoo 

According to Japanese mythology, the sun goddess Amaterasu hid in this cave after a destructive battle with her brother. Refusing to come out of the cave, her isolation cast darkness over the world. It was only when the other gods and goddesses came together to devise a plan that Amaterasu was lured out, returning light to the world.  

Unusual shrines - amano iwato shrine
Image credit: @r_tona_675 

Dedicated to the sun goddess, Amano Iwato Shrine is said to be near the location of the mythical cave in question. A short hike will bring you to Amano Yasukawara, the sacred cave where Amaterasu hid herself. 

Unusual shrines - amano iwato shrine
Image credit: @muu_chibi 

Unusual shrines - amano iwato shrine
Image credit: @black_rabbit_3 

The period between November to February is the prime time to visit as that’s when the annual Takachiho Kagura – a shinto ritual consisting of festive folk dances – is held. The main event is held on 22nd and 23rd November, but the dances are performed every night between November and February.   

Opening hours: 8.30AM-5PM, Daily
Address: 1073-1 Iwato, Takachiho, Nishiusuki District, 882-1621, Miyazaki
Telephone: 0982-74-8239
Website


9. Kuratake Shrine – Kumamoto


Unusual shrines - kuratake shrine
Image credit: @ryh.photo 

At the tip of the sacred Mount Kura – the highest peak in the Amakusa Islands and 682m above sea level – stands Kuratake Shrine. From there, you can see the calm waters of the surrounding Yatsushiro sea and Ariake sea, as well as Goshoura Island in the vicinity.   

Unusual shrines - kuratake shrine
Image credit:
@manasuki 

The remote shrine was built to protect the sea and to pray for the safety of fishermen. For that reason, you’ll find a ship-shaped vessel filled with empty shells of mina, a shellfish native to the sea of Amakusa, in front of the shrine. 

Due to a flood in 1972, the mountain trail was closed to the public and only reopened in 2012. As a result, the shrine completely went under the radar, privy to only the most savvy of locals and budding photographers.

Unusual shrines - kuratake shrine
Image credit: @caprice_ayumi 

It takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the top of the mountain by car. The road is rather narrow, so be careful as you make your way to the peak. Once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be rewarded with the magnificent beauty of the Amakusa region.   

Address: Kuratakemachi Tanasoko, Amakusa, 861-6402, Kumamoto
Telephone: 0969-64-3111


– Okinawa –


10. Naminoue Shrine – Naha


Unusual shrines - naminoue shrine
Image credit: @cliff511299 

As the most prestigious shrine in Okinawa, Naminoue Shrine is widely revered as one of the 8 special Ryukyu shrines since the Ryukyu Kingdom era. It’s easy to see why it’s so loved – the beautiful shrine is perched on top of a hill and overlooks the crystal clear blue waters of the nearby beach. 

Unusual shrines - naminoue shrine
Image credit: @elsiescorpio 

Affectionately nicknamed “Nanmin-san” by Okinawan natives, Naminoue Shrine is a power spot that can grant blessings for everything, from matchmaking to pest control. The date of the shrine’s founding is unknown, but it is believed that the roots can be traced back to when locals prayed to Nirai Kanai (ニライカナイ) – god’s world in the distance of the sea – for abundant harvests. 

Unusual shrines - naminoue shrine
Image credit: @roychao81731 

Beside the shrine, you’ll find Naminoue Beach. Although it can’t compare with more pristine shores and sparkling waters outside of Naha City, the beach is a convenient stop for a quick dip. 

Naminoue Beach is the only beach in Naha City where you can swim, and it’s open for swimming from April to November each year. Facilities such as shower rooms and bathrooms are also available, so you can freshen up before resuming your sightseeing activities.  

Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily
Address: 1 Chome-25-11 Wakasa, Naha, 900-0031, Okinawa
Telephone: 0988-68-3697
Website


Unusual shrines in Japan


If you’ve already checked off all the major touristy shrines on your bucket list and are looking for hidden gems, add these unusual shrines to your itinerary for a unique travel experience in Japan. 

Here are more places to visit in Japan: 


Cover image adapted from: @cliff511299, @mitwo_310_dayo and @kenkeno215

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