5 Most Sacred Shinto Shrines in Japan
Shintoism in Japan is known as the religion of the gods, thus the shrines and temples built in this faith are dedicated to them. Each sacred place holds a connection with a particular god or a really popular human (poet, warrior, ruler) and people go to these places to pray either for luck, health, love, better harvest or for the souls of those who passed away. Many sacred sites have also a strong connection with a particular emperor or lord of the surrounding land too. The 5 most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan have a much greater importance, however, which can be considered maybe due to their ancient history. In any case, these shrines represent a peaceful dwelling where people can find harmony, tranquility and maybe answer to their prayers.
Ise Shrine, Ise
The Ise Grand Shrine is undoubtedly the most sacred and most important shrine in Japan. It is dedicated to the goddess of the sun, Amaterasu, and has been standing since before Christ. A sacred mirror, called the Naiku (an important mythological object from the times of the emperor) is located inside the main shrine. What is interesting to know about this site is that they destroy and then rebuild it every 20 years which is a basic concept of birth and rebirth in the Shinto religion. The only person who can enter the shrine is the High Priest or Priestess, who is a member of the royal family.
Izumo Shrine, Izumo
The city of Izumo is best known for the Izumo-taisha, Japan’s oldest and most venerated Shinto shrine, which is dedicated to the god of agriculture and healing, Okuninushi. The shrine can be reached through 11 toriis (Shinto gate) and the surrounding site is considered highly sacred. Many Japanese people get married here.
Kamigamo Shrine, Kyoto
This Shinto shrine predates Kyoto’s establishment, being founded in the 7th century. The shrines of Kamigamo and Shimogamo, the latter being nesteled in the woods of Tadasu no Mori (‘the forest where lies are unveiled’), are closely connected, both having been built by an old noble clan, the Gamo family and dedicated to the god of thunder. During the Aoi Matsuri (matsuri meaning festival) in May, a large procession merges down between the two shrines and archery/horse contests are held. The Kamigamo shrine is also famous for the Haiden-hall, which was rebuilt in 1628 and the two mysterious sand-cones at the entrance.
Kasuga Grand Shrine, Nara
The most celebrated sacred site of Nara is the Kasuga Grand Shrine, which was founded during the 8th century. Just like the famous Ise shrine, Kasuga was also rebuilt every 20 years, though this process stopped after 1863. The place is surrounded by forest and the paths leading up to the vermilion building are decorated with more than 3000 bronze and stone lanterns. These lanterns are lit during the Lantern Festival which takes place two times throughout the year in February and August. The inner grounds of the shrine are accessible only in exchange of a small fee.
Yudono-san Shrine, Tohoku
The shrine of the Yudono Mountain, one of Dewa Sanzan’s three mountains, is a sacred and remote site which you can enter barefooted and in silence. Photography is also not allowed, but that’s another thing which makes it such an intriguing place. Out of the three mountains, Yudono-san is usually visited last, because according to belief, it symbolizes rebirth. The other two are also connected to life, Haguro-san being birth and Gas-san death.
The holy sites in Japan cannot be fully described; one must visit these places in order to gain some kind of understanding of their importance. All the 5 most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan offer a mystical, yet calming experience one will never forget.