Jan 16, 2014

Let's go to temples and shrines ②: Izumo Taisha

Hi everyone! みなさん、こんにちは!

What do you do when looking for a new love? Go to a singles bar? (Do they still exist?) Ask your friends to introduce someone? Become a member of  a marriage agency?

In Japan it has been a trend that girls pray for fateful encounters at Izumo Taisha, one of the oldest and most important shrines, located in Shimane Prefecture.

Why do they go down all the way to Shimane, far west in the Honshu Island, taking 1.5 hours by plane from Tokyo? Because Izumo Taisha is dedicated to Okuninushi no Mikoto, the deity who establishes good relationship over people, and naive women believe that the deities will bring them Prince Charming by visiting the shrine. 

I went to Izumo province for the first time in my life last year-end, not because I'm looking for a romance, but because 2013 was the important year for the ancient shrine.

The shrine needs to be renovated every 60 years, and the "goshintai" or a holy object in which the spirit of deity resides is moved out to the shrine building. Goshintai can be mirrors, swards, jewels, etc. depending on the shrine, but no one, except for a handful of shrine priests, knows what the goshintai of Izumo Taisha is.  It has been a big mystery for centuries. When it moves out from the shrine, priests carry it, hiding with big white cloths.

Anyway, when we visited, it was very cold and quiet, as people are usually busy preparing for the new year. If you like the serenity, year-end would be a good season for tourism, if you don't mind the coldness. 

As you already know, this type of gate, called torii, is the symbol of shrine and marks entrance to holy precincts. 23.5 meters high, this torii is generally known as "O-torii (big torii)". 

 Going down the path, you'll reach the haiden, a prayer hall (photo below). At most shrines, you first bow twice and clap your hands twice, make a wish or pray and then, bow again (only once), while you have to clap your hands  four times at Izumo Taisha.

The huge shimenawa (rice straw rope), weighing 4.4 tons, is a symbol of Izumo Taisha. Shimenawa marks god's territory, and can be seen at any shrines but this size is exceptional and rare.  

Then, advance to "honden (本殿)," or the main hall built in the oldest architectural style in Japan known as Taisha Zukuri style, and designated as the national treasure. Unfortunately, it is surrounded by wooden fences and you can't get close to it.

I took this photo from the back. The roof was completely renewed last year, and the enormous scissor-shaped finial on the roof called "chigi" was replaced with the new one. The removed chigi is displayed at the nearby shrine museum, where you can see how big it is (photo below).

Today the hall is 24 meters high, but when it was constructed, according to some records, it was 48 meters high, perching on the huge pillars. People were all suspicious until the evidence was found. In 2001, the base parts of the pillars that supported the hall were excavated at the precinct of the shrine. 

The original shrine was probably like the photo below. This scale model is displayed at the museum, as well as the excavated pillars.  

After visiting the shrine, why not have luch at Izumo soba, the local specialty?

How to get to Izumo Taisha:
At JR Izumo-shi Station, take a Ichihata bus bound for Taisha or Hinomisaki at bus stop No.1, and get off at Seimonmae or Izumo Taisha. Takes about 25-30 minutes from the train station. The bus comes every 30 minutes.

From here, I'll write in Japanese.

出雲大社 (いずもたいしゃ) Izumo Taisha shrine
縁結び (えんぶすび) match-making
神様 (かみさま)  god, deity
注目する (ちゅうもくする) to pay attention to~
出会い(であい) encounter
求める (求める) to seek
若い (わかい) young
訪れる (おとずれる) to visit

最も(もっとも) most
改築 (かいちく) renovation

ご神体(ごしんたい)  holy obect
社(やしろ)  shrine building
儀式 (ぎしき) ritual
話題 (わだい) topic of conversation

昔 (むかし) ancient time
柱 (はしら) pillers

土台 (どだい) foundation
部分 (ぶぶん) parts

お参り (おまいり) pray
お辞儀 (おじぎ) bow
手を叩く (たたく) to clap hands
最後 (さいご) at last
価値 (かち) value  (行く価値がある:worth visiting)
機会 (きかい) opportunity 


  1. こんばんは、Yukoさん!

    Japanese temples are really grand, aren't they? And to think that they were built back in the olden days... wow! (^-^) It would've been great to walk up to the hall with 48 metre pillars~ :D

    Thanks for telling me more about Japanese culture~ :)

    1. こんにちは!サマンサさん

      Yes, I've read somewhere the pillars that supported shrine in order days collapsed several times. You know, we have very typhoons and earthquakes from time to time.

      Thank you for encouraging me all the time!

  2. 懇切丁寧な日本紹介ですね。
    Very nice!