Temples & Shrines
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Feel the historical influence of Buddhism and Shintoism at temples and shrines throughout Shinkamigoto.
1. Kaido Shrine
Arikawago (Google Maps)
Kaido Shrine is known for its torii gate, which is constructed from the jawbone of a fin whale. This shrine was originally built and offered to the water deity, Watatsumi, during the early 17th century to help prevent water-related accidents after a series of drownings occurred three years in a row on the same date. To appease the deity, a stone shrine was erected and an impromptu performance was offered.
Now, jū shichi-nichi matsuri (festival of the 17th) is held here every year to celebrate this deity as the guardian of the sea. In 1973, a 445-centimeter-long jawbone was installed as a torii gate and the shrine came to represent Arikawa’s traditional whaling culture. The shrine can also be accessed via a wooden staircase facing Arikawa Port Terminal. Wild Chinese fan palm trees can be found among the trees on the top of the hill where the shrine is located.
2. Mt. Sanno and Sannomiya
Arakawago (Google Maps)
There are three shrines that remain on Mt. Sanno in addition to other relics that are associated with this history:
Ichinomiya (first shrine)
Ichinomiya Shrine is located close to the second station, behind the old Arakawa Elementary School. Follow the trail along the river to find the torii gate. Continue past this gate to the stone shrine. Behind it looms a large boulder wall with water seeping out from its base. This area is considered a “power spot.”
Ninomiya (second shrine)
Ninomiya is located at the eighth station where large boulders are stacked to form a cave that was once filled with water. When that water dried up, 17 mirror offerings were discovered; two of the mirrors were imported from abroad and 15 were Japanese mirrors from the Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi, and Edo periods.
Sannomiya (third shrine)
Sannomiya is located at the top of Mt. Sanno. It is said that the Buddhist monk Saicho came here in the year 804 to express gratitude after the safe voyage of the 16th envoy mission to Tang dynasty China. Envoys historically visited China to receive cultural knowledge and technology. During the 7th century, envoy vessels followed a northern route to China along what is now the Korean peninsula, but once relations with the peninsula soured, envoys were forced to go sail along a more dangerous route to the south.
Here, Saicho held a ritual to bring the guardian deity of Mt. Hiei’s Enryakuji to Sannomiya. According to the shrine’s records, its deity was enshrined here in 819. There are plans to build a bronze statue of Saicho at the base of the mountain to commemorate 1200 years since the opening of this shrine.
Owing to its rich heritage, Mt. Sanno is listed as a cultural property of the Tale of the Border Islands of Iki, Tsushima, and Goto: A Bridge from Ancient Times.
3. Harami Shrine
376 Akaogo (Google Maps)
“Harami Shrine” is where the goddess of safe birth, “Harami Daimyojin,” is worshiped. During the 14th century, Lord Satoru, who was the 8th in line in the Uku family, decided to move from Uku Island to Fukue. His pregnant wife left with her midwife on the boat following his, but when the vessel arrived at Harami-Seto Strait, it got caught in a strong current and capsized. The wife and midwife perished and washed up on a shore near Akao. This accident at sea was the origin of the name “Harami-seto,” which loosely translates to “Strait of Maternity.” The shrine is dedicated to the spirit of the wife, who also serves as the shrine's guardian, “Harami Daimyojin." Now, couples seeking to become pregnant and have a safe delivery visit this shrine. The torii gate and stairs leading up to the shrine are made of Goto stone.
4. Masahiko Shrine
896 Namago (Google Maps)
During the Kamakura period, in the year 1209, Fujiwara Michitaka was dispatched to govern the islands of Ojika and Nakadori as the jitoshiki, or lord of manor. His younger brother, Ietaka, built a shrine in Nama dedicated to an ancestor of the Fujiwara family, “Amatsu Koyane no Mikoto,” who was enshrined as its tutelary god. “Amatsu Koyane no Mikoto” is worshiped as the god of zengenbishi (virtuous and elegant language); the god of kotodama (the spirit contained within words); the god of matsurigoto (the ruling of the country); the god of learning; and the god of arts and sciences. At its founding, the shrine was named “Hiko no Miya,” but was later changed to “Masahiko-gu,” and then “Masahiko-jinja” (Masahiko Shrine). Yasaka Shrine, Kotohira Shrine and Inari Shrine are also located on the grounds of the shrine. There are eight munefuda ceremonial labels which date from the years 1685 to 1854 and are designated as Tangible Cultural Property of the town. These were offered with prayers for the long reign of the lord as well as for continued peace. The shrine’s 800th anniversary was celebrated in 2010.
5. Hime Shrine
168 Aikogo (Google Maps)
Aokata Bay was once an area were envoy ships heading to the Tang Dynasty waited for favorable winds for traveling. The 14th group of envoys worshiped the god of safe voyage at Akasaki in Aokata—that god became the guardian deity of the Aiko area and is housed in Hime Shrine. Every December, there is an offering and Shinto ritual at the residence of the shrine’s groundskeeper.
6. Iwaya Kannon
Aokatago (Google Maps)
“Iwaya Kannon Temple” is located on Kannondake in Aokata. The temple’s enshrined image is the seated figure of the bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara, or Kannon. The figure is believed to have been created during the Muromachi period (1336 - 1573). There are two caves in the surrounding area, each containing stone figures of Kannon and Jizō.
There are numerous Jizō statues en route to the temple as well. In 2006, the 23rd ceremony to commemorate the “33rd anniversary of the enshrinement of the Buddhist image” took place, making the temple over 760 years old.
Every year on January 17th and 18th, the Iwaya Kannon Temple festival is held; during this event, many from all over Kamigoto come to pray for the health and protection of their families, marine safety, bountiful fish catches, bountiful harvests, economic prosperity, academic success, and more.
Legend has it that in the past, villagers were disconcerted by sightings of light that would appear on top of this mountain almost every night. On one such night, Kannon appeared at the bedside of a monk from Chofukuji Temple in Aokata and asked to be enshrined at the spot where the light appeared. After this continued for three nights, the monk waited for daybreak, then climbed up the mountain and searched throughout the lush foliage until he discovered a stack of large slabs of rock that formed a cave. He dedicated this spot to Kannon, and after that, the light never returned.
7. Gorakuji Temple
211 Wakamatsugo (Google Maps)
This temple, with its dignified roof tile, is just down the street from Wakamatsu Port Terminal. The bronze statue of the Buddha inside of the main shrine was created during the 7th century and is an Important Cultural Property of Japan. The Buddha’s round face and expression are spellbinding.