Shintō in its most spiritual way
The Great Shrines of Ise, the most important and most sacred sanctuaries of Japanese Shintō, where the country’s main diety, Amaterasu Ōmikami (here: Amaterasu Ōmikami no Mitama / 天照大御神御魂) is being worshipped (the Japanese Emperors are considered to be direct descendants of Amaterasu) are well-known. They are “standard programme” so to speak for all serious visitors to Japan. There is a large amount of information available about those shrines – in a just as large number of languages.
Far less known are most of the 123 additional and sub-shrines associated with the two main shrines of Ise. And since I’m about to write a small series of articles about a region that – thanks to Amaterasu… – is less plagued with tourism than others, why not starting this series with the probably most mystic place (well, at least one of the most mystic places) the region has to offer.
The region I am talking about is Kumano (熊野 / くまの), deriving its name from a historic province of the same name. This province was later re-named into Kii (紀伊 / きい). And in our days it covers an area that reaches into the prefectures of Wakayama (和歌山 / わかやま) and Mie (三重 / みえ) and, depending on how you look at it, also covers a tiny piece of the Nara prefecture (奈良 / なら).
And the place that shall be described briefly here, is the Takihara shrine, or, to be precise, the:
Takihara no miya (瀧原宮)
The origin of this shrine is a mystery. It may even be older than the highest sanctuaries of Ise to which it belongs. As a matter of fact, we only know that it already existed in 804 a.D., because it was mentioned in the “Imperial Register Of Ceremonies for the Shrines of Ise” (皇太神宮儀式帳 / こうたいじんぐうぎしきちょう) of that year.
The Takihara no miya is also the largest of the 91 sub-shrines (betsugū / 別宮 / べつぐう) of the Inner Shrine (皇大神宮 / こうたいじんぐう) i.e. the Naikū (内宮 / ないくう) of the Grand Shrines of Ise.
And like in the Inner Shrine of the Grand Shrines of Ise, the Naikū (内宮) (or Kōtai Jingu / 皇大神宮), also at the Takihara no miya the necessary cleansing rituals (harai / 祓 / はらい) can be carried out at the banks of a river, before entering the most sacred districts of the shrine.
Already when you are approaching the shrine’s grounds, you can actually “feel” that you are dealing with a very special place, because the old forests, through which the pilgrim’s path leads you, have an aura of mystery for which you might be looking in vain elsewhere. And the fact that there are Japanese cedar trees that have grown (and are still growing) twisted in a counter-clockwise direction is a sign that this place has special powers. My advice: Just let yourself be absorbed by the atmosphere!
Even though it is quite a distance away from the main shrines of Ise (about 40 km by car), the style of its buildings pretty much resembles them – also here the archaic style that is called “shinmei-zukuri” (神明造 / しんめいづくり) is being applied. And you’ll immediately recognise that it belongs to Naikū by the shape of its roof’s gable beams.
Together with the Great Shrines of Ise, also the Takihara no miya is governed by a ritual called “sengū” (遷宮 / せんぐう), that is repeated every 20 years. During this ritual the “relics” of the shrine are being tranferred into a newly built, identical shrine right next to it. For this reason, next to the current location of the shrine or shrine ensemble, there is a space required for the next new building (these “building sites” alternate in a 20-year cycle). It is believed that these regular new buildings and their related ceremonies have been carried out consecutively since the year 690 – the last time in 2013 (which was the 62nd time – if you do a little math, you’ll find out that there must have been some irregularities in those 20-year-intervals).
Also here, the ancestor of the Japanese Imperial Family, Amaterasu Ōmikami (Amaterasu Ōmikami no Mitama / 天照大御神御魂), is being worshipped.
In addition to the main building of the shrine there are three sub-shrines:
Takihara narabi no miya (瀧原竝宮 / たきはらならびのみや)
Wakamiya Jinja (若宮神社 / わかみじゃじんじゃ)
Nagayuke Jinja (長由介神社 / ながゆけじんじゃ) (or Kawashima Jinja / 川島神社 / かわしいまじんじゃ)
Each an every one of those sub-shrines is shrouded in the mystical atmosphere I had mentioned above. The Takihara no mia is one of those many places in Japan, that even the most ornate language cannot sufficiently describe. Well, as you can see: Even photographs are not in the position to transport that spirit…
Address of the shrine:
872 Takihara, Taiki-chō, Watarai District, Mie Prefecture 519-2703
Opening hours of the shrine:
The Takihara no miya is open all year through. Admission is free.
How to get there:
Take the JR Kisei Main Line (紀勢本線 / きせいほんせん) (running between Kameyama in Mie and Wakayamashi in Wakayama) to Takihara (瀧原 / たきはら) and from there it is about 1.5 kilometers on foot.