JAPAN: Shimane (Izumo Taisha)

Continuing with our travels in Shimane, we come to what is revered as one of Japan’s oldest and most important shrine, Izumo Taisha.  The shrine is located just one hour by train from Matsue.  The main deity of the shrine, Okuninushi no Okami is known as the deity of good relationships and marriage. Visitors to the shrine clap their hands four times instead of the usual two when offering a prayer, twice for themselves and twice for their actual or desired partners.

Shinto Deities

Shinto Deities

Kamiari Festival

Kamiari Festival

It is believed that during the tenth month of the lunar cycle, the eight million deities associated with the Shinto religion gather at Izumo Taisha for a meeting.  Hence, the tenth lunar month is known as Kamiarizuki (Month with Deities) in Izumo and Kannazuki (Month without Deities) throughout the remainder of Japan. Hence, the Kamiari Festival is held at the shrine from the 10th through the 17th of the month. During this time, the shrine  priests begin a period of abstinence and purification and perform rituals for the deities gathered at the shrine. On the evening of the 17th, a sending off ceremony is held.

As with other Shinto shrines, the main approach to the shrine is marked by a giant gate (torii) which opens onto a main street lined with shops and eateries.  At the end of the street, a large wooden gate marks the entrance to the actual shrine grounds. Once on the main grounds, you will find a large wooden structure which serves are the worship hall.  It is draped with an enormous shimenawa (sacred straw rope) which separates divine space from the mortal realm.

Behind the worship hall is the Honden (the Main Hall) which at approximately 78 feet tall is the tallest shrine building in Japan. Interestingly enough, this structure was much taller previously, perched on large wooden pillars.

Located on the southeastern corner of the main shrine grounds you will find the treasure hall.  This building exhibits paintings, documents and lavishly decorated containers, as well as a model and artist impressions of how Izumo Taisha might have looked in the past when it stood on tall pillars.

On the eastern portion of the shrine grounds stands the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo where visitors can learn more about the shrine and the Izumo region in general.

Web page:         http://visitshimane.com/?tag=izumo

Photo credits:    Umezawa, Eiji

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