The next phase of my journey across Japan brought me to the northern part of Chugoku where I would be visiting the towns of Matsue and Izumo. Matsue would serve as my base and on the morning after my arrival I boarded a train to Izumo for a trip that would occupy most of the day. As the train neared Izumo I noticed drops of water starting to hit the window. At first I figured it was just a light rain that the train would soon be clear of but the drops quickly grew more numerous. At the Izumo train station I got on a bus that would take me to my main destination of the day and as the bus drove around town I was hoping that the rain would stop but that was not to be. The weather app on my phone didn’t show any rain in the Izumo forecast, so I had shown up in town without a jacket or an umbrella. Thankfully umbrellas are sold in lots of shops in Japan, so when I got off the bus at my destination I ran to a nearby store and got myself one.
I had come to Izumo to visit Izumo Taisha, the second most important Shinto shrine in all of Japan. It is not known exactly when Izumo Taisha was first built, but it is believed to be one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, possible the oldest. Izumo Taisha has existed since at least the 700s AD and historically it’s been a major pilgrimage spot in Japan.
After walking a short distance from the entrance the path to the shrine splits into three lanes. The middle lane is reserved Shinto deities, so all human visitors walk on one of the two other paths.
Just before you reach Izumo Taisha’s main buildings there is a statue of Ōkuninushi, the main deity of the shrine. Ōkuninushi is said to be the founding deity of the nation of Japan and the ancient ruler of Izumo.
Upon entering the central part of the shrine you’ll see a couple bronze animal statues off to the side and directly in front of you will be the Haiden, which is the main worship hall. Hanging from the front of the Haiden is a large straw rope, called a shimenawa, and it is meant to represent the dividing line between the physical and spiritual realms.
Just behind the Haiden is the inner sanctuary of Izumo Taisha. Entrance into this area is prohibited to the general public and unfortunately my camera wasn’t able to get a good angle on the structures behind the fence.
Although you can’t enter the inner sanctuary, you can get a decent look at the taller buildings as you walk around the perimeter. The structures of the inner sanctuary are built in a distinct Japanese architectural style called Taisha-zukuri that predates the arrival or major foreign influences. Probably the things that will catch the eye of most visitors are the large X-shaped ornaments on the roofs. These are called chigi and can be seen on other ancient Shinto shrines in Japan. The largest building in the sanctuary is the main hall, which stands at around 24 meters, (78.7 feet) making it the tallest shrine building in the country.
Around the sides and rear of the inner sanctuary are a number of smaller shrines. Normally at Shinto shrines you’ll notice that people clap twice after prayer but at the shrines of Izumo Taisha people clap four times. This is because Ōkuninushi is also the deity of good relationships, so people clap two times for themselves and then two more times for their desired/actual significant other.
As I came back around to the front of the inner sanctuary the rain was finally starting to let up a bit but it would be a while longer before it finally stopped.
Off to the side from the central part of Izumo Taisha is a hall called Kagura-den. This is the newest building at Izumo Taisha, having been first built in 1776 and then rebuilt in 1981. Wedding ceremonies and sacred performances are regularly held here and it also features the largest shimenawa in Japan. The rope is about 13.5 meters (44.3 feet) long and weighs roughly 5 tons.
When I was done looking around Izumo Taisha I took the pathway back to the entrance. Before leaving Izumo I was going to pay a visit to a nearby museum, which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.