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Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

  • Ibaraki Prefecture’s hilly inland territory and Pacific coastline provide a stunning setting for its many Shinto shrines. Space has been left for the kami spirits and their shrines even as trains and golf courses and tidy exurban suburbs spread. Hitachinokuni Izumo Shrine is the perfect example of this, located a short distance from Fukuhara Station, between the bustling cities of Sakuragawa and Kasama; it still preserves a pastoral calm in the foothills of Mt. Wagakuni.

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    The shrine is dedicated to the legendary ruler of the ancient Izumo Province. Locals come here to toss coins and ask for luck during the harvest, and it’s also become popular as a wedding venue for out-of-towners. Upon entering the complex one’s eye is drawn to the main hall’s shimenawa, or “enclosing rope,” seen at other shrines to indicate sacred space but rarely this massive in size. The masters of the shrine have proven to be savvy businessmen, and they have turned the complex into a day-trip-worthy destination: there is a restaurant offering a seasonal menu featuring local produce and soba and a glass-blowing gallery and workshop (a program is offered for 4,000 yen that allows you to blow your own glass piece).

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Goshokomagataki Shrine, near Sakuragawa, and also on the JR Mito Line (Iwase Station offers the easiest access but many elect to take a taxi from the station, as the walk will take up to an hour) offers a more rustic experience. The shrine is popular in the autumn and early winter as its forest setting turns crimson with the changing of the season, and also in mid-summer for the Gion Festival (July 23 to 26), a tradition borrowed from Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri but carried out with its own local flavor.

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Tokiwa Shrine in Mito City enshrines Tokugawa Mitsukuni, following in the Shinto tradition of venerating worthy leaders. Although the complex is full of the symbols of the Tokugawa, understanding the history of Tokugawa Mitsukuni and the Mito Domain is not a prerequisite for enjoyment of this shrine, located beside Kairakuen, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Many visitors to the gardens make the detour up the grand staircase to the shrine and stop for a photo opportunity between the red flags leading to the Inari shrine.

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Isosaki Shrine is most easily reached from Mito City: a bus from Mito Station to a station in front of Oarai Seaside Hotel or a ride on the Kashima Rinkai Railway’s Oarai Kashima Line to Oarai Station. The complex houses numerous shrines and tori gates, including a poured concrete giant at the main entrance and another set dramatically on a cluster of rocks overlooking the Pacific—a perfect spot to catch a sunrise.

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Oiwa Shrine near Hitachi sits at the center of a cluster of Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and chinjusha, the small shrines to local guardian spirits. The area, centered on the mountain of the same name, has a long history as a power spot, attracting worshippers of various faiths and practices for centuries.

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    Gods of Harvest and Pacific Sunrises in the Shrines of Ibarak

    The Sanbon-sugi, a massive cedar with a trunk that splits at the base into three pillars, is one of many ancient trees in the groves around the shrine complex. Beyond the Oiwa Shrine, a path leads to the top of the mountain (note that the path is closed for stretches in the winter, during heavy rain and hikers are encouraged to depart before 3pm). The hike, through stands of ancient trees and untouched cedar groves, is one of the best ways to feel the distinctly Shinto reverence for the natural world.

    Hitachinokuni Izumo Taisha Shrine
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Kasamashi Fukuhara 2006
    Phone
    0296743000
    Fukuhara
    Address
    Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture
    Phone
    Goshokomataki Shrine
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Sakuragawashi Makabechouyamao 503
    Phone
    0296551487
  • Tokiwa Shrine
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Mitoshi Tokiwachou 1-3-1
    Phone
    0292210748
    Kairakuen
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Mitoshi Tokiwachou 1-3-3
    Phone
    0292445454
    Oarai Isosaki Jinja
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Higashibarakigunoaraimachi Isohamachou 6890
    Phone
    0292672637
    Mito
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Mitoshi Miyamachi 1-chome
    Phone
    Oarai
    Address
    Ibaraki Pref. Higashibarakigunoaraimachi Sakuramichi
    Phone
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