Saturday, September 3, 2011

Oldest Extant Shinto Shrine in Japan

Omiwa Shrine or Miwa Shrine is situated in Sakurai, Nara, in a quiet forest in front of Mount Miwa (467m). The notable thing about the shrine is that it is believed to serve Mount Miwa so there’s no shinden, main hall, for the deity to be housed. This type of mountain worship is found in the earliest forms of Shinto. Two ancient chronicles, Kojiki and Nihonshoki, compiled in 8th century wrote about the myth or tales of the origin of the shrine and religious practices surrounding the mountain. So Omiwa Shrine is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.

a second torii leading to the inner compound 

And then a large shime torii, an ancient form of torii made only with two posts and a rope called shimenawa.  Haiden, prayer hall, you can see here was contributed by the fourth Tokugawa shogun Ietsuna in 1664.

This cedar tree is estimated 400 years old. According to Nihonshoki, Shinto God or Kami who resided here was also a snake god, so a snake was considered to be one of the kami worshiped here. A white snake can be seen to come out from the hole of this tree so it's called sacred cedar tree of snake. Frankly speaking, I'm not fond of the idea, though.

You can climb Mount Miwa from here. Once no entry was allowed but now anyone can climb it after registering and paying 300 yen at the shrine office. Here at the entrance you purify your soul  and wear the handed white sash with a bell attached. (right)

No photograph, no eating and drinking except water in the mountain. I climbed a couple of times. It is almost a two-hour round trip. I am not a shintoist, however when I have something in  mind, I feel like climbing that mountain. It's perspiring but the thought deities have been believed to reside  since the ancient times and people have worshiped and admired it since the time immemorial makes me feel sober and refreshed. These days this place became popular as a "power spot" among young people who are interested in "spiritual" matter.

These areas called Yamato Basin or Nara Basin full of ancient burial mounds or historical remains, old temples and shrines.  According to Chinese historical records, a united kingdom called Yamatai-koku ruled by Queen Himiko flourished in Japan in the early 3rd century. Who was Himiko? Where was Yamatai-koku? These are still controversial question but one theory says Hashihaka kofun (burial mound) related to Mount Miwa might be Himiko's.

Panoramic view from the lookout in the compound. Can you see a large torii in the middle of right side?
Pointed hill a liite left from the torii is Miminashi-yama and then Unebi-yama and  Kagu-yama. Behind those three hills range Nijo-zan from the right and Mt. Katsuragi (959m) and then followed by Mt. Kongo (1125m).

I wanted to see sunset from here so returned here again a week later. The sky was not so clear and I was worried one hour drive from home woudln't pay off . However, soft glowing evening sun from the rift in the clouds was more than I had expected. It illuminated remaining thunderheads from behind and made glowing lines. I am afraid the picture didn't do it justice. Though my husband hurried me to go home, I wanted to stay here a bit longer.


  1. "Frankly speaking, I'm not fond of the idea, though." A wonderful understatement! It could be British.

  2. Stunning photos, especially the panorama. Full marks.

  3. "These days this place became popular as a "power spot" among young people who are interested in "spiritual" matter."

    I wonder what people have in mind when they use the word "spiritual" in this context? What would be the Japanese word? And I wonder what people hope to obtain from visiting a "power spot"?

  4. Hi Cosmos!
    A very interesting post and story. The white snake sounds a little scary. Strange thing for me is to pay to go in the mountains, have experienced it only in foreign countries.., never pay to go in the mountains and nature in Norway. And without camera..
    I wonder what kind of spiritual thing these people want to experience?
    The sunset and the scenery is fantastic and you've snapped some great pictures. Especially the last one, I like very much.
    Hope you have a blessed weekend!
    Regards from Tania:-)

  5. I like the last two phots especially. My husband's father loved to visit this old shrine on new year's day. So I followed him sometimes. I remember the atmosphere.

  6. Really beautiful photos, cosmos! I was especially impressed with the last two as haricot has commented.

    The ancient history of the shrine seems to reflect the conflict between the Izumo Dynasty and the Yamato Dynasty. How interesting! As far as I remember, the story(myth) of "SNAKE in the Kojiki chronicle is a little differnet from that in the Nihon-shoki. From a mythological point of view, I would think that the myth about the shrine has many intriguing elements. Do you think Princess Yamato-toto-himomo-sohime(倭迹迹日百襲媛命), the heroine of the myth about the shrine, was Himiko? The Princess' tomb is Hashihaka(箸墓古墳) which was created during the 2~3rd centuries AD and which has been considered since 2009 to be the tomb of Himiko by many scholars who support the theory that Yamatai-koku was in Kinai(畿内).I would think that the Imperial Household Agency should allow archaeologists to dig up the site!!
    台風大丈夫ですか? くれぐれも気をつけてくださいね。

  7. It is only my personal view but I would think that it would be better to include the original myth about SNAKE in 記紀 because so-called "legendary white snake" in this post is quite different from the original one...

  8. Your post is a torii, a gateway leading to a heavenly place.

  9. You went there twice to take photo?
    Great. I like the ninth photo. Sunset lights a big torii in the Yamato basin. The gentle color sky has seen not only you,now but also Himiko. It's romance. The panoramic view of
    Yamato-sanzan and Nijyo-zan, Katuragi,Kongou is marvelous. I saw it for the first time.
    Thank you for sharing.

  10. Hello Cosmos!
    Lovely photos and so much interesting information.The sunsets images are both fabulous.You were obviously there at just the right time.I think it's always the case with sunsets,that you have to be there experiencing the moment first hand.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Enjoy your week,

  11. Dear Marc

    Thank you for the comments. I’m rewriting the reply. “Spiritual” in this context means something super natural power that is invisible but generates a feeling of awe or wonder or peace of mind, in Japanes I’d say “超自然的な” (chou shizentekina). I wonder what would other readers think ?

    The word “power spots” were coined by a Japanese in early 1990s according to Wikipedia and now are
    being giving media attention. Apart from technical sense and meaning of the term, simply put, power spots are said to be the places to give energy and life force so that visitors could get energized and healthier by taking in those energies. Since a popular TV celebrity recommended Omiwa Shrine as one of power spots, I heard the number of visitors has been increasing. I don’t know the truth about power spot, but I think it's understandable.

  12. Hi Tania
    Usually we don’t pay to go in the mountains, but Mount Miwa has been a sanctuary, identified kami or Shinto God in itself. This is a Shinto Shrine with Mount Miwa as kami-body, so I understand it’s an offering.
    Shintoism is an indigenous religion of Japan and has no absolute kami or doctrine. It is a form of animistic nature worship that sees kami in nature, such as mountains, big rocks, trees you name it. There are said to be as many kamis as eight million! Like I wrote to Marc, some say those places have special energy to get people energetic and refreshed or healed. I’m not so sure about kami power but I sure feel good and refreshed while I am in the nature. I think those people who go to what is called power spot want to experience such kind of feeling and take in energy.

    Have a happy week, Tania.

  13. Haricot




    Thank you for your concern about typhoon. It did almost no harm here but still lingering rain after it is gone.
    Hope it won’t cause damage any more.


    Thank you for your heavenly comment:) Hope you'll have a nice week.

  14. Sarah



    To see sunrise or sunset is really something. Usually I take it for granted but when I come across a wonderful scene produced by them, I can't help admiring its wonder.
    Thank you, Ruby. Have a nice week.

  15. 田原本町に住んでいた時は、初詣はいつも三輪山でした。 二の鳥居を過ぎるとおのずから厳粛な気持ちになり、太古からの息吹、自然の中で、心も体もすがすがしくなります。帰りに、三室最中を買うのも楽しみです。 市の立つ日のあのあたりの交通渋滞を覚えていますが、今では解消したのかしら?

    こうして遠景の写真をみると、あらためて一の鳥居の大きさがわかります。 最後から3番目のは水彩画みたい、夕日の写真は、奈良の夕日百景(十景かな?)に選ばれそうよ。:)

  16. Wow, Cosmos, this blog must be one of your masterpieces. As I am a sunset sucker, I think I’ll visit this place. Beautiful, beautiful, every photo is beautiful!!
    Sometimes, the word “power spot” seems to me a kind of commercialism to boost tourism. But, I myself believe that the area of Tobihino(飛火野), Mt.Kasuga and Kasuga Great Shrine is very powerful power spot. I’ve heard from my friend’s friend that Machu Picchu is one of the strongest power spots. She experienced there her blood circulation was being activated very much. So, many people with sickness visit and stay there for a while hoping to get cure.
    “What is “spiritual”? I’ll think over about that. I take it for granted.

  17. こんばんは

    乙女の頃(笑)談山神社に行った帰りに寄ったことがあります。蛇は確かに気持ち悪いし、旧約では悪者ですが、色々な神話に度々登場するので興味深いです。 Ouroboros またはUroborus というシンボルがあります。蛇が自分の尾を食べて円を形成するシンボルで、ユングは重要なarchetypeにしています。この神社の祭神が蛇に関係しているのは非常に面白いです。というのもその妻は箸墓に眠っていますが、近年卑弥呼説が有力になっているからです。三輪山は大和の始原のような山ですしUroborus的意味をもつのかもしれません。神話は大好きで、ちょくちょく読んでいる程度です。

  18. stardust






    わあ そのOuroborosとやらの話とても興味があります。時間の余裕ができたら(できないかもしれませんね)是非ポストしていただきたいです!

  19. Oh, panorama looks magnificent! And the sun is glowing like a melted gold in the sky.

    I wonder if any places outside of Japan are considered Kami according to Shintoism?

    Best wishes,

  20. Ekaterina

    I don't know for sure about that but considering the mentality influenced by Shintoism which is a form of animistic nature worship, I think any place even outside of Japan could be considered or respected as something like Kami.I'm not a shintoist and not conscious of Kami but I feel awe-inspired whenever I come across a great nature or every tiny world nature creates.
    Thank you, Ekaterina. Have a happy day!

  21. cosmos,
    Today while I was talking with haricot, I remembered one story. It is about the deity of Young Price Shrine, 若宮神社 in Kasuga Grand Shrine. The deity transformed to a white snake and guided the shrine priests to the spot where he stopped. The shrine priests chose the spot to build his shrine.

  22. Thank you for visiting here again, snowwhite. That really sounds interesting. So the white snake may be deep involved in myths of early Shinto like Sapphire says. What's the idea behind that? The way of looking at the snake may become different one for me, hopefully not as the one that makes my skin crawl.

  23. 夕日に照らされた大鳥居が、神々しさを醸し出しています。

  24. Beautiful photos, as usual. I never knew that this entrance was called a Tori. This shrine is fascinating. I agree that sometimes places can have a kind of spiritual energy

    You always find such interesting things to write about. Thank you.

  25. 今 この一瞬を」


    Jenny Woolf

    Thank you for the comment, Jenny. What kind of place do you feel spiritual energy? The entrance is called torii (double i), originally Japanese but has become English as is.

  26. Wow - this is such a lovely post. I do love old temples - they have a sense of peace. And those last two photos are stunning!

  27. ladyfi

    I am very glad you visited here and left the comment.
    I was deeply impressed with your pictures. I thought there was more to it than a picture.


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