Full of Must-See Spots! A Guide to Kompira Shrine in Kagawa, Shikoku Region
Kotohiragu (Kompira Shrine) is one of the leading sightseeing spots in Kagawa that is located in the northeastern part of the Shikoku region. This shrine, which has come to be affectionately called “Sanuki Kompira-san”, offers a lot of impressive spots for visitors and worshippers to see. With that, here is a guide on the charming Kompira Shrine.
Kompira Shrine is located halfway up Kotohirayama (Mt. Zozu) in the western part of Kagawa. Together with Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine) in Mie, it is a popular sightseeing spot that has long been an object of longing among the Japanese people as it is said to be a place you “must visit once in a lifetime”. Today, around 3 million people come to worship at this shrine each year. Its main deity Omononushi-no-kami is a deity that is known to give such blessings as a bountiful catch, abundant harvest, thriving business and cure for illness. Mt. Zozu had been a particular marker for navigation since ancient times, too, so it has also been gaining faithful worshippers as a deity of the sea.
Kompira Shrine is famous for its long ishidan (stone steps). There are 785 steps up to the Hongu (main shrine) that is about 251m above sea level, and it takes about 30 minutes to get there from the front approach, one way (there are 1,368 steps up to Okusha (innermost shrine) at the back). It may be a long flight of stone steps, but many attractions dot the road going up, including important cultural properties, so the walk won’t get boring. On the road to the stone steps from JR Kotohira Station, there are even shops where you can rent walking sticks for free, so people who have no confidence in their physical strength might want to consider using them. Another recommended way to go up the stone steps is by riding in the Ishidan Kago that will carry you up the 365th step via this thing called “kago” (palanquin or cage).
The Omotesando (front approach) to Kompira Shrine is bustling in activity, with rows of souvenir shops and restaurants on both sides of the road. Some of the shops there are pretty famous, such as Marukin Chuyu, the soy sauce shop that represents Kagawa, and Kyuman Honpo Ishidanya that sells the Kompira special confectionery called Kyuman. If you shop before you worship at the shrine, then you will have to carry your packages with you while you walk, so it would be best to do that after you’re done worshipping. The approach is flat at the start, but it will suddenly get to the stone steps, where your 785 steps to the main shrine will begin.
The Daimon (large front gate) that is located at the 365th step of the stone steps is a gate that was built based on the Irimoya-zukuri style with a tiled roof, and past this spot lies the holy shrine precincts. When you go through the Daimon, you will see five shops that have large parasols above them. These are the Gonin Byakusho who are said to be the descendants of this shrine. Through their ancestors, they are the only ones allowed to engage in trade within the sacred grounds of the shrine. They sell the Kompira specialty called Kamiyo Ame candy. This fan-shaped candy that possesses a natural kind of sweetness is eaten after it is cracked by the accompanying small mallet.
As you walk on the approach from the Daimon gate, you will come to the Sakuranobaba Nishizume Dotorii (a bronze torii gate), and standing next to the gate are statues of adorable dogs. Called the Kompira Inu (Kompira Dogs), these statues symbolize the pet dogs that were sent as substitutes by people who wanted to go to Kompira Shrine but could not go in the past. These dogs would have money for food and other items in a bag hanging on their necks and would walk from one traveler to the next in order to successfully worship in place of their masters.
Built in the Irimoya-zukuri style with hiwadabuki (cypress roofing) around 1658 -1660, the Omote-shoin (formal drawing room) was used as venue for rites and for receiving worshippers. Inside is a wall painting done by the Okyo Maruyama (1733 – 1795), a central figure in the world of art in Kyoto, and together with the building itself, this wall painting has been designated as a national important cultural property.
Admission fee: General: 800 JPY, High school/college student: 400 JPY, Junior high school student or younger: Free
Finally, if you manage to climb the steep set of steps called the Onmae Yodanzaka, you will reach the Hongu (main shrine) where the deity is enshrined. The main shrine is a structure with an honorable history whose origin is so old that its actual establishment is unknown, and it has been through repeated renovations, starting a thousand years ago. The current main shrine is the one that was rebuilt in 1878, with “makie” (gold lacquer) – Japan’s very own lacquer art – applied on its wall decorations and ceiling.
Aside from the above, there are many other spots that you must check out at Kompira Shrine, including the Asahi-sha shrine with intricate woodcarvings and the cafe and restaurant called Kamitsubaki. Please visit this shrine sometime.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.