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A Comprehensive Guide to Izumo-taisha

Izumo-taisha is a famous Shinto shrine that appears in Japanese mythology. It has an extremely long history and, together with Ise Shrine, is considered to be a shrine that is representative of Japan. Advanced knowledge about this popular tourist destination will greatly enhance the enjoyment of anyone visiting it, so here is a comprehensive guide to Izumo-taisha.

What Is Izumo-taisha?

Izumo-Taisha is a Shinto shrine in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture. It is an iconic shrine in Izumo, which is sometimes referred to as the homeland of Shinto deities. It is usually called "Izumo-taisha," but the official name is actually "Izumo Oyashiro." The vast 180,000 sq.m. grounds house the main shrine building, which is a recognized national treasure, as well as a hall of worship, eight auxiliary shrines, and three subordinate shrines. The shrine was founded before the year 660 BC, and has been administered by the Izumo no Kuni no Miyatsuko family ever since. The shrine is dedicated to Okuninushi-no-okami (a Shinto deity who is believed to be the original ruler of the Izumo Province (present day Shimane Prefecture)). According to the Kojiki (the oldest extant chronicle of Japan), it has its roots in the shrine that Okuninushi-no-okami built when he handed the country over to Amaterasu-omikami. This is a place to visit to get a feel for ancient Japan.

What Is Izumo-taisha?

195 Kuzuki-higashi, Taisha-cho, Izumo-shi, Shimane

How to Get There / Hours

It takes about 40 minutes by bus to Izumo-taisha from JR Izumoshi Station. Travel by air is recommended if you are visiting from far away, as the trains can take a long time. By air, it is about 80 minutes from Tokyo, 50 minutes from Osaka, and 60 minutes from Fukuoka to Izumo Airport. There is a direct bus from the airport to Izumo-taisha, which takes about 35 minutes. There is also an overnight train from Tokyo Station called Sunrise Izumo.
Hours: March to October 6:00 am - 8:00 pm, November to February 6:30 am - 8:00 pm.

The Procedures Are a Bit Different from Other Shrines

Although it is usual to bow twice, clap twice, pray, then bow once more at Shinto shrines, the practice at Izumo-taisha is to bow twice, clap four times, pray, and bow once more. Be sure to clean your hands and mouth at the chozuya (place for ritual cleansing of hands and mouth with water when visiting shrines​) first.

*The photo is for illustrative purposes only.

Start from the First Torii Gate to Go to Shinmon-dori

There are four torii (Shinto shrine archway) gates at Izumo-taisha. The correct procedure is to enter from the first torii gate. Worshipers cleanse themselves of the impurities of earthly life by passing through the four torii gates made of stone, wood, steel, and bronze before entering the sacred grounds. The etiquette is to stop and bow before passing through each torii gate, regardless of which direction you are going.
Start at the first torii gate, the Great Torii Gate of Ugabashi. The path between the concrete Great Torii and the second torii gate is called Shinmon-dori, and it is the main path to Izumo-taisha. The path is lined with shops serving Izumo specialty foods and souvenir shops. Izumo is famous for its Izumo soba noodles, which are made by grinding whole kernels of buckwheat in stone mortars and are distinguished by their aroma.

From the Second Torii Gate to the Fourth Torii Gate

Proceed straight on Shinmon-dori to the second torii gate, Seidamari-no-Torii, then on to the third and fourth torii gates.

From the Second Torii Gate to Harai-no-Yashiro

The wooden second torii gate, which appears on Shinmon-dori, is considered to be the main entrance to Izumo-taisha. When you walk further on downhill, you'll come to the Harai-no-Yashiro, a shrine dedicated to Haraido-no-kami, the deity for cleansing, so stop by to pay your respects. After that, walk further to cross a barrel-shaped bridge called Haraibashi.

From the Third Torii Gate to the Chozuya

Once you cross the bridge, you'll come to the third torii gate by which there are impressive rows of cedar trees that are more than 400 years old. Along the path, there are statues of the Sacred Deity of Musubi and the Sacred Deity of Gojiai based on Japanese mythology. Once you get to the chozuya, scoop up water with a ladle and rinse your left hand, right hand, and mouth before proceeding to the fourth torii gate.

From the Fourth Torii Gate to the Hall of Worship

Finally, cross through the fourth bronze torii gate. This gate was gifted by Mori Tsunahiro in 1666 and is the oldest bronze gate in Japan. The Haiden (hall of worship built in front of the main hall) is right in front.

Pay Your Respects

Once you've paid your respects at the Haiden, the proper way to go through the rest of the shrine is counterclockwise. From the Haiden, proceed to the main shrine from the West as follows: Haiden→Hassoku Gate →Higashi-Jyukusha→Kamano-yashiro→Sogano-yashiro→West Honden (main hall)→the two Uji-no-yashiro, Nishi-Jyukusha→Kaguraden

Haiden

The Haiden was lost to fire and was reconstructed in 1959. The o-shimenawa (a rope that represents the boundary between the sacred world and the present world) is 6.5m long and weighs 1 ton, making it one of the largest shimenawa in Japan.

Hassoku Gate, Higashi-Jukusha

Hassoku Gate is the main entrance to the main hall. There is no entry to the main hall, so pay your respects in front of Hassoku Gate.


It is said that the deities gather from around the country in October of the lunar calendar, and Higashi-Jukusha is where the deities stay. There is also a Nishi-Jukusha in the West.

Kamano-yashiro, Sogano-yashiro

Kamano-yashiro is dedicated to the deity of food, and Sogano-yashiro is dedicated to Susanoo-no-mikoto, a deity related to Okuninushi-no-okami.
*The image is of Sogano-yashiro

Honden, Nishi-Jukusha

The shintai (object of worship) of the Honden faces West, so it is customary to pay respects from the West. Proceed to visit the two uji-yashiro shrines.


Nishi-jukusha, like Higashi-jukusha, is where the deities stay

Kagura-den

The Kaguraden (a building in which sacred kagura dance and music is performed) stands outside the hedge to the west of the Haiden. It has an impressive o-shimenawa that is 13m long and weighs 5 tons.

Purchase Amulets and Talismans

Izumo-taisha is said to help with matchmaking, and there are a variety of amulets available to purchase for praying for a good match, as well for warding off evil and improving luck. They can make wonderful souvenirs.

Other Highlights

There is much more to see in Izumo-taisha, such as the wooden structure, Shoko-kan, that incorporates elements of shrine architecture. The building is used as a treasure museum (admission fee 200 JPY) where you can see statues of deities related to Izumo and instruments for sacred music.
Also note the more than 40 statues of rabbits on the grounds. They are based on the myth "Inaba no Shiro-usagi," in which a rabbit helps Okuninushi-no-okami. It may be fun to look for the rabbit statues as you walk around the shrine grounds.

Stroll around Shinmon-dori

It is common to go back to Shinmon-dori after visiting the shrine to enjoy the food and shopping. There are many shops selling souvenirs unique to Izumo, such as one specializing in menou (agate), which is a local specialty. There are also crafts museums that are fun to visit. Goen-yokocho (Goen Alley), in front of Seidamari-no-Torii, is the best area to stroll around in. It has many reto Japanese-style buildings and retains the feel of an old working-class neighborhood.

Stroll around Shinmon-dori

1344 Kizuki-minami, Taisha-cho, Izumo-shi, Shimane

Enjoy the Food around Izumo-taisha

Izumo soba, mentioned earlier, is the soul food of Izumo, and there are many famous Izumo soba shops in the Izumo-taisha area, such as Arakiya, with a history going back more than 200 years, and Kaneya, which always has lines out the door.
Another Izumo specialty is Izumo zenzai. Zenzai is a sweet dish of cooked azuki beans with mochi (rice cake) and other items that is said to have originated in Izumo. The zenzai in Izumo usually have circular red and white mochi. It is served at many restaurants and cafes on Shinmon-dori, so you can enjoy it as dessert or as a treat with tea.

Sightseeing Destinations around Izumo-taisha

There are many tourist spots around Izumo-taisha, such as the Former Taisha Station, which is said to be the best example of a Japanese-style station building. The Starbucks Izumo-taisha Store near Seidamari-no-Torii is also quite popular with visitors. It is a cool Starbucks with a facade that incorporates Japanese elements. The interior has decorations that take inspiration from Izumo-taisha, with light fixtures that depict shimenawa ropes. There is a view of Izumo-taisha through the windows on the second floor. The IZUMO mugs (1,600 JPY (excl. tax)) that represent menou are also worth checking out. The mugs, exclusive to Starbucks, are hand-painted by craftsmen, so there are no two with the same design.

Sightseeing Destinations around Izumo-taisha

841 Kizuki-minami, Taisha-cho, Izumo-shi, Shimane

Be sure to refer to this article so that you can thoroughly enjoy the charms of Izumo-taisha.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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