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Izumo Taisha

Sacred Spots in Japan

Japan In-depth

Along with Ise Jingu, Izumo Taisha is one of the most famous shrines in Japan. Izumo is an old province in western Japan, on the coast of the Japanese Sea. It is a sacred area rich in mineral ores and with a culture of its own. Already in ancient times, the region developed a unique kind of steel smelting called tatara, which is used to forge Japanese swords. Nearby is the beautiful Shinjiko lake, and the legendary hot spring town of Tamatsukuri Onsen, where holy, comma-shaped jade beads have been made since time immemorial. In the old Japanese lunar calendar, the tenth month was called Kannazuki, which means “the month without gods.” In Izumo, however, it was called Kamiarizuki – “the month with gods.” That is to say, in the tenth month of every year, all the kami of Japan would gather here in Izumo.

While the kami of Ise is Amaterasu, Izumo Taisha is related to her brother Susanoo. In Japanese mythology, Amataterasu expelled her unruly younger brother from Takamagahara, the High Plains of Heaven. He descended in Izumo, where he came upon an old couple, weeping because seven of their eight daughters had been devoured by the giant serpent Yamato-no-orochi and they now were about to sacrifice their final one. Hearing this, Susanoo undertook to slay the fearsome snake, with its eight heads and eight tails. This he did, and then promptly married the girl he had rescued and founded a new kingdom. The story is quite similar to the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda. In the remote past, an iron manufacturing technique called tatara was developed in this area. It has been speculated that Yamato-no-orochi is a symbol for tatara and that Susanoo established his kingdom by conquering the iron makers. The time-honored craft of tatara also makes an appearance in Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movie “Princess Mononoke.”

Okuninushi-no-mikoto is said to be the son of Susanoo, and it was he who made Izumo into a great and prospering kingdom. The dominant power of the times was the Imperial Court in Nara, who wanted Izumo to concede their sovereignty. Okuninushi’s condition for doing so was for the court to build a magnificent palace, rivaling the emperor’s own. Indeed, the roots of the present-day Izumo Taisha have been verified to go back to such an ancient palace.
The current main hall was built in the 18th century and is 24 m high. This is already exceptionally high for a Shinto shrine, but legend has it that it was originally 96 m high, a wondrous structure built upon on tall pillars reaching towards the sky. The remains of those enormous wooden pillars have recently been excavated.

Izumo Taisha is famous as a matchmaking shrine, and is visited by plenty of people who wish to marry. Apart from the size of Izumo Taisha itself, visitors are astonished by the giant shimenawa. This is a thick rope primarily made of rice stalks that is used to cordon off the holy ground of the kami from the ordinary world. The rope worn around the waist by the top-ranked sumo wrestlers, the yokozuna, is also a shimenawa. The strongest are marked out as sacred.
The Japanese kami were originally spirits of the land and nature that have evolved over time into their current form. Amaterasu and Susanoo are two of the most representative kami, and accordingly, Ise Jingu and Izumo Taisha are two of Japan’s most sacred spots.
Address & Access
[Izumo Taisha]
195 Kitsuki-higashi, Taisha-machi, Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture
Tel: 0853-53-3100

From Tokyo: Take the Shinkansen to Okayama, and then the Yakumo Limited Express to Izumo City (approx. 6 hours 30 minutes).
From Shin-Osaka: Take the Shinkansen to Okayama, and then the Yakumo Limited Express to Izumo City (approx. 3 hours 30 minutes).

Area Map

Other attractions in the area
[Susa Shrine]
The place where Susanoo is enshrined, and one of the top power spots in the country.
730 Susa, Sada-cho, Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture
Tel. 0853-84-0605
http://www.susa-jinja.jp/ (Japanese only)
Approx. 35 minutes by bus from JR Izumo station.

[Tamatsukuri Onsen]
One of Japan’s oldest hot spring resorts.
http://www2.crosstalk.or.jp/onsen/home.html (Japanese only)
Tamatsukuri, Tamayu-cho, Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture
Tel. 0852-62-0634 (Tamatsukuri Hot Spring Guesthouse Association)
Approx. 60 minutes by bus from JR Izumo station.

[Adachi Museum]
An art museum with some of the most beautiful Japanese-style gardens in the country.
Open every day 9:00 – 17:00
320 Furukawa-cho, Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture
Tel. 0854-28-7111
Approx. 70 minutes by train from JR Izumo station to JR Yasugi station, then bus from Yasugi.

[Mizuki Shigeru Road]
The world of the famous yokai anime, “Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro.”
215 Taisho-machi, Sakaiminato City, Shimane Prefecture
Tel. 0859-47-0121 (Sakaiminato Tourist Information)
Approx. 2 hours 30 minutes by train from JR Izumo station via Yonago to JR Sakaiminato.