Suwa Shrine

Nagasaki, Kyushu

Famed for the Nagasaki Kunchi festival, the extensive precincts of this shrine house a variety of facilities, as well as interesting guardian lion-dog statues

During the Sengoku period (1493-1590), Nagasaki became territory controlled by the Society of Jesus, and the three shrines at which people in the city of Nagasaki worshipped were burned down or demolished, but they were subsequently rebuilt in 1624. This is the tutelary shrine (shrine for all believers living in the region) for Nagasaki, so the site it occupies extends over the whole of Mount Tamazono.

If you climb the 193 stone steps from the Otorii gate, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view across the city of Nagasaki. In addition, the shrine precincts are home to many amusing stone statues of koma-inu (lion-dogs said to protect the god of the shrine) that seem to beckon you in with their laughing faces, including the unusual and interesting kappa koma-inu (lion-dogs in the shape of the equally mythical kappa water sprite), the tachi-koma-inu (lion-dogs standing on their hind legs), gyaku-dachi koma-inu (lion-dogs standing on their forelegs), and toge-nuki koma-inu (lion-dogs with fierce expressions, said to have the power to remove metaphorical thorns from people’s hearts).

There are many other things to see, including the majestic Honden, or inner sanctuary (originally built in 1648 and reconstructed in 1869, having previously been destroyed by fire), the Noritoden, where liturgy is recited, the Haiden, or hall of worship, the great gate, the drum tower (which houses a huge drum with a girth of 4.25 meters, which is sounded every morning and evening, as a purification ritual), ceiling paintings (by 75 artists), the repository for the portable shrines, Tamazono Inari Shrine, Frog Rock (it is believed that this stone, reminiscent of a frog, can ward off disaster), and the Toshogu Shrine (a shrine relocated here from another site). In addition, the omikuji (slips of paper telling one’s fortune) written in English are very popular.

Suwa Shrine has long been famous for its big festival, called Nagasaki Kunchi (held on October 7-9 each year), and it is one of the largest in Japan, in terms of both the number of participants and the number of spectators. It has been designated by the government as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. The whole neighborhood is filled with people dancing, carrying unusual palanquins, and pulling floats, while the traditional festival chants echo all around. Seating areas on tatami mats are also available for a fee.


18-15 Kaminishiyama-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki
Grounds are open all day
Admission Fee
Free admission to the grounds

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