Monday, September 17, 2012

Amano Iwato Jinja                                                 UC
Amano Iwata Jinja
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date Founded: The age of the cave called Amano Iwato is undocumented. Shrine foundation dates are also unclear. Present buildings date from 1955 and 1985 respectively.
Address: 1073-1 Iwato, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusugi gun, Miyazaki 882-1621         
Tel/Information: 0982-74-8239. English translation of the myth of Amano Iwato is available.
How to get there: The directions are the same as for Takachiho Jinja until you get to Takachiho. Then take the bus from the Takachiho Bus Center (about 6 miles). Buses depart hourly (6 buses per day) to Amano Iwato Jinja-mae bus stop.
Enshrined kami: Amaterasu omikami in the western shrine, Ame no iwayado in the eastern shrine.
Prayers offered: Pray for good luck and happiness.
Best times to go: For the kagura traditional dance festivals, May 2nd to 3rd, and September 21st to 23rd. Also for the cherry blossoms in April and autumn colors in November.

A view from inside Amano Yasugawara cave
Important physical features: This shrine (and indeed, neighboring Takachiho Jinja) is located in a difficult place for the casual tourist to reach. It is in the mountains northeast of Miyazaki City. It can only be reached by bus (from Takachiko) or by car. The most important physical property of the shrine is of course the cave, Amano Iwato (“Heavenly Rock Dwelling”), where Amaterasu Omikami hid herself away, and the Amano Yasugawara cave, where the “eight-million myriad deities” (yaoyarozu) gathered along the “Tranquil River of Heaven” to plan a way to lure her back out. I go into some detail on the myth in "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion." The main, western-shrine (nishi hongu) is on the west bank of the Iwato River (a branch of the Gokase River) but Amano Iwato is on the right bank, behind the eastern-shrine (higashi hongu). You cannot approach Amano Iwato but you can look toward it (you can’t actually see it through the trees) from a deck inside the nishi hongu shrine (and taking photos is discouraged). The cave acts as the goshintai, the body of the enshrined spirit. The buildings here are new, both being from the late 90’s. The nishi hongu is entered through a 3-bay gate built in a sort of modern shinmei zukuri style, with a large gabled-roof covered in copper tiles. There are also chigi and katsuogi on this roof and the entrance is under the eaves on the non-gable side. From the right and left side of the gate, a tall, unpainted tamagaki fence surrounds the inner grounds. Passing through this gate brings you to the courtyard in front of the haiden. The haiden looks like a double of the gate except that it is raised a few steps above ground level, and it is deeper. To the right and left of the main 3-bay structure are two additional shrines, also with large gabled-roofs, this time with the entrance on the gabled side. This is a rather unique arrangement that seems to be related to the form of Takachiho Jinja—the architecture of which is older. These shrines are connected to covered corridors that emanate from the left and right sides of the haiden. To the left of the shrine is a kaguraden, built in an older style with a gabled roof with chidorihafu false dormer and karahafu in a small step-canopy.
The higashi hongu is approached up a long flight of stairs through a lovely wood. There is a series of three torii but no gate. The haiden is similar to the nishi hongu but smaller and simpler. It has an open grill front and the back is open, giving a view of the honden. The honden is shinmei zukuri surrounded by a tamagaki fence and you can walk around the entire shrine. Although Amano Iwato itself is off limits, you can freely approach the Amano Yasugawara cave—in fact, you can walk right into it. A path leads from the nishi hongu along the Iwato River and across a narrow, arched bridge. The banks along the river and the approach to the cave are strewn with an incredible number of small stone cairns or alters (iwasaka) erected by worshippers. A torii stands in front of the cave and a paved-stone path leads underneath it. Inside the cave itself is a small shrine for making devotions. The whole effect of grand nature and primitive stone offerings is one of mysterious beauty, punctuated by the sound of the swift-flowing stream.

Important spiritual features: Amano Iwato is considered by some to be the site of one of the most important stories of the Imperial Shinto epic of how the ancestor of the emperor came to be recognized as the primary kami in the heavens. I describe this legend in the introductory notes to "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion" so I will only give an abbreviated version here. The destructive rampaging of Amaterasu's brother, Susano-o, drove the sun kami to hide herself in the cave called Amano Iwato and thus deprive the world of her light. So distressing was her absence that all the kami got together to discuss how to lure her out. The myth is central because it points to Amaterasu as "first among equals" and shows the support of all the other kami for her position (vs that of Susano-o's). The myth is thus often considered a device used by the Yamato clans and their allies of the seventh or eighth century, to legitimize their rule. The plot to lure Amaterasu out of Amano Iwato, involved a number of kami who were later sent to earth with Amaterasu’s grandson Ninigi, and are considered the ancestors of some of the most powerful clans of the new state. Of course there is little in the way of evidence to connect the Amano Iwato of “the plain of high-heaven” to the Amano Iwato of modern day Miyazaki Prefecture. It is simply taken on faith. At first glance, for example, it may seem somewhat incongruous that the “heavenly rock-cave” is located only several miles from Mt. Takachiho, the place where the grandson of Amaterasu descended from heaven to rule the world. However the concept of heaven above, earth below, and hell below that does not necessary apply in the strict physical sense; especially in Shinto, where the land of the dead and the land of spirits, both good and bad, are often considered to be ever-present right alongside man.

Description: Amano Iwato has become the de facto representation of the “heavenly rock-cave” though what most visitors are able to see is actually the Amano Yasugawara cave where the kami gathered to discuss strategy. In conjunction with the nearby town of Takachiho, Amano Iwato Jinja helps to bring these myths to life with nightly performances of kagura—dances that recount these ancient legends. The kagura is said to originate with the dance of Ame no uzume, who performed in front of Amano Iwato in order to lure Amaterasu back into the world. The dance succeeded in making the “eight-million myriad kami” roar with laughter, prompting Amaterasu to take a peak at the unexpected uproar. Ame no uzume was considered the ancestor of the Sarume clan who were charged with carrying on the ritual ceremony of dancing for the pleasure of the gods. So it is that most large to medium size shrines have kaguraden on there grounds where performances are held on festival days. One might find such local accoutrements as the Disyneyesque statue of Tajiarao—the “hand-power” kami who pulled away the stone covering the cave (or pulled Amaterasu out of the cave depending on the version)—or Ame no uzume revolving on an overturned bucket a bit out of character to the solemnity one would expect of such a divine location. But maybe this too is designed to evoke a mighty guffaw, just like the one that shook the heavens and made the sun reappear, all those eons ago.

Festivals: Kagura Festival, 3 November. All-day kagura, featuring a range of performances.


  1. Hi, I just found your site while looking for information on this shrine for a blog post. I visited Amano Iwato Jinja for the kagura matsuri and it was very beautiful. I live across the border in Taketa, where kagura is also very popular. Almost every shrine here has a kaguraden and I have seen it performed at elementary schools and even in an empty lot a block away from my house!

    I just pre-ordered your book and am excited to read it. I am very interested in Shinto and shrines and your book seems like a wonderful accompaniment to my explorations.

    1. Thanks for your comment Adam. Unlike all the shrines in my book I have not yet visited all the shrines on the blog, including Amanao Iwato. I hope to make it before the end of the year and Takachiho as well. Perhaps you could recommend some other places to visit while I am there?

      As you rightly point out, kagura is an important Shinto offering to the kami and especially in Miyazaki where Ninigi no mikoto is said to have descended and where Jimmu set out to found the country, as well as where some believe Ame no uzume performed the first dance to lure Amatarazu omikami from the cave known as Amano Iwato.

      And many thanks for your comment on the new book. I sincerely hope it meets your expectations.

  2. Unfortunately I don't know much about the Takachiho area but if you do come and have time to visit Taketa across the border in Oita Prefecture, I'd be happy to recommend some places here. Oita Prefecture has one of the highest number of shrines to population ratio in Japan (number 4 or 5 I think) and many in this area are exceptionally beautiful. We also have the remains of Oka-jo, which is especially beautiful right now with the fall colors.

  3. Well thanks very much for the kind offer. I hope to be able to make it to Miyazaki and the Takachiho area toward the end of the year. Don't know if I will be able to get to Oita but if I do (or in any case) I'd like to ask for your recommendations. Just back from a trip to Afuri Jinja at the top of Oyama in Kanagawa-ken which I hope to post in the near future.

  4. Please contact me at adam (dot) douglas (dot) esl (at) gmail (dot) com if you'd like some recommendations. I've only been here for 4 months or so but I'll do my best.