Any proper itinerary for a trip across Japan should include stops in its three most famous Shinto shrines: Hiroshima’s Itsukushima Shrine, Kyoto’s Heian Shrine, and the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Those, however, are just the tip of Japan’s iceberg of breathtaking sacred Shinto spots.
Even if you’ve got no pressing interest in Japan’s indigenous religion, its shrines are often sites of breathtaking natural and architectural beauty, and here are four that, while off the beaten path, are not to be missed.
1. Motosuminari Shrine / 元乃隅稲成神社 (Yamaguchi Prefecture)
Every Shinto shrine has at least one torii, the large two-pillared gate that marks its entrance. But while a minimum of one tori is required, there’s no maximum number. Motosuminari Shrine has 123 of them, stretching like a tunnel along a ridge that rises sharply from the sea.
2. Oarai Isosaki Shrine / 大洗磯前神社 (Ibaraki Prefecture)
On the other hand, Oarai Shrine, located on the shore in Ibaraki, goes for quantity over quality with just a single torii of note. Situated at the end of a rocky point, waves crash over and around its base in dramatic fashion, and since Ibaraki’s coastline faces east, the shrine is a popular spot for early birds to watch the sunrise from.
Don’t think you can make it by the literal crack of dawn? Don’t worry, because the place looks just as ethereally beautiful under the light of the full moon.
3. Ota Shrine / 太田神社 (Hokkaido)
Thrilling as it must be to witness the raging waves at Oarai Shrine, we’re guessing visitors’ hearts pound even harder as they make their approach to Ota Shrine, referred to by some as “Japan’s most dangerous shrine.”
While we haven’t heard of anyone actually being injured at the site, located in the town of Setana, you’ll still want to watch your step. Not only is it an incredibly long climb from the entrance to the main building of the shrine itself (both marked with red circles in the photo below)…
…the path includes incredibly narrow walkways…
…and even chains which you have to use to climb the sections of the mountain that are too steep for stairs.
4. Arakura Sengen Shrine / 新倉浅間神社 (Yamanashi Prefecture)
Finally, we come to Arakura Sengen Shrine in Yamanashi Prefecture. It doesn’t have a particularly famous torii, and there’s no real or perceived danger in getting there that you can pat yourself on the back for being a daredevil and overcoming.
It does have is a five-story pagoda, though, which is notably tall for the architectural style. Even better, the shrine grounds also provide an excellent vantage point for views of Mt. Fuji.
Now, if the idea of sitting in a shrine and gazing at a snow-covered Mt. Fuji is just too unimaginably stereotypical for your tastes, you probably won’t be pleased to know that things become even more clichéd in cherry blossom season.
But just because it’s clichéd doesn’t mean it’s not also completely awesome.