Japan Temples & Shrines: Taikodani Inari Shrine, Tsuwano
Taikodani Inari Shrine, Tsuwano 太鼓谷稲成神社
Driving into Tsuwano from the south along Route 9, the visitor arrives through a huge vermillion torii that straddles the road. Descending into Tsuwano in the valley below, you catch a glimpse on the hillside across the valley of a line of bright banners snaking up towards a cluster of vermillion buildings within the trees, this is Taikodani Inari Shrine.
From just about any part of the town either the giant torii or the shrine itself is visible, so it's no exaggeration to say that Taikodani Inari dominates Tsuwano, and the fifth largest Inari Shrine in Japan is a major destination for visitors to Tsuwano.
It's possible to drive up to the shrine, and many do, but it's best approached on foot through the tunnel of more than 1,000 torii that switchback up the steep hillside. Though it has far fewer torii than the famous Fushimi Inari near Kyoto on which Taikodani Inari is modeled, Taikodani also has far fewer visitors and on most days visitors can enjoy the short walk alone and in silence.
Taikodani Shrine was founded during the Edo Period in 1773 by Kamei Norisada, the seventh generation daimyo of the clan that ruled over this district. Whereas Inari is most commonly associated with rice and its harvest, and to a lesser extent general success in business, Taikodani Inari was founded for quite a different reason.
Above the shrine on the top of Mount Shirayama stands the remains of Tsuwano Castle. Taikodani Inari was placed in the northeast direction of the castle. Northeast is the direction from which evil forces arrive, and just as Enryaku-ji was chosen to protect Kyoto, Taikodani Inari was built to offer protection from this inauspicious point.
The shrine was a private one, used only the lords and their vassals. The public were first allowed access to the shrine in the 1870's when the old domainal system was abolished in the Meiji Era.
Another unusual feature of Taikodani Inari Shrine are the kanji, Chinese characters, used to write the name. The second kanji for the word Inari uses a different character than usual due to an old story.
One day the guardian of the castle lost the key, and for this transgression was sentenced to commit seppuku, ritual disembowelment. He prayed all day, every day at the shrine and on the morning of the day that the sentence was to be carried out the key was found and his life spared. Thanks to this the kanji was changed to one that meant "success."
A good time to visit the Taikodani Shrine is during Shunki Taishi, the Grand Spring Festival, held on a Sunday in the middle of May, when a variety of ceremonies are held throughout the day.
Taikodani, like the vast majority of Shinto shrines, does not charge an entrance fee, and unlike Buddhist establishments they do not have access to the extremely lucrative funeral business, so when funding for shrines was cut off with the separation of church and state in the post-war period the shrines were left with few sources of income and paid ceremonies have become a major one.
Ceremonies such as Shichi Go San for children and the Shinto Wedding have become major earners for many shrines, but the most common is a simple Oharae, a purification ceremony similar to a blessing.
Oharae will be requested for a variety of reasons, maybe for one of the "unlucky" years, or before beginning any new venture such as travel or starting a new business or job. The standard fee for this short ceremony is usually around 3,000 yen, and during Shunki Taisai, Oharae ceremonies are held almost non-stop throughout the day in the shrine's main hall.
The main ceremony of the day is a rather grand affair involving many priests and miko (shrine maidens) as well as representatives of the town. All the participants are dressed in period costume, and the clothes of the miko are particularly elegant and elaborate. The ceremony begins in the courtyard of the shrine, but soon all the priests and miko file into the main hall which, by now, is packed with members of the public who have paid to receive the blessings of the next part of the ceremony.
In one of the secondary shrines around the courtyard Mikomai is performed throughout the day. This is a dance performed by a miko for the benefit of the kami (gods), but at the end of the dance she approaches the entrance of the shrine and blesses/purifies all those standing just outside. There is no fee for this!
Underneath the shrine is perhaps the strangest ceremony of all. Accessible from the shrines car park is a small shrine built specifically to purify and bless cars! Traffic safety ceremonies are a feature of many shrines and temples throughout Japan, but Taikodani Inari is the first I've seen with a purpose-built shrine. It's worth noting that the driver is also included in the ceremony.
Taikodani Inari Shrine is a short walk from Tsuwano Station
Taikodani Inari Shrine
409 Ushiroda, Tsuwanocho, Kanoashi-gun, Shimane-ken
Tel: 0856 72 0219
Air To Tsuwano
Iwami-Hagi Airport is the nearest airport, and has flights to Tokyo Haneda Airport (85 mins.) and Osaka Itami Airport (65 mins.)
Train To Tsuwano
Tsuwano JR station is on the Yamaguchi Line, 40 minutes from Masuda, and 70 minutes from JR Ogori Station (2 hours 30 mins from Shin Osaka or 5 hours 35 mins from Tokyo). The Yamaguchi Line connects Tsuwano with the Shinkansen at Shin-Yamaguchi.
The most interesting way to arrive in Tsuwano is by the Yamaguchi Go steam train. The train makes one round trip a day from Shin-Yamaguchi station on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from late March through to November. The train features carriages refurbished in a variety of different era styles. The journey takes about 2 hours each way, and stops in Tsuwano for 3 hours. Tickets are much sought after and enquiries should be made to Shin Yamaguchi or Yamaguchi JR stations.
Bus/Car To Tsuwano
By car, Tsuwano which is on Route 9, is about 30 minutes from Masuda, around one hour from Hagi. Express buses take 1 hour, 15 minutes to Hagi while by local bus the journey time is approximately 2 hours.