Kinomiya Shrine in Atami

Photo: Kaname Kizu on Flickr

Kinomiya Shrine in Atami

Tony Everitt

2,000 years ago an unassuming camphor seedling started life at a spot now occupied by Kinomiya Shrine, in Atami. Did it germinate there naturally or was it planted? If it was planted, by whom, and why? Whatever the answers, through the mists of time this amazing tree has grown to a girth of over 20m. Its gnarled trunk with cracks and fissures is reminiscent of a small cliff face, complete with twisting, dark, mysterious caves.

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Photo: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) on Flickr

It’s little wonder then that people have come to associate this tree, known simply as Great Camphor, with spiritual powers. You can usually find an ant-trail of worshipers clasping their hands and bowing their heads to the giant, asking for relief from some burden or pleading to succeed in some opportunity. It takes a couple of minutes just to walk around Great Camphor on the lovingly created pathway sparing its roots from human foot pressure. And there might be a great return on that walking investment – it is said that circumnavigating the trunk will add one year to your life. Power Spot enthusiasts note that Kinomiya Shrine sources both mountain and water spiritual power, and is a protector of Mt Fuji.

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Great Camphor is lit up at night, from 5pm to 11pm, in what’s called the Kodama Project, to allow worshipers to really feel the pureness of nature. Lighting is subtle so Great Camphor’s huge trunk takes on a ghostly appearance.

Great Camphor's giant trunk eerilly rises in the evening light-up

Great Camphor's giant trunk eerilly rises in the evening light-up

Great Camphor is officially recognized as a Natural Treasure. Ki means tree in Japanese and Miya means Palace, so Kinomiya is the Tree Palace. Atami is the gateway town to Izu Peninsula. There are over a dozen shrines around Izu with the name Kinomiya and each boasts ancient trees over 1,000 years old. This is testament to the importance of trees in ancient Japanese lifestyle – they were revered at places of worship.

Camphor is well known as a natural insect repellent. Chests made of camphor wood have long been used to store clothes. You can still buy small sticks of camphor wood in Japan to place in your wardrobes to keep the creepy crawlies away.

Japan’s quickly changing seasons provide a constant flow of natural entertainment. At the end of the cold winter Kinomiya Shrine hosts a Risshun no Mae festival to welcome the long-awaited spring. Celebrities hurl from the stage sachets of good-luck roasted soy beans into a dense crowd that jostles and fights for them like a bunch of school kids. Lucky or otherwise, the beans make for a tasty and healthy snack.

Kinomiya Shrine hosts Rishun no Mae festival in early February to welcome the spring.

Kinomiya Shrine hosts Rishun no Mae festival in early February to welcome the spring.

Bullet trains swish past the entrance to Kinomiya Shrine, a juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern. You can reach Atami in 40 minutes on the Kodama bullet train from Tokyo or Shinagawa stations. At Atami Station, change to the local Ito line and alight one stop along at Kinomiya Station, below the Shrine. You can also take a taxi from Atami station or enjoy a 20 minute brisk walk to the Shrine.

For more information check the website (in Japanese).