Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Towada Shrine: A Holy Site Deep in the Forest by the Lake

Towada Shrine: A Holy Site Deep in the Forest by the Lake

Pamela Fitzgerald

Situated by Lake Towada (十和田湖 Towada­ko) which holds it’s water in the crater of a dormant volcano; hidden in it’s own sanctuary is a Shinto shrine recognized as a holy place in Aomori Prefecture. Once you enter from the village and pass the Tori (gate of entrance) the path to Towada Jinja Shrine is called "Suginami", a shortened version of the word from the Edo period “Suginamiki”, which, when translated means "avenue of Cedars". The trees are tall, sturdy and magnificent!

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After you walk the path for a while absorbing the beauty of this bright green emerald forest you enter a few smaller Tori’s with several paths to choose from and a steep rock jetted stairway to the shrine. At this intersection of navigation there is a water supply to drink and cleanse your hands, a purification station if you will, decorated with a dragon faucet before the climb to the shrine. The day I visited this place it was foggy, raining and a bit chilly although it was mid summer but the weather did not deter me in any way but the stairs were a bit slick. Definitely wear appropriate shoes for hiking no matter the weather as you will be walking and climbing a good distance.

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Once I arrived at the top of the stairs I sat the shrine in all it’s glory giving a 'mist on the moors,' am I in Avalon?... type of feeling. The architecture was intricate in detail and absolutely majestic. The stories about this shrine differ depending on who you speak to but from the information I gathered, being curious about the details, is that the shrine was built in the 9th century generalized, or in 807 to be specific and now honors Yamato Takeru who was a legendary Japanese prince of the Yamato dynasty, son of Emperor Keiko, who is traditionally counted as the 12th Emperor of Japan, but previously the shrine was famous as being dedicated to the god of water, Azure Dragon, known as Seiryu in Japanese.

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There are equally smaller hokora’s (mini shrines) in design as the main shrine around the main shrine. On these grounds are also an old wooden souvenir shop equipped with all the trinkets that allegedly bring good luck for one year after purchasing (with all of your larger shrines and temples) in support of maintaining the shrine. I of course bought a good luck charm complete with tassel and suction cup for my car window to bless and watch over me while driving as I tend to forget sometimes I am supposed to be on the left side of the road as a newly licensed driver in Japan. Well worth ¥200.

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Then as I glanced up the side of the mountain, I saw a small wooded staircase winding towards the top and discovered there is another small shrine that brings good luck to all who climb it. I decided to walk the “good luck” path down to the water instead as it started raining in buckets. Passing many Tori along the way with small caves behind them. You are warned not to access them but I do not know what they are used for. Just looking through them from a short distance was intriguing to say the least. The final destination was the lake and the statues of the two maidens and the boardwalk.

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Although the weather was not good, this shrine and area as a whole was still worth visiting rain, fog, wind, cold and all. The walking and stair climbing was a moderate workout while the beauty of this place has you so mesmerized you hardly notice any of the rough terrain. I will go again, this time to climb to the top on a sunny day and walk the other paths to see where they lead and take the hike through Oirase Gorge on the way.

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Access : From Tokyo Station

JR Tohoku Shinkansen : the Super Express Hayate or Hayabusa to "Hachinohe" Station from Tokyo Station.
JR bus : Towada­ko from Hachinohe Station.

JR Bus Website for Lake Towada­ In Japanese (use Google translator)