Suwa: The Deity From Izumo
Suwa-Taisha Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Japan, consists of 4 separate sites around Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture, Upper Shrines “Kamisha” (including “Honmiya” and “Maemiya”) and Lower Shrines “Shimosha” (including “Harumiya” and “Akimiya”). The deities enshrined here are “Takeminakata” and his wife. He appears as a son of the deity “Okuninushi” in Izumo myths and is said to have come to Suwa after losing the compete with the deity from the heaven.
Suwa-Taisha Shrine is located in the slightly north from the due east of Izanagi-Jingu Shrine in Awaji, which corresponds to the direction that the sun rises at the summer solstice. On the other hand Izumo-Taisha Shrine is located in the direction that the sun sets on the same day. Both shrines are now connected by the movement of the sun.
Transfer of The Land
(Quotation from the post for Izumo)
On the other hand, “Amaterasu” in the heaven was about to govern the land of Japan and sent a messenger “Takemikazuchi” to “Okuninushi” in Izumo. “Takemikazuchi” descended on Inasano-hama beach and told “Okuninushi” that the land of Japan should be governed by the son of “Amaterasu”, and then waited for his reply. “Okuninushi” decided to ask his sons for their opinions instead of replying by himself.
The first deity was “Kotoshironushi” fishing in the sea. After agreeing to accept the transfer of the land, he hid himself behind a green hedge in the sea.
The second was “Takeminakata“, who came to compete with “Takemikazuchi”, but was thrown as soon as he held a hand of “Takemikazuchi”. He began to get away and “Takemikazuchi” chased him down to Lake Suwa in Shinano. At last he asked “Takemikazuchi” not to kill him and accepted the transfer of the island.
After the obedience of the two deities, “Okuninushi” decided to transfer the land of Japan to the son of “Amaterasu” in exchange for building a palace with large pillars for his residence. Thus there was build a grand place in Izumo where “Okuninushi” lived a secluded life.
Kamisha Honmiya/Maemiya, Suwa-Taisha Shrine
Kamisha located south of Lake Suwa enshrines the deity “Takeminakata” who came from Izumo. According to the promise with the deity from the heaven that he does not move outside Suwa, he has been rooted in this region. Honmiya represents more than 10,000 Suwa-Jinja Shrines throughout Japan, and has the most buildings remained among the four sites. It has also very unique architectural style called “Suwa-zukuri” which has no Main Hall which is usually built as the object of worship in Shinto Shrines, and we worship the mountain behind instead.
Maemiya is located at the birthplace of belief in Suwa, which is about 2km apart from Honmiya. The deity enshrined here is “Yasakatome”, the wife of “Takeminakata”. She is considered as a local deity in Suwa, because she does not appear in Japanese myth. We can imagine that “Takeminakata” has been rooted in this region gradually. The shrine quietly standing in the natural forest is impressive, and it is the only site with Main Hall in Suwa-Taisha.
Shimosha Harumiya/Akimiya, Suwa-Taisha Shrine
On the other hand Shimosha consisting of Harumiya and Akimiya is located north of Lake Suwa. Not only the deity “Takeminakata” and his wife but also his elder brother “Kotoshironushi” are enshrined. After being enshrined here from February to July, the deities are transferred to Akimiya on August 1 every year.
They are enshrined in Akimiya from August to January, and then transferred to Harumiya again on February 1. The region around the shrine is famous for its hot springs, and there is a fountain which spouts hot spring water to wash your hands in the shrine. In addition, Kagura Hall here is famous for the largest Izumo-style “Shimenawa” (sacred straw rope) and the largest dog statues of bronze in Japan.
Shimosuwa-onsen Hot Spring
It used to be known as the only post-town with hot springs on the Edo-era Nakasendo highway. I relaxed in a hot spring and quiet atmosphere of the traditional town. The below photo shows you the accommodation “Tekkosen Honkan” where I stayed during my trip.
Manji Stone Buddha
There is a very unique stone Buddha near Harumiya. According to the legend, when a mason hit a huge rock to dedicate a gateway to the shrine, the rock began to bleed. He was so surprised and decided to carve it into the statue of Buddha instead of the gateway.
The castle tower which was built more than 400 years ago has been preserved here. It is designated as a National Treasure, and the contrast between black and white is so beautiful. The area around the castle has been developed as Matsumoto Castle Park, and it is about 15 minutes walk from JR Matsumoto Station.
Nearby railway station is Kamisuwa (for Kamisha) and Shimosuwa (for Shimosha). JR limited express is useful to get there from Tokyo or Nagoya region. It takes you about 2.5 hours from Shinjuku, and 2 hours 15 minutes from Nagoya via Shiojiri.
Although Shimosha Harumiya/Akimiya are within walking distance from Shimosuwa Station, Kamisha is apart from Kamisuwa Station. If you want to enjoy walking, you should take a local bus from Kamisuwa Station to Honmiya, and then walk to Maemiya (about 30 minutes). After visiting 2 shrines, you should walk to Chino Station (another about 40 minutes) to go back to the accommodation. Another option is to take a taxi at Kamisuwa Station.
I have stayed at Shimosuwa-onsen Hot Spring to get around the region. This is because I liked the quiet atmosphere here. On the other hand Kamisuwa Onsen is more prosperous and useful. I would like to recommend you stay at either of the two to enjoy sightseeing in Suwa. If you have enough time, you should visit Matsumoto Castle as well.
|1||Shinjuku -> Shimosuwa (JR Limited Express)||Shimosha Harumiya
Manji Stone Buddha
|2||Shimosuwa -> Kamisuwa (JR)
Kamisuwa Station West Exit -> Honmiya (Local Bus or Taxi)
Honmiya -> Maemiya (Walk or Taxi)
Maemiya -> Chino Station (Walk or Taxi)
Chino -> Shimosuwa (JR)
|3||Shimosuwa -> Matsumoto (JR)
Matsumoto -> Shimosuwa (JR)
|Matsumoto Castle||Shimosuwa Onsen|
|4||Shimosuwa -> Shinjuku (JR Limited Express)|