One thing that is a bit annoying about Japan is the lack of information about shrines, temples, and other places in English. These spots become much more interesting if you know the history behind them! With that in mind, I have prepared a bit of information about the five shrines on Togakushi. I just learned about his when I visited the shrines with a Japanese co-worker who enjoys going to shrines and temples as much as me! She also told me stories about Mt. Kurohime and Mt. Izuna, so I’ll write separate posts on those.
The following story is a very famous Japanese legend recorded in the Kojiki, one of two records that combine ancient Japanese history with what will become the Shinto religion. It is about the time that Amaterasu shut herself away in a cave. Just a note, the names of these gods are absolutely unwieldy for English speakers (for example Amenoyagokoroomoikane-no-mikoto) so aside from Amaterasu, the gods will be referred to by the trait they personify.
Not only is Amaterasu the most important deity in the entire Shinto religion, she is also the goddess of light. When she shut herself away in a cave, it meant the world was plunged into darkness. The other gods knew they had to fix this, so they asked the ‘Smart’ god to come up with a plan. He had the gods do many things to try and entice the sun to come back, but none of them worked. Finally, the ‘Dance’ goddess performed in front of the cave in a rather… suggestive way. The other gods laughed and laughed and Amaterasu, curious as to how people could be laughing when the whole world was dark, peaked out from behind the big, stone door. At that moment, the ‘Strong’ god grabbed the door, flung it away, and convinced Amaterasu to emerge. The sun was restored and life continued.
The cave that Amaterasu is believed to have hid herself in is located in Kyushu, the south-westernmost of the main islands. And the door that the ‘Strong’ god flung away? It landed in Nagano Prefecture and is now known as Mt. Togakushi! Pretty cool, huh? Three of the five Togakushi shrines were built to enshrine the three gods who helped get Amaterasu out from the cave. Now, let’s visit each shrine to see which one is which and what the other two are for!
Shrine number 1: 宝光社 (Hōkō Shrine)
This shrine (come to find out) seems to be the least popular of the five. It is unrelated to the story above but is known as a power spot. The enshrined deity protects women and academics, promotes sewing, and helps deliver children safely.
Shrine number 2: 火之御子者(Hi-no-miko Shrine)
This shrine is dedicated to the ‘Dance’ goddess in the story and thus a good spot for dancers and performers. She is also apparently a goddess of fire, so go here for help… burning things…
Shrine number 3: 戸隠中社 (Togakushi Middle Shrine)
This shrine is dedicated to the ‘Smart’ god. Come here if you want good luck for exams and tests!
Shrine number 4: 九頭竜社 (Kuzuryū Shrine)
This shrine is the second of the five that is not related to the Amaterasu story. In fact, this shrine is actually the oldest, and is therefore very important to the people living in the area. If you can read kanji, the name for this shrine is literally ‘Nine-Headed Dragon Shrine.’ Legend has it that a nine-headed dragon used to terrorize this area until a monk came and calmed him down. Now, the dragon is a deity of water and … dental hygiene?! It’s true! My friend told me this, and I couldn’t help but do a double take.
Shrine number 5: 戸隠奥社 (Togakushi Upper Shrine)
This shrine is dedicated to the ‘Strong’ god. You can see the Togakushi mountain ridge from here, beautiful in any season! It is also the shrine I’ve visited most often in Japan.
Interesting? Let me know in the comments!