There are many shrines all over Japan but which is the oldest shrine? Many English-written websites talk about Izumo Taisha Shrine in Shimane but it seems there are other ten shrines which seem to be older than Izumo Taisha. I visited one of those oldest shrine, Suwa Taisha Shrine in Suwa City, Nagano. Taisha means “big shrine” in Japanese. Like the most old shrines, the origin of this Suwa Taisha is not very well known.
But Japanese old myth says that a god who challenged the higher-ranked god lost the fight and ran away all the way to Suwa-ko Lake. The artefacts excavated in this area are famous for their high number and the great flamboyance which shows that there were powerful ruling families around Suwa-ko Lake.
Suwa Taisha is a group of four shrines around Lake Suwa. They are Hon-Miya, Mae-Miya, Aki-Miya and Haru-Miya. I first visited Mae-Miya.
The unique feature of Suwa Taisha Shrine is that the shrine is guarded by the long pillars called On-Bashira (which literally means “the pillar”). The pillars stand in the four corners of the shrine building.
The pillars are replaced every seven year when the special festival of On-Bashira is held.
Address of Mae-Miya: 2030 Miyagawa, Chino City, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 1.5km from Chino Station of JR Chuo Honsen Line
Hon-Miya of Suwa Taisha is about 1.5km from Mae-Miya.
There are of course “On-Bashira” the pillars in this shrine, too. It is difficult to take photos of the pillars because they are very long. Can you see the pillar on the right side of the main gate? That’s the Pillar. The pillars can be seen in the back of the Front Shrine, too. The shrine is surrounded by the forest of tall cedars and there is a mythic atmosphere.
When you go to temples and shrines, there are basins to wash your hands. This facility is called Chozu which means “the water for hands”. Usually this water is cold. But in Hon-Miya, the Chozu has hot water from the hot spring in this area.
By the hot water of God, there is a statue of the famous Sumo wrestler who played during the late 18th century and early 19th century.
The handprint of Raiden was twice as large as my hand. The statue is here because he was originally from the area nearby. He left the high winning percentage of 0.962 so it seems he is one of the strongest sumo wrestler.
By the painter is unknown – Public Domain, Link
In front of Hon-Miya of Suwa Taisha, I found a nice architecture of cafe, Kaneko Sabo. The TripAdvisor shows the great view of Yatsugatake Mountains from the cafe.
Address of Hon-Miya: 1 Nakasu Miya-yama, Suwa, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 1.5km from Mae-Miya, 3.2km from Chino Station of JR Chuo Honsen Line
I will write about Aki-Miya and Haru-Miya of Suwa Taisha soon so please stay tuned!