Visit the shrines of Japan's remote islands! Oki Islands, the islands of the gods in Shimane Prefecture.

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According to the "Kuniumi", a creation myth depicting the birth of the Japanese archipelago, the third island that the gods Izanagi and Izanami gave birth to after Awajishima and Shikoku is "Oki-no-mitsugo-no-shima''—today's Oki Islands.


Although Oki Islands are a small archipelago, there are 4 inhabited islands with more than 100 shrines,  and so many deities are believed to live there. 16 shrines from the islands were listed in the Engishiki Jinmyocho (a register of shrines in Japan) which was compiled in 927. Among them, shrines that enshrine deities with an especially strong power were given the status of "myōjindai", and are called "myōjin taisha". In the area of present-day Shimane Prefecture (three provinces of Izumo, Iwami, and Oki) there are 6 myojin taisha shrines, and 4 of them are in the Oki Islands (Mizuwakasu Shrine, Ise-mikoto Shrine, Uzuka-mikoto Shrine, and Yurahime Shrine).

In this article, we will introduce those 4 major shrines that have been selected as myōjin taisha in the Oki Islands, which are known as the "Island of the Gods"!

Mizuwakasu Shrine, Ichinomiya of Oki Province (Okinoshima Town)

Mizuwakasu Shrine is the Ichinomiya of the former Oki Province, which means that it was the highest ranking shrine. It is said that Mizuwakasu-no-mikoto, who is enshrined here, is the deity who developed the land of the Oki Islands and protected the Sea of Japan. The history of its founding is unknown, but according to the shrine, it is said to have been built during the reign of Emperor Nintoku (4th to 5th century).

The main shrine building is built in an architectural style called Oki-zukuri, and has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. A festival, which is held every other year (even years) on May 3rd, is known as one of the three major festivals in Dōgo Island. Traditional Japanese floats are pulled and rituals such as Yabusame (horse-back Archery) are performed.

Photo: Turtle-shaped figure in the small water ablution pavilion at Mizuwakasu Shrine

There is a sumo ring on the side of the approach, and once every 20 years, when the roof of the main hall is reroofed, the Oki Traditional Sumo wrestling tournament is held all night long. Sumo wrestling during this tournament is a best-of-two match, and the winner of the first match concedes the win in the second match, making it one win and one loss. Oki Traditional Sumo, in which both wrestlers praise each other for victory or defeat, is also known as 'jinjo sumo' because of the human empathy of the islanders ("jinno" means "empathy" in Japanese).

Ise-mikoto Shrine, Where Precious Kagura Dances Traditions Have Been Passed Down Through Generations (Okinoshima Town)

Ise-mikoto Shrine is located in Kumi Area in Okinoshima Town, which is one of the largest obsidian localities in western Japan.

In the "Shoku Nihon Kōki” (869), an officially commissioned text on history, it is written that "In the first year of Kasho (848) of Emperor Ninmyō, this shrine name was recorded in the "myōjin" rank. Later, when the Engishiki Jinmyocho shrine register was compiled in 927, Ise-mikoto Shrine was given the status of "myōjindai". It is one of the few examples that clearly demonstrates the reason for the rank of a myōjin taisha. The annual festival held in July every year is held in an unusual way even for the Oki Islands, where warriors with bows and arrows and wearing armor lead the way. Kumi Kagura, which is held in the Kagura-den hall on the temple grounds during the annual festival, is held all night long, preserving the old style of dancing on an area in the size of two tatami mats.

The architectural style of the main shrine building of Ise-mikoto Shrine, is called Oki-zukuri, and is the same style as used at Mizuwakasu Shrine. This unique architectural style combines three architectural styles: the roof is in the taisha-zukuri style of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine in Shimane, the eaves of the roof are in the kasuga-zukuri style of Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara, and the pillars are erected in the  shinmei-zukuri style of Ise Jingu Shrine in Mie.

Uzuka-mikoto Shrine, Where the Guardian Deity of the Island Is Enshrined (Ama Town)

"Uzuka-mikoto Shrine" is a myōjin taisha shrine located in Ama Town. Founded in 842, the enshrined deity Uzuka-no-Mikoto is said to be the guardian deity of this area.

Since ancient times, the shrine has been highly revered by the imperial court, and many influential people at the time donated land and fields to the shrine. According to the legend, Uzuka-no-Mikoto, who was attracted to the beauty of Nishinoshima Town's 'Hinamachihime-no-Mikoto', won in a contest of strength against the deity of Oyama Shrine, who was also courting the princess. Uzuka-no-Mikoto reportedly managed to get married to the princess, and a daughter, called Yanai-hime, was born between them. She is said to have become the deity enshrined at Nagirahime-jinja Shrine.

The place where this legendary birth of a deity took place is a scenic spot called Akiya Coast. The coastal road from the coast to Uzuka-mikoto Shrine is said to be a path that brings blessings of a harmonious marriage and healthy children.

*The goshuin seal stamp from Uzuka-mikot Shrine can be obtained at Oki Shrine, which is located 10 minutes from Uzuka-mikoto Shrine. Oki Shrine enshrines the retired Emperor Gotoba, who was defeated in the Jokyu Disturbance, and spent 19 years in an exile at the Oki Islands until his death. In the Oki Islands, there are many spots that are deeply connected to historical figures.

Yurahime Shrine, Also Known as a Squid Gathering Spot (Nishinoshima Town)

Yurahime Shrine in Nishinoshima Town is also one of the myōjin taisha shrines, and was designated as the Ichinomiya Shrine of Oki Province in the late Heian period (794-1185). Yurahime Shrine has a long history, and it is written that it received the rank of "kansha" in 842 during the reign of Emperor Ninmyō, which means that it used to receive offerings from the imperial court.

According to a legend, this shrine was originally located at Ika-hama Beach ("ika" means "squid" in Japanese) on Chiburijima Island. After the shrine was moved to Yura Area on Nishinoshima Island, squid stopped coming to Ika-hama Beach, and instead, started gathering in Yura.

Also, when Yurahime-no-mikoto was returning from Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine to the Oki Islands, a squid bit her hand that she had dipped in the sea. It is said that squid gather in the nearby bay to apologize to the deity.

Squid sculptures are engraved on the lanterns and the worship hall on the shrine ground, but you can also find squid all over Nishinoshima Town—you are sure to spot the squid-shaped mascot on building walls, manholes, etc. Take a moment to remember this unique legend and Yurahime Shrine when seeing them.

If you want to know more about the Oki Islands, please visit the tourism website below.

Japanese tourism website "Okinoshima Tabi"

English tourism website "Official Tourism Guide Oki Islands"

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.