高千穂 (TAKACHIHO), a place where Shinto gods descended.
6th day of my 湯治 (TOUJI) trip. Finally I reached 高千穂 (TAKACHIHO), a place where has been a sacred place for Shinto. TAKACHIHO is located in the northern part of 宮崎県 (MIYAZAKI Prefecture) where is close to the border with 熊本県 (KUMAMOTO Prefecture) and 大分県 (OITA Prefecture). The town is at the valley. The central part of this town surrounded by mountains is called “高千穂峡 (TAKACHIHO Valley)”.
According to Japanese myths, TAKACHIHO is regarded as the place of “天孫降臨 (TENSON KORIN)”, which the god called NINIGI, the grandson of Sun Goddess (天照大神 / AMATERASU OMIKAMI), descended to earth to govern the land. Also in this town, there’s 天岩戸 (AMANO IWATO) which is the rock cave where AMATERASU OMIKAMI hid in. Although there are a lot of 天岩戸 (AMANO IWATO) with same legend across Japan, but I felt that this is the real place.
神楽 (KAGURA / Sacred Shinto music and dance) at night
It was late afternoon when I reached TAKACHIHO from ASO. In TAKACHIHO, you should definitely see “夜神楽 (YOKAGURA / KAGURA at night)” which is performed almost every night from November to February every year at various places like shrines, public halls, and houses. This YOKAGURA is registered as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. 33 of KAGURA (Sacred Shinto music and dance) are performed overnight, and various gods in Japanese myths and legend appear in that performance.
I visited here on a weekday which was the valley of large consecutive holidays “Golden Week”. I heard that “高千穂神楽 (TAKACHIHO KAGURA)”, which is a shorter version of YOKAGURA (just 1 hour), is performed every night 365 days to let more and more people casually experience this culture, and I decided to go and see it. It is performed at 神楽殿 (KAGURA DEN / KAGURA Hall) of 高千穂神社 (TAKACHIHO Shrine) from 8:00pm to 9:00pm every night.
The performance started from the story that AMATERASU OMIKAMI (Sun Goddess) hid in the 天岩戸 (AMANO IWATO), a god found AMATERASU OMIKAMI, a dance which made her out of AMANO IWATO, a god threw away the rock which closed AMANO IWATO etc, and all the stories were as per what is written in the Japanese myths. There is no words or speeches and it is a non-verbal performance. Sometimes, a god comes down from the stage and entertains the audience with some jokes. I didn’t know that this kind of peaceful town in the valley exists in Japan.
After KAGURA, I entered a cafe on my way back to hotel, and had hamburg steak for dinner. It was totally opposite taste with what I had just seen, but I brought myself back to real world with eating this western dish.
Shrine again in the morning.
The hotel I stayed this time here was so simple. It was just like a rented space, and there were only, bed, breakfast, and bath. That’s it. Although TAKACHIHO is not the famous place for ONSEN, but I really wanted to visit here once in a lifetime because I knew this was the sacred place where Shinto Gods descended.
After finishing the simple breakfast, I wanted to bathe in the morning sun. I decided to visit the shrine I had visited last night again.
I slowly walked to TAKACHIHO Shrine. As it was a weekday, I passed a lot of elementary school students who were on the way to school. Whenever I passed them, they said “Good morning!” to me. Not just elementary students, but also all the people I passed said hello to me. What a nice town this is!
On the way to TAKACHIHO Shrine, I happened to see 天真名井 (AMANO MANAI). 天真名井 (AMANO MANAI) is a fountainhead which is natural water springing out from the root of old KEYAKI tree (Japanese Zelkova). When gods descended to this place, there was no water in this place, and that was why one of the gods brought this fountainhead here.
Finally I reached TAKACHIHO Shrine. This is where 夜神楽 (YOKAGURA) was performed last night. This TAKACHIHO Shrine was built 1900 years ago during 垂仁天皇 (SUININ Emperor) Period, and it is the grand shrine among 88 shrines in 高千穂峡 (TAKACHIHO KYO).
A Shinto priest was cleaning slowly, carefully, and respectfully. Then, he prays. I was looking at each of his actions for a while, and somehow I felt like my mind was also cleansed. Here, the stream of sunlight is a bit different from the other places. It looks like there’s really a god here.
Now let’s go to 高千穂峡 (TAKACHIHO KYO)!
What a photogenic landscape it is! 高千穂峡 (TAKACHIHO KYO) is an amazingly beautiful valley and designated as a national scenic beauty and national nature treasure. Pyroclastic flow from Mt. ASO had made this valley. 真名井の滝 (MANAI Falls), one of the Japan’s 100 best falls, is the symbol of this TAKACHIHO KYO, and the water falling down from 17m high is really beautiful. This water fall comes from 天真名井 (AMANO MANAI) where I had just visited.
I rented a boat to get closer to the fall. Since it was right after big holidays “Golden Week”, I was able to rent a boat without any waiting time. Rowing the boat slowly, huge valley comes right in front of me, and water fall is falling from right above me. I bathed in a lot of sacred negative ion, which gave really positive effect to my mind.
I again thought that this was the place where gods really descended. Just like I felt at shrine, the sunlight looks different here.
天岩戸温泉 (AMANO IWATO ONSEN)
There are 2 ONSEN places in this TAKACHIHO. One is “高千穂温泉 (TAKACHIHO ONSEN)”, and the other is “天岩戸温泉 (AMANO IWATO ONSEN)”. Both of them are weak alkaline spring and look like public SENTO (public bath house) in town. Since TAKACHIHO ONSEN was closed on the day I visited, I visited AMANO IWATO ONSEN.
Honestly I didn’t have much expectation for ONSEN itself in TAKACHIHO, but I couldn’t stop feeling like trying it. Then I came to know that AMANO IWATO ONSEN has a lot of attractiveness in not only its ONSEN itself but also this area itself.
天岩戸温泉村 (AMANO IWATO ONSEN Village)
After bathing in ONSEN, I was so hungry and entered “天岩戸温泉茶屋 (AMANO IWATO ONSEN CHAYA / AMANO IWATO ONSEN Tea House)”. I heard that the signature dish of this tea house are 蕎麦 (SOBA noodle) and 温泉まんじゅう (ONSEN MANJU / ONSEN Sweet Bun). While I was waiting for these dishes to be served at 小上がり (KOAGARI / raised TATAMI-floored seating area), pleasant breeze was blowing gently.
I didn’t know why but somehow I felt really happy and peaceful. The aunties working at this tea house are really tasteful. Actually the dishes served here use local vegetables and ingredients which these aunties cropped by themselves. This may be why I felt it has gentle taste.
ONSEN is located on a hill, and there’s a cafe down the hill which was renovated from 蔵 (KURA / Japanese traditional warehouse). The name of this cafe is “Cafe SEN’NIN NO KURA”. The old and traditional warehouse has been renovated quite well in modern style. I decided to have ice coffee here.
While I was drinking ice coffee, I picked up a pamphlet and happened to know that this AMANO IWATO ONSEN Village is not official registered village, but they are a community having ONSEN, accommodation facilities, cafes, and tea houses etc, and they are doing various activities to activate the local society. It sounds really interesting.
A staff of this cafe told me that aunties and uncles over 60 years old had developed this idea which activates the town by citizens themselves. I found and bought a book which told this story in detail.
“AMANO IWATO ONSEN is located on a hill where you can view beautiful rice terrace and brave mountains. In the past, area around here was really poor as there was no water and no rice field. To overcome that situation, our ancestors had tried hard and made various effort to develop a pond for 4 years during TAISHO Period, but that pond had collapsed due to heavy rain and poor ground. Nevertheless through these failures, they had never given up and kept making effort to develop wonderful rice terrace like this by cooperating with each other. Today, AMANO IWATO ONSEN Village has “AMANO IWATO ONSEN” which they had found the spring source more than 20 years ago, “AMANO IWATO ONSEN Tea House” which the visitors can rest and dine, a cafe “SEN’NIN NO KURA” renovated from old Japanese warehouse which was more than 100 years old, and “神楽の館 (KAGURA NO YAKATA)” as an accommodation facility which hands down the local traditional culture “天岩戸夜神楽 (AMANO IWATO YOKAGURA)” to posterity.”
Quoted from the official website of AMANO IWATO ONSEN Village (http://www.amanoiwatoonsenmura.jp/)
This 蔵 (KURA / Japanese traditional warehouse) was a warehouse for rice. This was something they couldn’t have because they couldn’t crop rice due to lack of water. That was why they brought this warehouse from somewhere else and relocated it here, and that must have been their hope. And today, they have developed beautiful rice terrace successfully, and this cafe renovated from warehouse is serving rice ball which uses local rice and salt. What a great story this is.
I was thinking of quitting my job and starting new job related to activate the local society. This was why I traveled a lot around ONSEN towns to know more about the history of the relationship between ONSEN and local society, what kind of local specialty foods are there, how ONSEN is treated in the local society. Although I didn’t expect that much for ONSEN here in TAKACHIHO, but somehow coincidently I encountered a wonderful example of regional revitalization here.
I was so moved as if I was struck by lightning, and made my decision to go ahead with what I was thinking. I finished my ice coffee at super high speed, and was led to 天岩戸神社 (AMANO IWATO Shrine) and 天安河原 (AMANO YASUGAWARA).
I walked down the hill with viewing peaceful mountains and rice terrace. Then, a car which a staff of that cafe was driving came closer to me. She asked me where I was heading, and I answered I was heading to AMANO IWATO Shrine. Then, she kindly drove me there.
Actually the same thing had happened in that morning too. When I was going to visit TAKACHIHO Valley after visiting TAKACHIHO Shrine in the morning, a hotel staff kindly drove me there. This was 2nd time to meet their kindness today. People in this town always say hello whenever passed, and in addition, giving a ride might also be one of TAKACHIHO ways. How warm and heartful this town is. I kind of understood why god decided this place to descend.
天岩戸神社 (AMANO IWATO Shrine)
AMANO IWATO Shrine is the shrine which worships “天岩戸 (AMANO IWATO)” which is said to be the place where AMATERASU OMIKAMI (Sun Goddess) hid. Actually there are a lot of places which have same name and same legend across Japan, but I believe this place is the one where Gods descended and AMATERASU OMIKAMI hid. Let’s take a look!
There is a tour that the Shinto priest guides visitors to AMANO IWATO every 30 minutes, and I joined this tour. The rock “AMANO IWATO” which I saw for the first time was really awe-inspiring. Ever since it was mentioned in Japanese myths in 700’s, this sacred rock has been worshiped by so many people for so many years.
I used to study the history of Japan, Japanese imperial family, rice, SAKE (Japanese liquor), and food offering to gods etc., and I remember that there’s a theory that Japanese imperial family originally came from Korean Peninsula. At the end of this tour, Shinto priest said like this. “The area around here was poor ground and barren lands so that people had kept suffering from starving. However, there’s a myth that people from Korean Peninsula brought rice plant and that made local people manage to survive. Local people rejoiced and admired these people from Korean Peninsula as if it was God’s work. As one of many theories, it is said that local people started to worship these people as god, and that could be the beginning of Japanese imperial family.”
Japanese mythology mentions that the beginning of Japan was “天孫降臨 (TENSON KORIN)” which Shinto Gods descended to land, and those gods were the ancestor of imperial family. Although it is just a mythology, but TAKACHIHO must have something related to this legend.
天安河原 (AMANO YASUGAWARA)
天安河原 (AMANO YASUGAWARA), located 10min walking distance from AMANO IWATO Shrine along IWATO River, is a huge sacred cave. It is said that when AMATERASU OMIKAMI (Sun Goddess) hid in AMANO IWATO, it became completely dark, and gods gathered here to discuss.
There used to be only a shrine there where people had worshiped, but as time passed, people started to heap up stones. Now, these stones give us spiritual and mysterious ambience of this entire space.
It’s really overwhelmingly huge. It actually looks huge enough for all kinds of gods gather here. I don’t know why but I felt like hugged by something huge just by being here. This mystery made by nature has been the history to be handed down.
荒立神社 (ARADATE JINJA / ARADATE Shrine)
ARADATE Shrine is the place where 猿田彦命 (SARUTAHIKONOMIKOTO) and 天鈿女命 (AMENOUZUMENOMIKOTO) got married and lived. 猿田彦命 (SARUTAHIKONOMIKOTO) is the person who navigated the party of gods led by NINIGI. 天鈿女命 (AMENOUZUMENOMIKOTO) is the person who danced in front of the rock when Sun Goddess hid in the rock. It’s such a romantic story that gods fell in love with each other and started to live here.
Now, my battery was fully charged by God’s power, and let’s move to the next place! Next, I’ll go to 福岡 (FUKUOKA) once and then visit 嬉野温泉 (URESHINO ONSEN), the final destination of my trip this time. On my way by bus, I opened the book I bought at warehouse cafe.
“Beautiful villages was never there in the beginning. It becomes beautiful only when people want to live beautifully there.”
I encountered the words encouraging me again.
Next article: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU – DAY 7
Related articles about Shinto Gods:
- 伊勢神宮 (ISE JINGU Shrine): THE ORIGIN OF JAPAN – ISE JINGU (ISE GRAND SHRINE), MIE PREFECTURE
- 熊野古道 (KUMANO KODO Pilgrimage Route): Walking along KUMANO KODO Pilgrimage Route which is one of the most spiritual World Heritage sites in Japan
Related articles about this trip:
- Introduction: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU
- Day 1: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU – DAY 1
- Day 2: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU – DAY 2
- Day 3: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU – DAY 3
- Day 4: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU – DAY 4
- Day 5-1: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU – DAY 5 – vol 1
- Day 5-2: My nomad-style TOUJI trip to KYUSHU – DAY 5 – vol 2