About Izumo Taisha 出雲大社
Izumo Taisha is considered the oldest and most important shrine in Japan after the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie prefecture. It is not known when exactly the shrine was built, but given the record about the shrine in the country’s oldest chronicles, the Kojiki 古事記 and Nihon Shoki 日本書紀, many believe that Izumo Taisha is the oldest shrine in Japan, for having been around in the present site since the 7th century or earlier.
The main deity of Izumo Taisha is Okuninushi-no-Okami 大国主大神. According to Japanese mythology, the shrine was a gift from the Sun Goddess Amaterasu to Okuninushi for giving his country to her grandson Ninigo-no-Mikoto.
Statue of Okuninushi
Okuninushi is the Shinto deity of nation-building, agriculture, business, and medicine. He is also famous as the deity of marriage and good relationships. Because of that, Izumo Taisha is popular among couples and individuals who come to pray for happy marriages and good relationships between people.
The honden (main hall) of Izumo Taisha, where Okuninushi is enshrined, was constructed in 1744 in Japan’s oldest architectural style for shrine buildings called Taisha-zukuri style. The main hall and the attached buildings were designated as National Treasures of Japan in 1952. On both sides of the main hall, there are long wooden buildings called Jukusha 十九社, which are said to house the deities from across Japan when they gather at the shrine during the 10th month of the lunar calendar.
Image by Big Ben in Japan on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
On the other hand, the shrine’s Kagura Hall 神楽殿 is noted for its Shimenawa (sacred straw rope). At 13.5 meters long and weighs around 5 tonnes, it is the largest shimenawa in Japan. In Shinto belief, a shimenawa marks a boundary between a pure, sacred space and the mortal world. It is also believed to be able to ward off evil spirits.
Each year during the 10th month of the lunar calendar, it is believed that eight million Shinto deities from all over Japan would gather at Izumo Taisha for one week to discuss the upcoming year’s marriages, births and deaths. The month is called Kamiarizuki 神在月 (month with gods) in Izumo area and Kannazuki 神無月 (month without gods) for the most part of Japan. Special events and ceremonies are held during this period, beginning with a welcoming ceremony at the nearby Inasa-no-Hama beach 稲佐の浜, the place where the gods arrive and are escorted to Izumo Taisha by the priests.
Image by Kuruman on Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Lastly, if you wish to pray for good luck in love or personal relationships at Izumo Taisha, remember to clap four times instead of the usual two times, because you are not just praying for yourself but also your current or future partner.
How to go
Take an Ichibata train from Matsue Shinjiko Onsen Station to Kawato Station 川跡駅, where a change of trains is required to Izumo Taisha-mae Station 出雲大社前駅. Turn right out of the station and walk for about 10 minutes.
Alternatively, take a JR train from JR Matsue Station to JR Izumo-shi Station 出雲市駅, then take an Ichibata bus 一畑バス (bound for Izumo Taisha 出雲大社 or Hinomisaki 日御碕) for about 25 minutes to Izumo Taisha bus stop and walk for 1 minute.
The Inasa-no-Hama beach is about 1 kilometre west or a 10 minute walk from Izumo Taisha.