The Shinto religion is so deeply ground in Japan and its philosophies, that it is impossible to visit a prefecture that does not have a shrine. These shrines are everywhere, from the populated capitals to the outskirts of even the most remote countryside.
Though they differ in size, design, and enshrined kami, each of these shrines serves a purpose. Some of them are hailed as important, holding powerful kami that have played major roles in the country’s mythology and beliefs. One of these shrines is the Atsuta shrine – near the areas Sakae and Osu.
The Atsuta Shrine, and The Kami Within
The Atsuta Shrine is renowned for enshrining the sun goddess Amaterasu and the 5 Gods of Atsuta. Believed to have been established during the reign of Emperor Keiko, the Atsuta Shrine is in Atsuta-ku (Atsutaku), Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture in Japan.
Also known as Miya (the Shrine), 9 million people visit the 200,000-square meter Atsuta Shrine complex every year, ranking it up in the list as one of the most frequented worship centers in Japan from ancient times.
Second, only in size to the Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture, the Atsuta Shrine also houses the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, a legendary sword, which is one of the 3 Sacred Imperial Treasures of Japan along with the Yata-no-Kagami (a mirror) and the Yasakani-no-Magatama (a jewel). These 3 treasures were brought to earth by Ninigimo-Mikoto, the grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and represent valor, wisdom, and benevolence.
The Significance of this Shrine and Sword to the Imperial Family
The Japanese Imperial Family are said to be descendants of Ninigi-mo-Mikoto. The Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi was known to be a gift from Amaterasu Omikami, a sun goddess and one of the 5 Great Gods of Atsuta. This carries a great bearing on the Shinto significance of the shrine. The ancient sword has represented the authority of all the Japanese emperors since olden times and is supposed to be imbued with Amaterasu’s spirit.
It is interesting to note, though, that the sword is never displayed in public. The shrine’s treasure hall contains over 4,000 relics donated by the Imperial Family, shoguns, feudal lords and even common persons-- including a dagger that is classified as a National Treasure of Japan.
Especially important among these items are the Koshinpoh (sacred garments, utensils, and furniture supposedly for the use of the enshrined deities), swords, mirrors, the Bugaku or ancient court dance masks, ancient documents and household articles. The Aisi Prefecture has designated 174 of these items as important cultural assets.
History of the Atsuta Shrine: A Favorite Shrine of Nagoya City
The Atsuta shrine is so old that recorded history cannot document when the temple was constructed. However, it is widely believed that the temple was erected during the reign of Emperor Keiko (71-130 A.D.) who was the Japan’s 12th emperor.
One of the most revered in the Shinto religion, the shrine was the most important shrine in Japan from the 1870s to the mid-1940s. Dating back 2,000 years, the history of the shrine began with the dedication of the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Grass Mowing Sword) by a legendary figure in Japanese mythology, Prince Yamatotakeru-no-Mikoto.
The wife of the prince (Miyasuhime-no-Mikoto) chose the site, It is said that the prince was miraculously saved by the sword during his campaign to bring Eastern Japan under imperial domination.
In 808 A.D., historian Inbe no Hironari protested the shrine’s neglect to the imperial court. Therefore, from the 9th century A.D., Atsuta Shrine was placed under the care of the court and after the 15th century A.D. was cared for by the Muromachi shogunate and Tokugawa shogunate. Ranking second only to the Great Shrine of Ise, the Atsuta Shrine was particularly revered by the people, who called the shrine by the familiar name of Miya (the Shrine).
Blessings Bestowed by The Shrine
In addition, the fertile Owari Plain strengthened the faith in the Atsuta Shrine as the protector of agriculture. In the following eras, the Shoguns of Muromachi and Edo Shogunates, Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa group, the ruling family of Owari district maintained the shrine buildings. The Nobunaga walls were constructed by Shogun Nobunaga Oda in 1560. In return for winning the Battle of Okehazama for which he prayed, he donated the wall.
Emperor Meiji gave the shrine special status by sending imperial envoys to the shrine, an honor given previously only to the Grand Shrine of Ise. In 1893, the shrine was remodeled to look like the Great Shrine of Ise, following the Shinmei-zukuri structure. In 1935, on the occasion of the Senga celebration, each shrine building was reconfigured, improved and rearranged to live up to the grandeur of the Great Shrine of Atsuta.
The Destruction Caused By the Second World War
Unfortunately, during World War II, most of these buildings were destroyed. After the war, however, devout worshippers all over Japan united to reconstruct the buildings by 1955 to celebrate Hondensenzasai there.
Learn More about the Atsuta Matsuri; a Major Festival of Nagoya
Aside from the national festivals celebrated across Japan, Nagoya has its own festivals. The most significant events include the Atsuta Festival in June, the Port Festival at Nagoya Port in July, the Nagoya Castle Summer Festival in August, and the Nagoya Festival at the Hisaya Odori Park in October.
Held at the famous Atsuta Jingu Shrine every June 5th, the Atsuta Matsuri festival is also known as Shobu-sai or the Annual Celebration of the Atsuta Jingu Shrine. Officially known as the Reisai annual festival, this is the most important festival held at the Atsuta shrine annually.
Solemn but colorful ceremonies start at 9 am, continuing throughout the day with various events dedicated to the enshrined gods. Drawing as many as 200,000 people every year, the festival highlights include many traditional Japanese performances like Kyudo (Japanese style archery), Atsuta Kagura (Shinto dance with music), Taiko (Japanese drumming), Kendo, Sumo and various forms of martial arts.
Tall lanterns and impressive fireworks light up the night skies while food stalls sell delicious festival fare. The Atsuta Kagura, which is accompanied with flutes and drums, has been performed by the locals for the past 1,800 years. Starting with a special ceremony at 10 A.M. in front of the main shrine, the Emperor’s messenger and the shrine priests perform an exclusive ceremony offered to the gods and goddesses of the shrine.
In the evening, the festival may also be enjoyed with night stalls and beautiful lanterns. A program displaying large fireworks at the Jingu Koen Park marks the end of the festival. Five huge floats (Kento Makiwara) are lit from 6 to 9 pm, decorated with 365 lanterns and displayed at the 3 torii gate entrances to the shrine.
Atsuta Shrine Museum
Within this museum, located on the map as 1-1-1 Jingu, Atsuta-Ku, Nagoya, are thousands of important artifacts some of which are related to the shrine, some of which are national treasures that belong to Aichi. For a deeper and more hands-on understanding of the shrine, you may visit this museum from 9 AM until 4:30 PM. Admissions close at 4:10 PM. This museum is closed only during the last Wednesday of every month.
Open Hours of the Atsuta Shrine
For your information, the Atsuta Shrine is open 24 hours while the Treasure Hall is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm. However, the Treasure Hall is closed on the last Wednesday and Thursday of each month and from December 25 to 31.
Entrance to the shrine is free while the Treasure Hall costs 300 yen per person. Admission is until 4:10pm. If one has the time, it is advisable and pleasurable to try Atsuta Shrine’s version of the kishimen noodles, one of Nagoya’s local specialties in a restaurant found on the shrine grounds. There is also ample parking for cars and buses.
How to Access the Atsuta Shrine
Atsuta Shrine is found in a pleasant, wooded park with narrow streams traversing its grounds in southern Nagoya. It may be reached in several ways:
From Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu Nagoya Line to Jingumae Station from where the shrine can be reached after a 3-minute walk.
By subway, the Jingunishi Station is a 5-minute walk from the shrine, taking the Subway Meijo line. By Japan Railways (JR), the JR Tokaido Line can reach the Atsuta Station from the Nagoya Station, from where it’s a mere 10-minute walk from the shrine.
West of the shrine is the Nagoya Congress Center, Nagoya Gakuin University, and Shirotori Park.
Hotels Near Atsuta Shrine
If you’re worried about hotel selections, there are many that are found near the park. One of the closest ones is Hotel Kiyoshi Nagoya No. 1, which is only 2.7 kilometers away from Atsuta. With 521 reviews on booking.com, it has a decent score of 6.5. A night costs around 9,000 yen. The other nearest hotel is the ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Grand Court Nagoya, reviewed by 687 people as having an excellent score of 8.7 out of 10 on booking.com. It goes for 17,100 yen a night and is only 2.1 kilometers away from Atsuta Shrine.
Why You Should Visit Atsuta Shrine
Visiting the Atsuta shrine is an experience like no other. Admire its beautiful architecture, discover and view ancient relics, gain a better understanding of the Shinto religion and relax and experience a blissful peace in the surrounding park.
The beautiful Atsuta Shrine is one of the most sacred sites in Nagoya, if not in all of Japan. The original shrine was supposed to have been built in the first century under the rule of Emperor Keiko. Remodeled and rebuilt throughout the years, one can’t help but notice the different architectural styles of the periods when the various sections were built.
Enjoy the Festivals and Ceremonies at Atsuta Shrine
Today, the shrine is open and operational, annually catering to millions of visitors and locals alike. Observe traditional rituals like the Hatsu-Ebisu, a New Year ritual that is believed to bring good fortune, and the Bugaku Shinki, a traditional dance held in the shrine’s forecourt in May. Atsuta Shrine hosts over 70 ceremonies and festivals yearly, with some of the worth-visiting events as follows:
On January 5, the Hatsu-Ebisu honors Ebisu for good business fortune. On January 7 the Yodameshi Shinji foretells the coming year’s rainfall, as shown by the water level collected in a pot below the eastern Treasure House. January 11 brings the Touka Shinji, which involves praying for strong crop yields. This is followed by Hosha Shinji, on January 15, which is a ceremony involving shooting arrows at a wooden target.
On May 1, there is an outdoor ceremonial dance based off of rituals from the Heian period. This is called Bugaku Shinji. 3 days later, on May 4, a commemoration is held for the return of the sacred sword, called “Eyoudo Shinji”. This is directly followed by Shinyo-Togyo Shinji on May 5, a festival to offer prayers for the well-being of the imperial palace
Lastly, there’s Rei Sai, which occurs in the 5th of June. Here, there are exhibitions of martial arts, archery and swordsmanship are performed for the gratification of the deities.
Open to Everyone
You don’t have to be someone who firmly believes in Shintoism to enjoy and experience their culture and traditions. While other religions are firmly exclusive, Shintoism has opened its doors to people who are curious about it and has even been famous for merging with Buddhism in Japan. See this for yourself – visit the Atsutsa Shrine.