There are many places in the world that give great importance to spirituality. Japan is one of these places and you can see that in the number of spiritual places still honored and preserved until this very day. These shrines and temples are places of worship to the different gods and deities that people believe in Japan and some of them have very interesting stories behind them. A perfect example of such a shrine is the Togakushi Shrine found in the Nagano Prefecture, specifically in the Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park at the base of Mount Togakushi.
An Overview of Japan’s Togakushi Shrine in Nagano and how it is During the Winter
The Zenkoji temple is considered to be one of the most popular temples in Japan and it is also located in Nagano. This may be the reason why it sometimes overshadows the Togakushi Shrine. Despite the edge in popularity that the Zenkoji has as an attraction, it doesn’t have an origin story that is related to a popular Japanese folklore that involves a quarrel between the sibling gods in Japanese literature and mythology. This folklore is the one about the Sun Goddess and how she brought darkness upon the world.
It would be too long to discuss the whole folklore in detail so a summary should suffice to give you a clear idea and explanation of why things are the way they are in the Togakushi Shrine. Long ago, it was said that the brother of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, did hideous things to her and the things she cared for. Because of this acts, she became both sad and angry and so she hid in a cave known as the Ama-no-Iwato or “heavenly rock cave”.
Since she was the Goddess of the Sun, her hiding caused the sun to disappear from the world and this brought the world into a state of complete darkness. In order to get things back to the way they were, the other deities conspired a plan to lure Amaterasu out of the cave via a performance so great that even she could not resist taking a peek of. As she tried to get a glimpse of the performance, one of the deities grabbed the cave’s stone door which the Sun Goddess had been using to shut the cave off and threw it far away to prevent her from hiding in the cave once again.
This stone door supposedly flew far away and eventually became what is now known as Mount Togakushi. To further clarify this, it would be beneficial for you to know that the term “Togaksuhi”, when translated, actually means “hiding door”. Because of this story, it was decided that this place would also be where people give worship to the gods and deities that played a role in bringing the world back its light.
As a traveler, you should note that this place is open in all days of the year and that admission to this vast compound of shrines is free of any charge. With this said, even in the snowy weather as well as the cold temperatures that the season of winter brings and if you have time, you may easily experience the beautiful hike up to the many shrines devoted to the gods and deities given praise because of the reasons mentioned above.
The Things to See as You Hike the Togakushi Shrine Area Like the Chu-sha and Oku-sha
The hike up to the different shrine areas may be quite long so with this being said, pack lightly for this particular activity. There are 3 main areas that make up the Togakushi Shrine and these are namely the lower, middle, and upper shrine areas. Despite the fact that there are only 3 areas in its vicinity, there are actually 5 shrines you can find in the entire area of the Togakushi Shrine.
There is, of course, a shrine for each of the lower, middle and upper shrine areas and these shrines are called the Hoko-sha, Chu-sha, and Oku-sha. The Hoko-sha, which pertains to the lower shrine, is one that is offered to a patron goddess that protects maternity, academic life, and sewing. The Chu-sha, which pertains to the middle shrine, is offered to the god of wisdom. Finally, the Oku-sha, which pertains to the shrine found in the upper shrine area, is offered to the gods that threw of the rock which these shrines are built upon.
The 2 other shrines to be found here are located in between the lower and middle shrine as well as the above upper shrine area. The shrine located in between the lower and middle area is the one called Hino-Miko-sha and it is offered to the god of fire and the performing arts. In other words, this particular shrine gives honor to the gods that orchestrated the grand performance to lure out Amaterasu.
As for the shrine located even higher than the Oku-sha, it is called the Kuzuryu-sha and it is offered to the god of rain as well as the god of the Togakushi villages. Kuzuryu means nine-headed dragon and based on Japanese beliefs, this dragon is the one responsible for calling the rain to pour down on this glorious mountain. This calling of the rain is what replenishes the abundant spring water found in the mountains.
There are more things to be found here but before anything else, you should get an idea of how the hike would probably be like if you do decide to go here. All these shrines are connected by roads and hiking trails and each of the shrines is about 2 kilometers apart. Your hiking experience will start at the foot of the mountain, where you will see the torii gate of the lower shrine. You will have to go up a long flight of stairs to reach the praying hall that is located at the top of the stairs.
As you go up another 2 kilometers, you will reach the middle shrine area where you can see the Chu-sha. This is also where you can find a small town of restaurants and shops that sell a variety of things. The shrine in this particular area is also where you can see a small waterfall as well as sacred trees that are said to be over 800 years old. This area also happens to be where you can find an amusement park for kids called the Kids Ninja Village. Sadly, this park isn’t free like the hike but considering the things you can do and enjoy here, it wouldn’t be a waste of money.
Going up another 2 kilometers from the middle shrine area, where the parking lot and bus stop are located, would bring you to the upper shrine area. Along the way to the upper shrine area, you will also be able to see another attraction sought after by tourists in this area. That is the thatched-roof Zuishimon Gate that also happens to be beautiful enough to be in the collection of photos you are probably taking on this trip. When you reach the end of the trail, you will notice that the main hall of the upper shrine is located in an even more beautiful place that the Zuishimon Gate as it resides by the steep mountainside of Mount Togakushi. This location allows any adventurer to get a view of the mountain peaks towering above them. If the Mirror Pond or Kagamiike is something that you also want to see, you can opt to take the alternative hiking trail that leads to the upper shrine area. This alternative trail will let you pass the Kagamiike, which is a huge pond that reflects the mountain landscape perfectly because of how still the water is.
Another thing you can look for when you get to the upper shrine area is the Togakure Ninpo Museum. This museum holds all kinds of goodies from the 12th century. You will even find the Museum of Togakushi Folklore in the same compound as this museum so if you have time to brush up on your Japanese history, this would be a great place to do so. Admission to this place will cost you 600 yen and they are only open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Also note that there aren’t any English translations or guides here so if you can’t read Japanese, at least bring a friend who can explain it all to you if you really want to learn more about the things you can find here.
The Map of the Buses Routes to Take to Gain Access to the Togakushi Shrine As Well As Some of the Other Place Worth Going to While in Nagano
As mentioned above, there is quite a hike entailed if you wish to see all the all the shrines in Togakushi. Luckily, there are actually specific buses you can take to access particular areas of the mountain as well as bus packages that offer tours for all shrines via bus. This is great news for those people who wouldn’t mind skipping the exercise they can get from walking the hike rather than sightseeing via bus.
All these buses come from the Nagano Station so that should be your primary objective regardless of if you are coming from places like Tokyo or Hakuba. Once you get to the Nagano station, you can take either their bus number 70 or 71 in the direction of Togakushi. From the station to Togakushi Hoko-sha or the lower shrine area, a ticket would cost 1150 yen for a one-way trip and this trip would take you about 50 minutes. From the station to the Chu-sha, a one-way ticket would cost 1250 yen and would take you 60 minutes. Finally, from the station to the upper shrine area of Togakushi, a one-way ticket would cost 1350 yen and would take about 65 minutes to reach. Usually, there is a bus that leaves for these destinations every hour so it should be easy enough to get a ride on one.
If you don’t want to hassle yourself with booking all these tickets to reach all the shrines, you can avail of the Togakushi Kogen Free Kippu travel ticket. This ticket is sold at 2600 yen and it includes a roundtrip bus ride between central Nagao and the Togakushi area. It also includes free bus usage within the Togakushi which means that you can easily navigate through the shrines for free via bus. In addition to all these perks, you also get one additional bus ride between the Zenkoji and the Nagano Station. All of these can be used up over a span of 5 consecutive days. Considering all the things you get from this ticket, if you are a first time in the Nagano area, this travel ticket should be considered a blessing to you.
Since it does snow in Nagano, it would be wise to have some winter fun here if ever you are in the area during winter. There are many ski and onsen establishments like resorts or hotels worth spending a night in like the Nozawa Ski and Onsen Resort as well as the Iizuna Resort and the Madarao Ski Resort. If skiing isn’t to your liking, you can also use some of your time in Nagano to see the ancient glacial lake called Lake Nojiri. This lake also happens to be Nagano’s second largest lake so it truly is quite a prestigious attraction in Nagano.
Whether you are going to Nagano for the skiing sites or for the historical shrines to be seen here, you can rest assured knowing that you are spending your time and money for something unique to the world. All the information you would need is already here so what’s left for you to do is just to decide when you want to go to Nagano for these great attractions. Remember that the skiing attractions are only available during the winter so plan your trip accordingly if this is what you are after. Aside from that, again, all the shrines and places of scenic beauty are open all year long so you can enjoy them whenever you please.