Learn More About Shintoism in Fukuoka, Visit the Kushida Shrine

Kushidajinja/Kushida-jinja or Kushida Shrine is an ancient, peaceful, and well-loved Shinto Shrine in the heart of old Hakata-Ku, the center of the old city of Fukuoka, Japan in Kyushu. It is dedicated to Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun and her younger brother, Susanoo, the powerful god of summer. It is regularly visited by people looking for success in business, longevity, and romance. 

By そらみみ [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

But First – Brushing Up on Shintoism 

Shintoism (kami-no-Michi) is the traditional, ancient religion of Japan and was first recorded in history books in the 8th century. Before any Buddhist temple existed in Japan, this belief came first. Millions of Japanese still today still practice it. “Shinto” means the path or way of the gods. Shinto followers believe that spiritual powers or sacred essences exist in the natural world. They believe that spirits (Kami) are in animals, stones, mountains, rivers, people and even in the dead. 

More on Shinto Shrines

Shinto shrines (“jinjas”) are places of worship and dwelling places of the Kami. They are usually built around natural dwellings, such as forests and mountains. This revolves around a deeper history of Shintoism, which is tackled by many other article sources.

The entrance to a shrine is a special archway called a Torii. It symbolizes the separation between the sacred world of the shrine from the outside world.  The Kami are believed to be enshrined in an Inner Hall or a Honden (Main Hall) which only a Shinto priest can enter. 

By そらみみ (Soramimi) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)],via Wikimedia Commons

A Shinto priest can either be a female or male. Worshippers rinse their mouths and wash their hands before entering the Prayer Hall. The Kami is summoned with a bell and an offering or money or rice is made. The worshipper bows twice and claps twice to welcome the Kami then bows again. 

In the Privacy of Your Own Home

Japanese people can also do their worship in the privacy of their own homes.  A “kamidana” of “god-shelf” is a miniature household altar provided to enshrine a Shinto Kami at home. A kamidana is typically installed high on a wall and it contains the “shintai” (an object meant to contain the chosen kami). Through the shintai, the kami or spirit is given a physical form for the worshipper to venerate. After the cleansing of their hands, the worshipper offers prayers, food like rice, fruit, water, or flowers. Prayers are most often addressed to the family ancestors. 

Though many opt to do create a kamidana, it’s still important to visit large, historical shrines, as these hold energy and kami that are powerful, and could guide you, protect you, and even bring you luck during the year. 

The History of Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka

Kushida Shrine, one of Fukuoka’s most famous landmarks was founded in the year 757. Empress Koken was then the ruler. Tairano Kiyomori, a military leader of the late Heian Period of Japan, assigned Hakata Port as the main base for the Japan-China trade. The shrine was built on the emperor’s orders with the intention of sharing a god (of Ise province of the Mie Prefecture). The actual shrine today was rebuilt and restored by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1587 as part of the reconstruction of Hakata. 

Exploring Japan: A Guide to Kushida Shrine

The first thing you will notice at the Kushida Shrine is the huge Otafuku mask. This mask measures 5.3 meters high and 5 meters wide. The mask, which looks like a theatrical mask, represents a plain, plump-faced woman, and is placed on the Torii gate in front of Kushida Shrine’s main building. It is believed that passing through this mask during Setsubun will bring good luck.

By ぱちょぴ(pacyopi) (投稿者自身(Own Photo)) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There is also a miniature take on the historical Fushimi Inari taisha found here.

In the shrine yard, a magnificent 1000-year-old Gingko tree stands 33 meters high and is very much treasured by the locals. 

There is a well inside the shrine and it is surrounded by three crane statues and drinking water from this well brings good fortune of “reisen”. It is also believed to grant eternal youth or longevity.

Luck or Misfortune? Have Your Fates Read

If you’re curious about your future, you may try and have your fortune told. Here at Kushida Shrine, many visitors avail of paper fortunes, as these are available in English, Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese. Omikuji are Japanese fortune-telling strips of paper that may grant you anything with a great blessing or a great curse. 

Right at the entrance of the Shrine is another fortune telling place called the Eto Ehou Ban. It is a large picture of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac signs and you can look here into your fortune for guidance and direction for the year ahead. 

Floats Galore

Vividly explore the Kazari Yamakasa floats displayed inside the shrine grounds. Take closer looks at the extreme attention to detail and marvel at the artistic talents that built these floats.  The ornaments, the dolls, the samurai warriors, they all have a reason, and they all have a story.

See the Yamashina Kazato, The Special Float of Kushida Shrine

In the Kushida Shrine, floats are either mobile or not. The portable ones that are paraded around town and the fixed ones that stay in the shrine. Both are made for the people to people to venerate, pray for peace and prosperity and seek protection from danger. The Yamashina Kazato is one of those floats. 

Partake in Traditions

Flex your muscles and test your strength by trying to carry these heavy stones all lined up behind the Kazari Yamakasa. These stones are called Chikara Ishi. They used to be used for fortune telling, but not anymore. Nowadays, the stones are there to gauge if those can handle their weight. Sumo wrestlers demonstrate their strength by lifting these super heavy stones. One specific stone has the Japanese characters “shiseki” which is used for trial. As for the rest of the stones, they must not be touched and should be left in their place. 

Join the Fun – Experience A Festival of the Kushida Shrine

There are 80,000 shrines all over Japan. Each shrine sponsors yearly festivals and Japan has all kinds of festivals ranging from public to private, official to unofficial, and local to national. There isn’t a month that passes Matsuri is the Japanese word for a Shinto Holiday or Shinto Festival and a Matsuri is celebrated to honor a Kami of a shrine. Matsuri means “welcoming the descending gods” or “inviting down the gods.”  

During the festival, the people pay their respects to the kami and celebrate with delicious food, drink, games, parades, music, dancing, and dramatic performances. They carry the Mikoshi (portable shrine) throughout the streets in a parade. Shinto worshippers pray for a wide range of blessings such as abundant harvests, good health, fertility, and business success. It is believed that Shinto’s deities periodically come to earth to visit shrines, villages, and families to make their will known to the people and the timing of these visitations coincides to the timing of Japan’s Shinto festivals. 

Shintoism in Japan has its agricultural roots, therefore, most festivals cluster around Setsubun (the day before the beginning of Spring) or Obon (when ancestors’ spirits return to the world to visit their relatives) or usually simply just around the farming season.

By Hamasaki gion higashi (Photo by Hamasaki gion higashi) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Special Festival of Kushida Shrine

The Festival of Yamakasa Gion Matsuri/Hakata Gion Yamakasa is the most famous and biggest summer festival in the whole of Fukuoka. It begins on July 1 and ends on July 15 every year in Hakata, Fukuoka. The festivities are celebrated on the Kushida Shrine.

History of this festival dates to an outbreak of the plague in 1241 and the Buddhist priest, Shoichi Kokushi of Jotenji, made offerings and sprinkled holy water from atop of an altar with the intention of appeasing the spirits of the segakidana (hungry ghosts.) Over the next 700 years, the Japanese people continued the tradition and made large, colorful floats (mikoshi) supposedly representing these segakidana and they would ride these floats through the city. As the procession of the mikoshi passes, it is believed that the kami is blessing the community where it passes.

Featuring the Yamakasa

The distinct feature of the Yamakasa Gion Matsuri is the special, colorful, heavily decorated float called the Yamakasa. Early in the festival morning of 5 AM, the streets are packed with people and the beat of a taiko drum signals the start of the Oiyama Race.  The race marks the climax of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. 

Yamakasas are floats that weigh about a ton and are heavily decorated and designed by the expert locals usually depicting historic or mythical events of Japanese history and culture. They are decorated with samurais, dolls, or popular anime characters.  

There are two kinds of yamakasas. 

  1. There’s the Kakiyama, which are smaller and can be easily carried around town. 
  2. The other kind of float is the Kazariyama which are large, stationary floats often 13 meters high. The Kazariyama stays displayed in the shrine and is not brought outside the shrine area. The floats exhibited at the Kushida-jinja shrine can be viewed all year round. 

The race starts with a group of robust, loin-clothed men carrying the yamakasa through the streets of Hakata at full speed. Multiple yamakasas (as many as 8) are paraded all around town and brought around by groups of these shouting, cheering, passionate men, against each other in a race. The one who arrives at its destination first is the winner. The winner gets to sing the “Hakata Celebration Song.”

How to Get to the Kushida Shrine

The address of the Kushida Shrine is at 1-41 Kamikawabatamachi, Hakata-Ku, Fukuoka 812-0026, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. It is near sunset park. Its telephone number is +81 92-291-2951. If you want to visit, note that it’s only a 2-minute walk from the Nishitetsu Bus Stop, a 5-minute walk from Nakasu Kawabata or the Gion Subway Station, and a few minutes’ walk from Canal City and the Hakata Machiya Folklore Museum.

How Much is the Entrance Fee to Kushida Shrine?

There is no entrance fee to enter Kushida Shrine. It is free for every person (no matter what creed, race, belief) as are many other shrines around Japan. However, if you want to make an offering of money to appease the kami, you may. 

What Are the Kushida Shrine’s Open Hours?

It opens at 4 AM and closes at 10 PM every day.

Feel Free to Visit the Kushida Shrine

This beautiful, beloved Shrine is fondly called as “Okushi san” by the locals. Millions visit this shrine every year and here you will learn so much about the Japanese, their culture, and their customs. It may be far from Tokyo and Kyoto, and resort towns, but it is still quite convenient and easy to travel to, as there are many hotel and public transportation options around the area.