Izumo Taisha: The Shrine You Must Visit At Least Once

Izumo Taisha: The Shrine You Must Visit At Least Once

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Izumo Taisha, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture
Picture: kazukiatuko / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Once a year, Japan's multitude of gods leave the rest of the country. Where do they gather? At Izumo Taisha.

Once a year, Japan’s many gods hold an annual conference – the Kamihakari (神議り) – to discuss matters such as agriculture and marriage. Their gathering place? Izumo Taisha (Izumo Grand Shrine; officially Izumo Ooyashiro), a sprawling, awe-inspiring shrine located in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture. Learn why people in Japan say that Izumo Taisha is worth at least one visit in your lifetime.

Izumo Taisha and enmusubi

Ookuninushi, Japan's primary god of relationships.
A statue of Ookuninushi-no-ookami at Izumo Taisha. (Picture by the author)

Izumo Taisha is a Shinto shrine that enshrines the god Ookuninushi-no-ookami (大国主大神). In Shinto mythology, Ookuninushi, one of the descendants of the god Susanoo, was the original ruler of the Earth who ceded the land to a descendent of Amaterasu. This reputedly began the imperial line of succession from the Shinto goddess Amaterasu that persists through today’s imperial family. In exchange for this kindness, Amaterasu gave Izumo Taisha to Ookuninushi.

In the rest of Japan, October is known as Kannazuki (神無月), or the month in which there are no gods. However, in Izumo, it’s known as Kanarizuki (神在月), as all of Japan’s gods (八百万神; yaoorozu no kami) are said to be present there.

Today, Izumo Taisha is celebrated as one of Japan’s “power spots” for enmusubi (縁結び). A term that extends to all meetings and relationships, most people use enmusubi primarily to refer to partnerships, particularly marriage.

White hare statues at Izumo Taisha
A field of white rabbit statues at Izumo Taisha. (Picture by the author)

While there are many gods of enmusubi, Ookuninushi (also called Daikoku-sama) is Shinto’s foremost representation of the concept. Legend has it that Daikoku restored a white hare to health after his brothers caused it pain and suffering. This made him later than his brethren to a meeting with the beautiful princess Yakami-hime. But it was this gentleness that won the princess’ heart.

As a result, the white hare is a prominent symbol of enmusubi today. You’ll see the symbol all around Izumo, as well as multiple statues of hares on the Izumo Taisha grounds.

Going to Izumo Taisha

A welcome sign at Izumo Airport celebrating the city’s reputation as a power spot for relationships. (Picture: shima_kyohey / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

Getting to Izumo is easiest if your trip to Japan starts closer to the southwest, such as in the Kansai region that includes Kyoto and Osaka. Shime is also fairly close to Hiroshima. If you’re coming from Tokyo, your best bet is to take a domestic flight from Haneda Airport to Izumo Airport.


If you plan to stay a night or two, Izumo Hotel The Cliff offers not only excellent accommodations but an incredible view. Shimane Prefecture is also home to Matsue and the wonderful Tamatsukuri onsen district. If you stay here, you can also enjoy an authentic Japanese onsen experience, complete with meals included in the room rate. However, you’ll want a car to get you around, as Izumo and Matsue are a good 45-minute drive from one another.

Inasa no Hama: The sand-gathering ritual

Inasa no Hama: Bentenjima at Izumo

The journey of the gods ends at Izumo Taisha. But it doesn’t start there. Instead, it starts on the coast of Izumo, at Inasa no Hama.

There, visitors will find a small rock outcropping off the shore topped with a Shinto torii gate. While not officially an island, residents often call it Bentenjima (弁天島). This is where Ookuninushi meets the gods every October to escort them to the conference.

Another view of Inasa no Hama, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture
The first two days of our visit to Izumo and Matsue were overcast. We were blessed that the sun came out for our visit to Inasa no Hama. (Picture by the author)

If you visit Inasa no Hama first, you can bring a vinyl bag and a scoop and grab some sand from the shore. It’s good fortune to exchange this wet sand for dry sand at Sogano Yashiro inside Izumo Taisha. The exchange has been a set ritual for ages. The purified sand is said to protect you and drive off evil spirits.

So start your journey here and then walk or drive your way to the temple 1km to the east. There are also buses between the two locations.

Map showing the distance between Inasa no Hama and Izumo Taisha.

Izumo Taisha: An awe-inspiring presence (but mind your claps!)

Torii gate at Izumo Taisha

There’s no official record of when Izumo Taisha was first built. The first mention of it dates back to the Heian period, when the main shrine reportedly towered 38 meters high. (It’s since been reduced in size.) The maintainers of the shrine rebuild it every 60 to 70 years to keep the power of the gods intact.

I’ve only been to a handful of shrines that took my breath away. Izumo Taisha is one of them. The walking path to the shrine (参道; sandou) is immense and impresses upon you the importance of this location in Shinto mythology.

As usual, bow before passing under the main torii gate. If you want to be really official, however, you’ll make your way to the start of the street leading up to Izumo Taisha and pass the sparkling white torii gate that towers over it. There are four torii gates in total at Izumo, each made of a different material.

White torii gate at Izumo Jinja.
The white torii gate that dominates the street leading up to Izumo Jinja. Yes, that’s a gas station to the right of it. (Picture: Skylight / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

There’s also a temizuya, or hand-washing station, you can use to purify yourself before continuing the rest of your journey. (Make sure to follow our recommendations for proper hand-washing!)

There are multiple shines to visit within, where you can throw some change in the offerings box and pay your blessings. Traditionally, at a Shinto shrine, you’ll bow twice, clap twice, beseech the gods in prayer, and then bow once in gratitude. At Izumo Taisha, however, you’re supposed to clap four times. This is a custom specific to this shrine and some other shrines within the region.

Exchanging your sand

There’s a large outer loop you can walk, right to left, to take yourself past most of the shrine ground’s buildings. Along the way, you’ll pass Sogano Yashiro. Here, you’ll find the sandboxes where you can dump the sand you retrieved from Inasa no Hama. You can also take a small amount of dried sand (less than you took from the waterfront) with you for protection.

Sogano Yashiro, Izumo Taisha, Shimane Prefecture.

Rounding around the loop, you can pass the fourth torii gate to your right. There, you’ll find a shrine building with the largest shimenawa (しめ縄), a ritual knot with paper banners that has multiple meanings but is most often said to welcome the gods in.

Large shimenawa at Izumo Taisha, Shimane Prefecture.
This photo gives you a sense of the massive scale of the shimenawa at Izumo Taisha. (Picture by the author.)

As is standard at a Shinto shrine, you can also get a go-shuin (御朱印), hand-drawn calligraphy memorializing your visit to the shrine. These are typically written inside of a go-shuinchou (御朱印長), a book sold by a shrine for holding go-shuin. You can buy one of these at Izumo if you don’t have one already.

Izumo has two locations for obtaining go-shuin: one here and one inside the core temple grounds. You can also buy o-mamori (お守り), protective amulets. This being the home of enmusubi, Izumo abounds in amulets for protecting one’s marriage and relationships.

Izumo soba: A solid meal after your shrine visit

Izumo soba at Megumi, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.
Izumo soba at Megumi, close to Izumo Taisha. (Picture by the author)

A visit to Izumo wouldn’t be complete without tasting a staple of the region’s local cuisine. Izumo soba is one of Japan’s so-called Big Three sobas. I’ve written about it before, so when we had the chance to visit Izumo, we jumped at the prospect of trying it for the first time.

There are multiple places to get Izumo soba in the shopping district leading up to the shrine. We went to Megumi, which, despite its high ratings, didn’t have a huge crowd at noon on a Sunday. My wife and I both ordered a set that came with two soba bowls, kara-age, and rice. We only paid 1000 yen apiece (USD $6.61) for the set pictured above.

Izumo soba

As I wrote earlier, Izumo soba is made with both the wheat and the husk, producing a darker noodle. But it’s also unique in how you eat it. We ate ours served in multiple bowls called warigo (割子) stacked on one another, each one containing soba. You put the soy sauce-based sauce plus fixings in the topmost bowl and eat the noodles. Once you’re done, you lift the top bowl up and dump the remaining sauce and garnishes into the next bowl.

Izumo soba

The set pictured above has two bowls. Three bowls are standard if you purchase Izumo soba outside of a set. At Megumi, you can add an extra bowl to the set pictured above for 300 yen.

Visiting the meeting place of the gods

At a time when overtourism plagues popular destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, more travelers are looking for authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences in Japan. Few vacations fit that bill better than a visit to Izumo Jinja. In Izumo, you can touch the roots of Japan’s native religion at one of its oldest and most revered temples. And you can eat some amazing food while you’re at it.

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Izumo Taisha. Wikipedia

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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