A mysterious shrine close to Aso (Kumamoto prefecture) is attracting more and more visitors. The sacred natural environment quickly became a social media phenomenon after a popular manga comic strip was located there. Ready for the adventure?
Ascent lined with 100 stone lanterns
The experience begins with a long flight of steps winding through a cypress forest. The path is lined with 100 moss-covered stone lanterns. You immediately feel the sacred atmosphere.
The ascent consists of some 270 steps, which greatly contributes to the remoteness of the site. Some people call it “the entrance to another world”. You’ll understand why, climbing this timeless path.
A third of the way up, a first torii enveloped by green moss is an invitation to enter the realm of the spirits.
The main shrine is halfway up the steep path. Very little is known of the origins of Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu, but the shrine is thought to have been in existence since the 14th century when offerings were accepted there.
The present structure is believed to date from 1722, rebuilt after the original was burned down in the 16th century. It belongs to a group of 3,000 Shinto shrines scattered over the archipelago, four of them near Takamori (Kumamoto prefecture).
This site must have been venerated for thousands of years. For what reason? The gaping hole in the rock just above the shrine.
This sacred rock in the shape of an arch, known as Ugetoiwa, is renowned as a strong “power spot”. Follow the path to the top to reach it.
Shinto shrine dedicated to the mythical couple Izanami and Izanagi
Kamishikimi shrine is dedicated to Izanami and Izanagi, its kami (Shinto deities) founders, Legend has it that they created all the Japanese islands following their happy marriage.
The story is not all roses, however, as Izanami tragically dies after giving birth to the fire spirit. The couple are separated: she watches over the realm of the dead and he protects the land of the living.
Their symbol, a pair of leaves from the Nagi tree, is found throughout the site. This coniferous tree characteristically has leaves with only vertical veins.
The symbolism is that the leaves are difficult to tear apart, just as it’s hard to break up a solid marriage. This is also why they often feature at wedding ceremonies in Japan.
From forgotten mystic site to internet star
This modest Shinto shrine in its remote natural setting found itself under the spotlight of a mangaka (manga creator) from Kumamoto, Yuki Midorikawa, who located her story there.
The first manga strip was published in 2003, but it was the anime based on it and released in 2011, “Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light” (Hotarubi no Mori e 蛍火の杜へ), that met with great success.
The story concerns the friendship between a young girl, Hotaru, and a strange boy in a cat mask, Gin. The cult story unrolls in the cypress forest that leads to Kamishikimi shrine. Fans soon began to track down this unusual location and share it on social media.
The special atmosphere and mystic beauty of this sacred place quickly raised its popularity. Today, photographers, manga-otaku (obsessed fans), Instagrammers and regular visitors rub shoulders on the steps of the steep path.
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