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October 12th 2017
Published: November 10th 2017
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Statue of a KomainuStatue of a KomainuStatue of a Komainu

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
Hello my fellow travellers!

Today I was off to an early start as I left together with Trung when he went work, actually even a little bit earlier than needed because he doesn't want the others in his apartment building to know that he houses guests there because the apartment is provided by his employer. He spent the morning, before we left, cramming pretty hard because in a couple of days he will have an important exam in Tokyo and if he passes it he will get a nice salary increase!

It was raining really heavily though so I knew I would find good use for the umbrella he lent me. He was kind enough to drive me the whole way to the train station in Nagano even though he was originally going to drop me at a bus station on his way to work. But thanks to the weather and us having more time than necessary he drove the extra mile to make it easier for me, which I really appreciated.

At the train station I looked at the various bus stops to figure out which one that would take me to Togakushi and made my way over to it. Togakushi used to be it's own village but it was merged into Nagano in 2005 along with several other villages and towns.

I purchased the full Togakushi Kogen Free Kippu, a ticket that gives you a round trip to the Togakushi Shrine (Togakushi Jinja), unlimited travel within the Togakushi Highlands (Togakushi Kogen) for five consecutive days and a one-way ticket between the Zenkôji Temple (Zenkô-ji) and Nagano Station. Not to mention a bunch of various discounts in the area. The ticket was ¥2,600, a bit steep for bus tickets, but a one-way ticket was ¥1,150 just to get to the lower of the sub-shrines and even more to the upper shrine. There is quite a distance between the different shrines and with the weather as it was I figured I'd probably be using the busses a fair amount during the day.

Togakushi Shrine is comprised of five sub-shrines that are spread out across the span of the mountain. However, this site wasn't always designated as a shrine, up until the Meiji Restoration in 1868 it was a temple belonging to the Tendai school of Buddhism. It was known as the Togakushi Temple (Togakushisan Kanshu-in Kenkou-ji)
Amongst the Japanese Red CedarsAmongst the Japanese Red CedarsAmongst the Japanese Red Cedars

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
and it was dedicated to the worship of Kannon Bosatsu.

There are several different versions of when this temple was constructed. The traditional version puts it's date of construction to 210 BC, the 5th year of the reign of Emperor Kôgen (273–158 BC). Buddhist tradition, however, puts it's date of construction to 849 during the reign of Emperor Ninmyô (808–850). However, according to the Nihon-shoki (Chronicles of Japan), the second oldest Japanese literature in existence, it was constructed in 649 during the reign of Emperor Tenmu (631–686).

I have no idea which of them is the correct one, but one thing is for sure though, this is a very important religious and spiritual site in Japan and was very much looking forward to going there, despite the poor weather conditions.

Unfortunately the busses only go once every hour so I had to wait a bit for the first one and I must admit I snoozed for most of the hour-long ride up to Togakushi. The area actually gets it's name from one of the most important events in Shinto lore, the story of the Ama-no-iwato (lit. "heavenly rock cave"). Togakushi Shrine enshrines several of the kami (deities)
Me in Front of the Kuzuryû ShrineMe in Front of the Kuzuryû ShrineMe in Front of the Kuzuryû Shrine

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
that were involved in this event and it's a fascinating event.

The story goes that Amaterasu, the kami of the sun and ancestor to the Japanese imperial family, had a long standing rivalry with her brother Susanoo, the kami of the sea and storms. This rivalry was continuously escalating and finally resulted in him destroying her rice fields, hurling a flayed pony at her loom and even killing one of her attendants.

Filled with grief and fury over her brother's actions Amaterasu hid herself in a cave in Takachiho, Kyushu. This left the entire world in perpetual darkness for a long time and the other kami knew they had to get her out of there somehow but she wouldn't listen to them.

Eventually Omoikane, the kami of wisdom and intelligence, devised a plan to lure Amaterasu out by putting on a spectacular party featuring a lewd dance performed by Uzume, the goddess of dawn and revelry. The lewd dance caused all the other gods to laugh loudly and the sounds of laughter made Amaterasu curious. When she peeked out of the cave she became entranced with her own reflection in a large bronze mirror that had been
Okusha (Upper Shrine)Okusha (Upper Shrine)Okusha (Upper Shrine)

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
placed outside the cave for this purpose.

While she was distracted Tajikarao, the kami of sports and physical power, pulled the massive stone door out and threw it away. Afterwards, they quickly placed a shimenawa (sacred rope) as a seal across the cave so that Amaterasu couldn't go back into hiding and then the kami Koyane and Futodama persuaded Amaterasu to rejoin the divine realm and so light was restored to the world.

The stone door that Tajikarao threw away flew all the way here and when it landed it became Mount Togakushi (Togakushiyama). The name Togakushi literally means "hidden door". When the door landed it caused a massive noise and the echo reverberated throughout the heavens. Drawn by the sound Kuzuryû, the nine-headed dragon, flew down from the skies and landed next to Mount Togakushi and turned into a mountain.

I must admit that as I left the bus to make my way up to the first sub-shrine I was beginning to question my decision to even leave Trung's home today. The rain was really pouring down and by now my shoes had more holes than a sieve which made for a wet and messy walk
Omamori (Protective Charm)Omamori (Protective Charm)Omamori (Protective Charm)

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
up to the shrine. Fortunately it's not a great distance, only about a 30 minute walk, and it's not a difficult path although it's slightly elevated.

It was really worth the wet feet though as the path to the first two shrines, the okusha (upper shrine) and the Kuzuryû Shrine (Kuzuryûsha), is lined with some 300 Japanese red cedars (sugi) which was planted in the 17th century. It's an endemic species of trees and they stand as imposing, silent guardians of this sacred place.

The okusha enshrines Tajikarao and while the shrine itself don't strike an all that imposing figure the surroundings that it stands in certainly do. It's a very dramatic, yet serene, landscape and the air is very fresh. The Kuzuryû Shrine enshrines the dragon which flew down from the heavens to form the nearby mountain. Kuzuryû is a kami of water and according to the lore the dragon calls out for rain which is why Togakushi has such an abundance of fresh spring water coming down from the mountains. Perhaps he was also the reason why I was walking around soaking wet, but I can't really argue with the decisions of a nine-headed dragon now can I?

Before arriving at the Kuzuryū Shrine and the okusha I passed through the absolutely gorgeous zuishinmon (zuishin gate) which is guarded by the zuishin (attendant kami). I've mentioned this before, but in case you haven't read the previous posts of this blog the zuishin was once a single kami named Toyo-kushi but at some point he became split into two different kami named Toyo and Kushi. They now guard the gates of several Shinto shrines around Japan.

As I approached the Kuzuryû Shrine I also saw two beautiful statues of komainu (lion-dogs) which are a common sight at shrines and temples. They stand as silent guardians of the innermost sanctum, protecting it from those who would do it harm.

The whole hike took a while to complete because, despite the weather, I didn't really feel any rush to get there. I shared the path with some other worshippers but there were no throngs of tourists waddling about. It was just me, the kami and a few other worshippers, making this walk a very calm and spiritual affair.

Even though the shrines themselves didn't really take my breath away the combined sensation of the beautiful walk, the serene surroundings and the fascinating lore of the Togakushi Shrine did made me feel spiritual. After I had offered up my prayers at both the okusha and the Kuzuryû Shrine I decided to go to the shamusho (company office) to buy an omamori (protective charm). This one was for traffic safety, which might seem strange considering that don't drive, but my plan is to dedicate it to my father who is a professional driver.

The Buddhist history of this shrine was quite evident as I found both a stone Buddha (sekibutsu) and several swastikas (manji). It's a shame that such an important symbol of both Buddhism and Hinduism have been given a negative connotation because the NSDAP used the symbol for a few years.

From the okusha I returned back down the same road I came, I was contemplating if I should go by a different route to Kagami Pond (Kagami-ike). However, the trail going there from the okusha looked a bit obscured and I wasn't quite sure if I would be going the right way so I decided against it. Instead I left the premise through the zuishinmon and once more walked through the beautiful cedar corridor.

On my way down I also came upon a small shrine dedicated to Iizuna Daimyôjin (lit. "Iizuna the Great Shining Deity"). Mount Iizuna (Iizunayama) is a nearby mountain which is very sacred to the Shugendô religion. It's a syncretic religion that amalgamate Shintoism and Buddhism and as such is was officially forbidden in 1872 but was revived after World War II (1939–1945) when religious freedom was written into the constitution of Japan.

Together with Mount Togakushi, Mount Iizuna is one of the "Five Mountains of Northern Shinshu" (Hokushin Gogaku), the other three are Mount Myôkô (Myôkôsan), Mount Kurohime (Kurohimeyama) and Mount Madarao (Madaraoyama).

As I came back down to the main road there was only a couple of minutes left until the next bus that would take me downhill so I decided to take it until the stop marked for Kagami Pond. Even so it would still require a hike of quite a few kilometres to actually reach the pond. Kagami means "Mirror" and it's named so because it reflects it's surroundings.

When the bus came to the right stop I got of and started walking. Unlike the trail to okusha, this was a road which was actually open for traffic so I tried to hitch a ride from a couple of passing cars but none stopped and this road was really boring to walk, nothing spectacular to see and just a steady rain to accompany me on the walk. I finally reached Kagami Pond but unfortunately the weather pretty much spoiled the scene, the water reflections for which this place is famous were nowhere to be seen and in general the scene was pretty gloomy.

Despite the weather there were actually quite a bit of people there photographing the pond so I went up to one of the cars parked there and asked if I could get a ride back out to the main road due to the weather. The guy that I came to was really nice and he even did one better as he drove me all the way to my next goal. I had decided to head back up the hill to Togakure Ninpô Museum (Togakure-ryû Ninpô Shiryôkan) a museum which is dedicated to the local Togakure-ryû school of ninjutsu (hidden techniques). Ninjutsu is the martial arts style that's primarily associated with the ninja, the mythical assassins/spies of Japanese
Chûsha (Middle Shrine)Chûsha (Middle Shrine)Chûsha (Middle Shrine)

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi

Ninjutsu itself dates all the way back to Prince Shôtoku (574–622) although the first recorded usage of it was during the Genpei War (1180–1185). Togakure-ryû claims to be the oldest recorded form of ninjutsu as it was started by a samurai named Nishina Daisuke during the Genpei War. He came from Togakushi (formerly known as Togakure) but was forced to flee to the Iga Province.There he changed his name to Togakure Daisuke and he met a Chinese monk named Kain Dôshi who taught Daisuke his deadly craft. Afterwards Daisuke brought this knowledge back with him to Togakure and founded the Togakure-ryû school of ninjutsu.

Togakure-ryû is still active as a part of the Bujinkan Budô Taijutsu school, a school which I trained under for many years when i was younger. It's current sôke (headmaster) is Masaaki Hatsumi whom my own teacher had trained directly under in Japan. It was quite special to come here to where it once started some 900 years ago.

Located at the same site is also the Togakushi Folk Museum (Togakushi Minzokukan) and the Ninja Trick Mansion (Ninja Karakuri Yashiki) which is a form of hidden obstacle course that I had to
Hinomiko ShrineHinomiko ShrineHinomiko Shrine

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
pass through by locating the hidden doors and tunnels. It was fairly fun and a couple of them was quite tricky to solve but it all felt a bit to touristy and not all that authentic in it's implementation and presentation.

There wasn't really any information about the history of ninjutsu, just some random items on display and some activities such as throwing shuriken (throwing weapons) and doing the hidden door challenges. The museum does make for a bit of a different thing to do while you're here though but you might just as well skip it in my opinion. It might be more fun if you're a group of people doing it all together, but on your own I thought it was a little bit pale.

When I left the museum I saw the bus just drive off which meant that I would have to wait another hour for the next one or walk along the main road to reach the chûsha (middle shrine) so I decided to ask a group of people heading for their car if I could hitch a ride with them and they were kind enough to give me a lift. All of
Hôkôsha (Lower Shrine)Hôkôsha (Lower Shrine)Hôkôsha (Lower Shrine)

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
them was really nice and the driver used this opportunity to try his English skills on me while I used my Japanese on him.

They were kind enough to drop me of by the parking lot next to a large torii (shrine gate) that stood as one of the entrances to the grounds of the shrine. I thanked them all and after they left I performed the usual temizu (ablution) at the temizuya (ablution pavilion) before I entered into the grounds of the chûsha which serves as the administrative headquarters of Togakushi Shrine.

While the okusha enshrines Tajikarao, the kami who hurled the stone door and formed this mountain, the chûsha enshrines Omoikane, the kami who came up with the plan to lure Amaterasu out of her hiding place. Just like the okusha, the chûsha itself didn't really blow my mind in and of it's own, however there are quite some beautiful and fascinating things here such as the 800 year old sacred Japanese red cedars as well as the Sazare Waterfall (Sazare Taki).

The chûsha is located within the actual Togakushi village, so after my visit to this shrine I walked around the village for a
Hôkôsha (Lower Shrine)Hôkôsha (Lower Shrine)Hôkôsha (Lower Shrine)

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
little while and looked around in some of the souvenir shops but I didn't really find anything that caught my eye.

After that I made my way down to the fourth shrine, the Hinomiko Shrine (Hinomikosha), which enshrines Uzume. She was the kami who performed the dance that caused the laughter that lured out Amaterasu.

This is the only of the five shrines that enshrine more than one kami and in addition to Uzume this shrine also enshrines three other kami. The first of these is Takamimusubi, one of the three zôka sanshin (three deities of creation) who came into being without procreation and who created the world. The other two are the daughter of Takamimusubi, Takuhata Chichi-hime, and her husband Oshihomimi who is the son of Amaterasu.

Takuhata Chichi-hime and Oshihomimi are the ones that gave birth to Ninigi, the kami who descended to earth with the three celestial gifts. These celestial gifts are the sword Kusanagi, the mirror Yata no Kagami and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama. Ninigi is the great-grandfather of Emperor Jimmu (711–585 BC), the first emperor of Japan, and as such the celestial gifts also serve as proof of the imperial family's
Ishidôrô (Stone Lantern)Ishidôrô (Stone Lantern)Ishidôrô (Stone Lantern)

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
direct lineage to Amaterasu.

I was actually offered a lift here by some friendly locals but by then I had almost reached the shrine so I politely declined. The Hinomiko Shrine is a rather beautiful little shrine and there were literally no other people around, in general it has actually been fairly empty around here today, I would guess it's a combination of the poor weather and the generally secluded nature of this place. It's a balm on the soul to come here, the shrines themselves are not as grand as many others that I've seen but the refreshing nature and seclusion really performs miracles on a weary soul.

From what I could tell on the map there seemed to be another pond close to the shrine so I decided to walk down there and see what it was. It turned out to be some kind of dam or water reservoir but to be honest the area was actually quite beautiful and I actually preferred it over the Kagami Pond.

From the dam it was just short stroll down to the hôkôsha (lower shrine) which was the last of the five shrines left for me to
Ishidôrô (Stone Lantern)Ishidôrô (Stone Lantern)Ishidôrô (Stone Lantern)

Togakushi Shrine, Togakushi
visit. While the okusha and chûsha are quite literally translatable to the "upper shrine" and "middle shrine" respectively the hôkôsha, which is commonly known as the lower shrine, would more literally be translated to "treasure light shrine" but I decided to use the "lower shrine" instead to stay a bit more consistent.

The hôkôsha is dedicated to Uwaharu, the patron goddess of women, children, academic arts and sewing. She is the daughter of Omoikane whom in turn is the son of Takamimusubi. This shrine is located very beautifully, albeit a bit inaccessibly, up a very steep flight of stairs and it really took the last ounce of energy out of me to reach it.

Out of the five shrines this one was, in my opinion, the most beautiful and like the okusha it stands in very serene surroundings removed from any traffic or other forms of hustle and bustle. I stayed here for quite a while, ignoring that I'd miss the next bus back to Nagano, and just enjoyed the serene surroundings.

This is a great place to just relax and be alone with your thoughts. While I was at hôkôsha I also found several really gorgeous ishidôrô (stone lanterns) which I feel are iconic of Japan. They were covered in green moss and blended perfectly into their surroundings, even further increasing the spirituality of this sacred place.

When I felt content with my visit to the hôkôsha I decided to find the Jizô-dô (Jizô Hall), which is a small hall that was marked on the map. Jizô is a popular bosatsu (bodhisattva) in Japan and it's common to find small statues of him by the road as he protects travellers. The hall was a bit difficult to find it as it was tucked away behind the Nibankan Soba Restaurant where you can eat the soba (buckwheat noodles) which this region is famous for.

However, while I was looking for it I came upon the quite beautiful little Fûfu Dôsojin Cemetery (Fûfu Dôsojin) located on top of a hill. As far as I could translate it fûfu means "married couple" while the dôsojin are "wayside kami". They are usually depicted as one male and one female that hold hands or share a cup of sake. They are often placed at the side of road or at the edges of villages in order to protect against disasters. I would guess that it means that this is a wayside cemetery meant for married couples that lay together in eternal rest under the protection of the dôsojin, it's a quite beautiful thought.

After this I felt quite satisfied with my day so I just located the nearest bus stop and took the last bus back to Nagano and then switched to the local train back to Trung in Suzaka. I really enjoyed my day here in Togakushi and I would definitely recommend you all to visit here.

I would recommend you to start at hôkôsha though and then walk the hiking trail up to the Hinomiko Shrine, the chûsha, the Kuzuryû Shrine and the okusha in that order. Between the chûsha and the Kuzuryû Shrine you should take the path by the Kagami Pond if the weather allows for it. I think this would make for the best possible experience here, but regardless of how you do it you will certainly appreciate the spirituality and sacred nature of this place.

There is no need to travel back and forth in the same day as I did though, I saw several shukubô (temple lodgings) and ryokan (traditional inns) while I was walking though the village. While I don't know the costs of staying in these I think it would be quite nice to stay here for a few days in a traditional setting.

While I was at the station in Nagano I wrote to Trung who told me that he would have a friend of his, living in the same building, come and meet me at the train station in Suzaka because he was still busy at work so when I arrived back in Suzaka his friend came and met me at the station and let me into the apartment. I told him that I was a bit hungry since I hadn't actually eaten anything but a couple of onigiri (rice balls) for the whole day. I asked if there was a place nearby where I could grab something to eat.

Rather than sending me out to get food he rummaged through the larder, but I told him that it's no worries and that I'd be fine so he left while I grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat down to chill for a bit and relax my legs. But after a little
Delicious Evening MealDelicious Evening MealDelicious Evening Meal

Trung's Home, Suzaka
while he came back, carrying with him a big bowl of noodles topped with an egg! What a life saver! I thanked him heartily and then I sat down and enjoyed my first proper meal of the whole day. Ending this day with a delicious bowl of noodles and a cold beer was awesome and I felt very happy about how my day had turned out.

Tomorrow I will go to Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Kōen), where famous snow monkey's bathe in their own onsen (hot spring). It's located outside of Yamanouchi which is about an hour or so by train from Suzaka. My plan is to walk through all of Yamanouchi and up to the park so that I may see a bit of what the city has to offer on the way.

Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!

Additional photos below
Photos: 169, Displayed: 38


11th November 2017
Kagami Pond

My fav photo
I pick this as my favorite of the photos you have in this blog entry. Nice composed with fog, autumn colours and the small structure in the foreground. /Ake
11th November 2017
Kagami Pond

My fav photo
Thanks you. I really enjoyed that scene as well. ^_^
11th November 2017

Mountain Serenity
What beautiful pictures! Although I'm sure the rain wasn't great to contend with on the day, the weather really appears to have added to the greenness, tranquility and spirituality of the place as captured in your pictures. I'm sure the beer and noodles were a wonderfully warm and comfort-filled way to end the day!
11th November 2017

Mountain Serenity
I'm not a big fan of rain unless I'm sitting in a hot sauna with a cold beer and especially not with shoes that are falling apart. :D But nonetheless I really did enjoy my day there, I met so many amazing and helpful people along the way. And I think the rain probably had it's advantages in keeping the worst crowds away and allowing for a very spiritual day. :-) Those noodles and beer really hit the spot yeah. ^_^
11th November 2017

I am impressed at the detail in this blog Per-Olof. The antics of the gods in Shinto lore of the Ama no Iwato makes great reading, I wonder how the ancients recorded such legends and passed them down. In Australia the aboriginal Dreamtime is oral lore, passed down orally to succeeding generations for millenia. May your further travels continue to bring you the spiritual peace you are looking for.
11th November 2017

Thank you my dancing friend! Much of the Shinto lore is written in the Kojiki, which translated means "record of ancient matters" which was written in 711-712 and the Nihon Shoki, "the Chronicles of Japan" from 720. :-)
13th November 2017

Rainy day blues
I can totally understand that rain isn't welcome when you want to explore, but on the bright side (excuse the pun), it created a beautiful atmosphere for the autumn colours in your photos. I love the tale about Amaterasu and Susanoo, and my imagination was captured by how 'a lewd' dance would have been portrayed in ancient times! :)
13th November 2017

Rainy day blues
Haha, aye there's always positives to everything. ^_^ I don't think I would have minded the rain so much if it hadn't been for my broken shoes leaking so much, wet and cold feet it a dampener on the spirit. ^_^

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