Located in Atsuta Ward in the south of Nagoya City, in a wooded precinct spanning 190,000 square meters, Atsuta Shrine is a tranquil oasis to many residents of Nagoya, and a popular spot for visitors, with around 7 million visitors each year.
The Shrine is said to have been established in 113 AD, when the legendary prince Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto (see below) entrusted his sacred sword, Kusanagi-no-Mitsurugi, to his wife, Miyazuhime-no-Mikoto (宮簀媛命), in present-day Odaka (Midori Ward). When the prince died shortly after his departure, the sword was enshrined, later moving to Atsuta.
The Hongū (Main Shrine) enshrines Atsuta-no-Okami, the sun deity Amaterasu-Ōmikami, embodied by the sword, Kusanagi-no-Mitsurugi.
In addition to the Hongū, the precinct also contains the Betsugu (Annex) Hakkengu Shrine (established in 708 and the object of veneration by warriors including Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu), 12 auxiliary shrines and 31 subordinate shrines, a Museum, and a number of great trees, including the Ōkusu (great camphor tree, pictured right) said to have been planted by the Buddhist monk and scholar Kōbō-Daishi (Kūkai).
A photo book with English captions is available for a donation at the Juyo-Sho, near the Hongū.
Literally "sacred grass-cutting sword", this weapon is one of the Three Sacred Treasures that form the Imperial Regalia. (The other two being the mirror, Yata no Kagami [八咫鏡], enshrined at Ise Jingū, and the curved jewel, Yasakani no Magatama [八尺瓊勾玉], held at the Imperial Palace.) The sword is said to represent valor.
The story of the sword extends to the age of the gods, when Susanoo-no-Mikoto dicovered the sword Ame-no-Murakumono-Tsurugi ("sword of gathering clouds of heaven" within the tail of a serpent, later presenting it to his elder sister and sun deity, Amaterasu-Ōmikami. Amaterasu-Ōmikami would later give the sword and other regalia to her descendent Ninigi when he descended to earth.
■Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto (日本武尊)
Son of Emperor Keiko (thought to have reigned 71-130 AD), Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto was a valiant warrior, dispatched by his father to pacify local tribes and expand his father's territory in the west and east. On his way to the east, he was presented with the sword, Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, by his aunt, the Shrine Maiden of Ise Jingū. After using the sword to cut grass to ward off an attack by fire on an open grassland, Yamato Takeru-no-Mikoto renamed the weapon "grass-cutting sword." Leaving the sword with his wife, he angered a deity of Mount Ibuki, and died of illness.
Although most visitors come to pay their respects at the Hongū, when strolling around the precinct one will see locals praying at many of the lesser shrines, and maybe find yourself wondering what people are praying for. The middle-aged businessman, bowing rigidly, perhaps hoping that his business will be spared the brunt of the current economic woes; or the group of suited new recruits, hoping for guidance in navigating their new environment; or the little elderly lady, praying as she maybe does every day on her afternoon walk.
Each shrine is devoted to a different deity, and associated with different blessings, but sometimes the 'shrine' need not be a shrine at all. The Kusunomimae-sha (楠御前社, literally "shrine before the venerable camphor tree", pictured), for example, located near the South Gate, has no shrine structure, but rather a fence surrounding a camphor tree. This is because the tree itself is the object of veneration, along with the sibling deities Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto, who created the Japanese archipelago.
The tree has long been worshipped for its ability to heal, and particularly as a deity of easy childbirth, and it is said that by offering a votive tablet in the shape of a miniature torii gate, inscribed with one's oriental zodiac animal and name, one's wishes will be fulfilled.
To the right of the enclosure is a stand seemingly festooned with vibrantly colored chains of paper cranes, diligently folded by parishioners and offered as prayers for respite and recovery from illness. Many votive tablets in various shapes are also hung from the stand, inscribed with wishes from soon-to-be parents and people hoping for the recovery of unwell family members or friends. While some of the messages are personal, others are a reflection of feelings no doubt shared by many, such as one anonymous tablet reading, "May everyone be able to laugh and enjoy life, in good health!"
Points to observe when visiting a shrine
- Before passing through a torii gate, stop and bow.
- The center of the path is considered the path of the deities, so mortals are advised to keep to the sides of the path.
- Before visiting the shrine, cleanse yourself with water at the temizu-sha / chōzu-sha (手水舎). Pick up a ladle with your right hand, and fill the ladle with water from the basin. Bring your hands and the ladle closer towards you, so that you don't pour water back into the basin. Pour some water over your left hand, then take the ladle in your left hand and pour some water over your right hand. Return the ladle to your right hand, pour some water into your cupped left hand, and use the water to rinse your mouth. Use the remaining water to wash your left hand once more, and return the ladle.
- At the shrine, remove any headwear, and throw a coin (of any amount) into the offertory box. Bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, and pay your respects / ask for blessings before bowing deeply once more.
- When leaving, stop at the torii gate, turn around to face the shrine, and bow again.
Where: Atsuta Shrine (熱田神宮), in Atsuta Ward (熱田区)
Access: A 3-minute walk from Jingū-mae Sta. (神宮前駅) on the Meitetsu Nagoya Line (名鉄名古屋本線); or an 8-minute walk from Atsuta Sta. (熱田駅) on the JR Tōkaidō Line (JR東海道線); or a 7-minute walk from Jingu Nishi Sta. (神宮西駅) on the Meijo Subway Line (地下鉄名城線).