Isonokami Jingu, the Shrine of Swords

Many people visit Kyoto in search of Japanese history. Indeed, Kyoto historic and beautiful, but Nara rivals Kyoto in many way. Since Japan’s very first government was made in Nara, there are plenty of Japanese history in Nara that predates as far as the country was made. One such example is Isonokami Jingu [石上神宮]. Together with Omiwa Shrine, Isonokami Jingu is an ancient shrine that played a major role in ancient Japan. In addition to the shrine’s historic value, its unique architecture and its rare wari-haiden, make it one of a kind.

The History of Isonokami Jingu

Built in 91 C.E., Isonokami Jingu,is one of the oldest shrine in Japan. In fact, only two jingu that appear in Japanese mythology: Ise Jingu and Isonokami Jingu.


Mythical Swords

Isonokami Jingu enshrines a number of mythical swords, and each sword possess the soul of a Shinto god. While there are many swords is Isonokami, two in particular are arguably the most important. One is the Futsu no Mitama no Tsurugi [布都御魂剣], which is Isonokami Jingu’s principle object of worship. Two of the most powerful people who owned the sword were the god Takemikazuchi, and Emperor Jinmu. The other sword is Totsuku no Tsurugi [十拳剣], which Susano-o welded when he slayed the eight head dragon, Yamata no Orochi.

As you can imagine, this shrine’s primary focus is swords. It even played a major role in the Yamato Government as a weapon storage unit.

Originally, this shrine did not have a honden at all, much like Omiwa Shrine, another ancient shrine in Nara. Instead, they worshiped a little hill where the sacred swords were buried.

Omiwa Shrine

However, in the end of Edo or early Meiji Period, the head priest deiced to excavate the sacred hill. Inside the hill he found many sacred and legendary swords. Today, the shrine’s honden houses these precious sword.


Getting to Isonokami Jingu

The closest stations to Isonokami Jingu are either the Kintetsu or JR Tenri Station. Since the Kintetsu service is more frequent than JR, it might be better to take Kintetsu. It takes roughly 20 minutes to get to Tenri Station from Nara, and keep in mind that you have to change trains at Yamato Saidaiji for Tenri.

Once you get off at Tenri Station, you have to walk 30 minutes to the shrine. There is a shopping street that goes from the station to near the gate of the shrine, so you won’t lose your way.

road leading to Isonokami Jingu

Road leading to Isonokami Jingu

Also, since Isonokami Jingu Shrine is located on the Yamanobe no Michi trail, many people drop by Isonokami Jingu before following the trail all the way to Omiwa Shrine.

Read here for Yamanobe no Michi Trail!!

Yamanobe no Michi Trail: Japan’s Oldest Road

Shrine Grounds

Since we were going to walk on Yamanobe no Michi trail, we arrived at Isonokami Jingu quite early, but there were already a lot of people there.

torii in the middle of a forested path leading to Isonokami Jingu

Entrance of Isonokami Jingu

Once you enter Isonokami Jingu, you will see (or hear) chickens happily walking about.

one of the many chickens at Isonokami Jingu


In Isonokami Jingu, there are as many as 30 chickens freely walking around the shrine ground.

Sleeping chickens

Actually these chickens were not always here, but were donated to the shrine in 1970. Some of them are very tame and even walk with you, or guide you around the shrine.

Proud chicken

After you admire the chickens, you will see the gate of the Isonokami Jingu.

Romon Gate of Isonogami Jingu

Romon Gate: made in 1318

Haiden of Isonokami Jingu


While some say that Emperor Shirokawa donated Isonokami Jingu’s haiden in Heian Period, the architecture suggests it was built in the Kamakura Period. In any case, its haiden is one of the oldest in the country, so of course it is a Japanese National Treasure.


Points of Interest

Izumo Takeo Shrine

This little shrine that enshrines Izumo-takeo no Kami, the god who resides in the Kusanagi no Ken, the sword Susano-o found in the tail of the dragon Yamata no Orochi. Since it is a little shrine, not many people pay attention to it.

Wari-haiden at Isonokami Jingu


Surprisingly, the haiden of this shrine is another Japanese National Treasure at Isonokamu Jingu. The haiden is special because it is a wari-haiden, which is a divided haiden with an open corridor through the middle. This wari-haiden dates back to 1147 and was originally part of a nearby temple.

Wari-haiden are very rare, and in fact only two of the few remaining wari-haiden in Japan are Japanese National Treasures. These two haiden are this one in Isonokami Jingu, and Sakurai Shrine in Sakai.


Isonokami Jingu

Address 384 Furucho, Tenri, Nara Prefecture 〒 632-0014
Hours of Operation Mon-Sun:
8:30 – 21:00
Admission Fee Free

Coming next time,
Japan’s Oldest Road: The Yamanobe no Michi Trail

The adventure continues…

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