It is very easy to spend a couple hours in Izumo Taisha. Aside from the main shrine, there are plenty of interesting and important small shrines and buildings throughout the shrine grounds. It would take far too long for us to cover absolutely everything in Izumo Taisha, but these are certainly what we think are the things you shouldn’t miss!
The God of Sumo
Before going too much further past the bronze torii, stop and take detour tour your left.
While the little bunnies in sumo garb are to-die-for cute, this shrine is dedicated to Nomino Sukune the 13th head priest of Izumo Taisha who invented sumo and has now been deified as the god of the sport.
The story goes that supposedly, there was once a very strong man who lived in Nara who was so powerful, the emperor requested someone come and defeat him. Sukune answered the call, creating the sport of sumo in the process and thoroughly smashing his opponent to death, yikes.
Okuninushi and Omono-nushi
Just before you make your way through the third and final tori and enter the main shrine grounds, you will see a very interesting statue of Okuni-nushi and what looks like a giant wave with an orb balance on it.
This statue is a more artistic depiction when Okuninushi met Omono-nushi, represented by the gold orb on top of the wave. This is an important moment in the mythology of Okuninushi, because at this moment he realized that he had the support of many gods. This realization in turn, gave him the confidence he needed to become a competent leader.
The Meeting Hall of The Gods
There are two long buildings bordering the main shine. During October, these halls house the uncountable number of all the Earthly Gods of Japan.
As you make your way towards the back of the main shrine, there is a small shrine to Susano-o. He sits here, so that he can keep a watchful eye over his son-in-law, Okuninushi. Read up on the relationship between Susano-o and Okuni here.
Shrine History Museum
There is also a small history museum on the shrine grounds. It’s only about 200 yen, and as the rain was only getting harder and harder, we took refuge from the deluge in there for a good 30 minutes.
Daikokuten is Okuninushi?
Inside we happened upon this guy here.
He is one of the Seven Lucky Gods and god of business Daikokuten. He is a from a unique practice called shinbutsu-shugou [神仏習合],which blended Buddhist gods and Shinto gods. Emperor Meiji, however, in an effort to purify the Shinto religion, did his best to put an end shinbutsu-shugou. He was wholly unsuccessful, as shrines and temples even today throughout Japan often contain elements of both religions. It is important to remember that shinbutsu-shugou is not Shinto, and all of their hybrid deities are separate entities from the gods that created them.
Any beginner of Japanese will tell you that each kanji has two readings in Japanese, the on and the kumi readings that will dictate how the word read. If we want to make Okuni-nushi-(no)-kami into kanji, we would get: 大国主の神
Daikokuten is written as 大黒天
The second kanji 黒, however, can be replaced with the kanji国, whose On reading is koku.
We then get this –> 大国天.
While modern Japan enjoys a near perfect literacy rate now, low literacy was the norm centuries ago. Not to mention with shinbutsu-shugou combining deities with other deities, it easy to see how the average person might mistake Okuni for Daikokuten and vice versa. Not to mention, in the Tale of Inaba, Okuni carries his brothers luggage on his back, and Daikokuten always carrys his bag of good fortune [福袋]
I do not mean to imply that Daikokuten has been placed here inappropriately; he is connected to the history of Okuni and would not exist without him, but I wanted to take time to elaborate on the distinction between the two, as there has been confusion over Daikokuten and Okuni, even amongst Japanese people.
The area immediately near famous shrines in Japan are often famous for some kind of noodle; In Ise Jingu it’s the udon, in Miwa Shrine it’s the soumen, and in Izumo Taisha it’s soba.
The restaurant we found was very close to the shrine. Lucky for us too, since the weather was really rough that day.
We managed to catch the very tail end of their lunch special, which was a course of soba three ways, a small serving of sushi, and some miso. This whole spread was all for a little more than 1,000 yen.
Feeling a little bit refreshed and a little drier, we set out for our onsen for some much earned relaxation.
Coming next time,
Yaegaki Jinja, the shrine where you can find love?
The adventure continues…