Mikami Shrine: The Treasure of Yasu, Shiga
Many people flock to Kyoto to experience the rich history of Japan, but just a quick jump north is Shiga Prefecture. Though it is often brushed off as not having anything of interest other than Lake Biwa, but if you pay attention, you will be surprised how many history this prefecture has! Specifically, Shiga Prefecture has many buildings that hold tremendous historic and cultural value. One such example is Mikami Shrine, built on the foot of Mt. Mikami.
The closest station to Mikami Shrine is Yasu Station. From Yasu Station, you have to walk 30 minutes to the shrine and unfortunately, there is no bus service available. Despite the connivence of direct transportation, the shrine is that it is easy to find as Mt. Mikami is so big that you can see it practically everywhere in the city.
Shrine legend says that Mt. Mikami is a sacred place because 2,200 years ago the god Amenomikage no Mikoto came to live on this mountain. In the Kojiko, Amenomikage no Mikoto, also goes by the name Amenomahitotsu no Kami, who is the god of blacksmiths. Though there is no evidence the shrine is quite that old, its main buildings do date back to the 8th century– which is indeed very old!
Though Mikami Shrine is not a big shrine, its gate is really gigantic!
Just after you enter the gate, you will see the main hall, the honden, right away. It was built 700 years ago (during the Kamakura Period), which is quite old for a shrine. It is great that we can get quite close to the honden!
One thing you immediately notice are the walls of the shrine. It is common for the main hall of Shinto shrines to have bare wooden walls however, the walls of Mikami Shrine are white.
Also, if you pay careful attention, you can see the characteristics of temples everywhere in this building. It even look like a temple, but the chigi (the x -like structures on the roof) are unmistakable proof that this in indeed a shrine. Perhaps once, this shrine was “half temple”, sort of like Hiyoshi Shrine. In any case, this shrine is very unique and very old, making it a national treasure.
In front of the honden is the prayer hall, haiden, also built in the Kamakura Period. This building is also quite old, but it seems this is not a national treasure?
After visiting the shrine, make sure to visit Mt. Mikami too! It is right next to the shrine and should only take an hour or two to reach the top. Just be sure to bring enough food and drink before you leave for Mikami Shrine!