Kyoto certainly wears the crown for most well-known historic spot in Japan, but we shouldn’t forget about nearby Shiga Prefecture, which also has many historic sites. Among those is Taga Taisha,one of the most famous shrines in the prefecture, dedicated to Izanagi.
History of Taga Taisha
The Koji states that “Izanagi rests in Taga in Omi Province.*”.Naturally then, people have long believed that Taga Taisha is where Izanagi resides and his wife Izanami, is also enshrined there. Throughout history many famous people from the likes of Toyotomi Hideyoshi to Chogen, (the guy who rebuilt Todai-ji), visited this shrine. The shrine became especially in the Edo Period, as pilgrims made their way to Ise Jingu, because Izanagi and Izanami are the parents of Ise Jingu’s main diety, Amaterasu.
However, given the fact that the original version of the Kojiki is missing and the other copies of the Kojiki state that Izanagi rests in Awaji [淡路], not Omi[淡海], some people claim that Awaji Shrine, not Taga Taisha is where Izanagi actually resides. Oh well, Izanagi is a god so I guess he can reside in more than one place.
*(Omi Province= Shiga prefecture)
Taga Taisha is only ten minute walk from Taga Taisha-mae station. There is a huge torii in front of the station, so just follow the road that runs underneath it.
Once you enter the shrine, you will see the shrine’s special ema, which shaped like a rice scoop, or shakushi in Japanese.
When Empror Gensho was sick in 8th century, Taga Taisha donated a rice scoop to the emperor and miraculously, he recovered quickly! Today, rice scoops are the shrine’s iconic charm, called Otagajyakushi. Sound familiar? Indeed, the word for tadpole otamajyakushi derives from an old word for rice scoop, otagajyakushi, since the two are similar in shape.
The main building, or honden, of the shrine is surprisingly large!
There is an interesting stone next to the honden, the jyumyoishi [寿命石]. According to legend, Chogen prayed to this stone in hopes of it granting him long life. His prayers were heard and he lived an extra 20 years, so that he could finish Todai-ji. You can purchase a small stone and put it here so that you can prolong your life, too.
Taga Taisha is surprising large, with as many as 15 little shrines. Though none of them are particularly popular, it’s nice to walk around the shrine grounds and enjoy the atmosphere.
Points of Interest
The popular treat in this area is without a doubt itokiri mochi. Itokiri Mochi is a white, blue and red striped mochi filled with anko. The stripes on the mochi represent the ancient Mongolian flag from the time when they they tried to invade Japan in 13th century. To celebrate Japan’s victory, residents near the shrine made these sweets to thank gods in Taga Taisha.
There are several shops that sell itokiri mochi on the street to the shrine, so take your pick and give them a try!!