Vegetarian's Japan Guide

A Guide to Motoise Sansha Shrines – The Origin of Ise Jingu

If you have been to the Ise Jingu (伊勢神宮) in Mie Prefecture, you might be interested in visiting the Motoise Sansha Shrines where the objects of worship of Ise Jingu used to be enshrined. It is also a destination where rock climbing addicts would want to visit, for the worship hall which can only be accessed with a degree of rock climbing skills!

In Fukuchiyama City in northern Kyoto Prefecture, there are three shrines that are collectively known as the Motoise Sansha Shrines (元伊勢三社). The below three shrines are said to be the former shrine of Ise Jingu.

Why are they named “former”? Because the objects of worship that are now enshrined in Ise Jingu were once enshrined in the three shrines.

Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine (元伊勢内宮皇大神社)

Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine is one of the three shrines of Motoise Sansha Shrines.

The god’s mirror that was once enshrined here for four years from BC 59. The mirror then traveled around the country for 54 years before it finally settled at Ise Jingu when the shrine was completed.

Although the mirror isn’t at Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine anymore, the main god at Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine is still Amaterasusume Ōkami (天照皇大神). He is the god with the highest rank in Shintoism and is said to be the god of the Japanese imperial ancestors.

One of the things on the shrine’s precinct is the torii gate. It is called ‘Kuroki no Torii’ (黒木の鳥居) because the trunks that are used to build the gate still have the tree’s bark attached. It is the oldest torii gate style in Japan. And currently, the only other shrine that has a torii gate of this style is the Nonomiya Shrine (野々宮神社) in Sagano (嵯峨野), also in Kyoto.

Next to the thatched roof main worship hall, a cedar tree more than 2,000 years old is another object of worship.

While the natural scenery here is magnificent and looks like it is out of a movie scene, the 300-meter-long approach consists of 220 staircases and has deterred quite a few tourists.

Fun fact: On the winter solstice day, facing the direction of sunrise, you will also be facing the Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture. It is said to be the miracle guided by Amaterasusume Ōkami, the god of the sun.

How to Get to Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine

From Kyoto Tango Railway’s (京都丹後鉄道) Ōeyamaguchinaiku Station (大江山口内宮駅), it is around a 10 to 15-minute walk to the shrine.

  • Refer to HERE for the train timetable.
  • Click “福知山” for train services departing from Fukuchiyama Station.
  • Click “大江山口内宮” for services departing from Ōeyamaguchinaiku Station for Fukuchiyama.

You can also take Fukuchiyama’s Community Bus – Ōe Bus’s (大江バス) Ōeyama no Ie Line (大江山の家線) from Kyoto Tango Railway’s Ōe Station (大江駅) and get off at Naigu-ekimae (内宮駅前).

  • It is also a 10 to 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the shrine.
  • Refer to HERE and click “大江山の家線 ” for the service’s timetable.

Mt. Himurogatake Yōhaijo (日室ヶ嶽 遥拝所)

Another Motoise Sansha Shrine (元伊勢三社), Amanoiwato Shrine (天岩戸神社), is just a 15-minute walk away from Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine. And on the way, you will be passing by this simple worship spot facing a mountain that looks like a pyramid.

From Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine, walking down the hill, the field of view will suddenly open up. And the forbidden land since ancient times, Mt. Himurogatake, will appear in front of you!

Mt. Himurogatake has an altitude of 427 meters. It is a sacred mountain of the god’s advent covered with virgin forest. A huge rock at the top of the mountain is said to be where Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine was originally located.

On the summer solstice day, the sun will disappear from the top of Mt. Himurogatake. As the god of Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine is also known as the god of the sun, the sunset just looks like the moment when Amaterasusume Ōkami (天照皇大神) descends to our world to the pilgrims.

So from 5 pm on the day, a ritual is performed at Mt. Himurogatake Yōhaijo to pray for a safe summer.

How to Get to Mt. Himurogatake Yōhaijo

It is just 200 meters away from Moto Ise Naigu Kōtai Shrine.

Important: Beyond Mt. Himurogatake Yōhaijo, a cliff goes straight down to the bottom of the mountain, so be careful when you are here.

Amanoiwato Shrine (天岩戸神社)

Trekking further down the road, you will soon see a stone torii gate. From there, a series of staircases lead to the valley’s bottom. The staircases are partially covered by moss with ample moisture from the river next to the approach. So hold on to the handrail because you will be walking on slippery surfaces!

The staircases are the approach to the shrine built on top of the bedrock. Amanoiwato Shrine is probably one of the most challenging shrines in the world to worship. Firstly you have some rock climbing to do to get to the top of the bedrock. Then, unless you have a good standing spot, you will have to pay your respect with one hand still grasping the chain.

So to conclude, come here when you are still young (´▽`*).

If you are already too old for it, a worship spot is set up close to the torii gate on the road for you to utilize as well!

Important: Important: For your safety, if the river’s water level is high, please don’t try to climb up the bedrock.

How to Get to Amanoiwato Shrine

From Kyoto Tango Railway (京都丹後鉄道) Ōeyamaguchinaiku Station (大江山口内宮駅) or from the bus stop, Naigu-ekimae (内宮駅前), it is a 20-minute walk.

Moto Ise Gegu Toyoukedaijinja Shrine (元伊勢外宮豊受大神社)

The last Motoise Sansha Shrines (元伊勢三社) is the Moto Ise Gegu Toyoukedaijinja. Although located a bit further away from the other two, it is closer to public transport!

Climbing up the 100 staircases, the shrine, with a simple appearance, can still emit a solemn atmosphere that puts the pilgrims’ hearts at ease.

The Toyouke Daijin (豊受大神) that was enshrined here is looking after agriculture. It is said that the god was only reallocated to the Ise Jingu because of a revelation in a dream from Amaterasusume Ōkami.

The shrine also has a giant cedar tree that is said to be more than 1,500 years old!

How to Get to Moto Ise Gegu Toyoukedaijinja Srhine

  • From Kyoto Tango Railway (京都丹後鉄道)’s Ōekōkō-mae Station (大江高校前駅), it is a 15-minute walk.
  • You can also take Fukuchiyama’s Community Bus – Ōe Bus (大江バス) Ōeyama no Ie Line (大江山の家線) from Kyoto Tango Railway’s Ōe Station (大江駅) and get off at Gegu (外宮). From the bus stop, it is a 5-minute walk.
    • Refer to HERE and click “大江山の家線 ” for the service’s timetable.

Discover Other Awesome Attractions in Fukuchiyama City

There are other amazing natural attractions in Fukuchiyama City, where the Motoise Sansha Shrines. A castle in the city was chosen to be the Top 100 Japanese Castle as well!

To know more about where to visit when you arrive at Fukuchiyama, refer to our article on Fukuchiyama City!

Click the photo for more information about this spot!

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