Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Haruna Shrine: The Most Powerful Shrine in Gunma Prefecture

On the southwest of Lake Haruna, Haruna Shrine (榛名神社) has been looking after the region since the late 6th century. The 30-minute walk on the approach from the torii gate to the main worship hall is so mysterious that some sort of sacred power is gained just by taking a short journey! This is especially true after you walk past the Seven Lucky Gods (七福神).

The Engishikinaisha (延喜式内社) style shrine was erected to worship Mt. Haruna, making it a training ground for Mt. Haruna’s mountain worshippers. The main gods enshrined are the God of Fire (Homusubi no Kami, 火産霊神) and the God of Earth (Haniyamahime no Kami, 埴山毘売神). Since ancient times, pilgrims have visited the shrine to pray for prosperity and business success.

More recently, the shrine is known as a spot where your wishes can come true in the Kantō region. People traveling from the prefectures nearby would often seek help from the gods to achieve their goals.

Because of its long history, most of the architecture in Haruna Shrine’s precinct are National Important Cultural Properties. Even a lantern at the side of the approach has its own story!

Table of Content

Ichi no Torii Gate (一ノ鳥居) and Ni no Torii Gate (ニノ鳥居)

Haruna Shrine’s red first torii gate (Ichi no Torii Gate) is located more than 5 km down the mountain from the main torii gate. You won’t even go past it if you drive from Lake Haruna. So if you want to do a proper pilgrimage, you must enter from Takasaki City’s Muroda area (室田).

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The bronze Ni no Torii Gate is located in front of the shrine’s Zuishinmon Gate. It is where most people started their pilgrimage.

Remember to bow once before passing through the torii gate. Also, you should walk along the sidewalk and leave the middle empty for the gods.

Zuishinmon Gate (随神門)

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Beyond the shrine’s torii gate is an old but majestic wooden gate decorated with delicately curving stands. It was restored in 1847.

Before Buddhism was separated from Shintoism in 1868, Haruna Shrine was known as Gandenji Temple (榛名山厳殿寺), and the gate was the temple’s mountain gate. After the separation, the two Niō statues were replaced by two Zuijin statues, so everything in the shrine’s precinct is Shinto-related.

After passing Zuishinmon Gate, you can greet the first statue of the Seven Lucky Gods. This lucky god can give you blessings, and grant wishes for smooth relationships with your colleagues. If you are a performance artist, you would want him to care for you, too!

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Haruna Shrine’s Solemn Approach

The 700-meter approach stretching from Zuishinmon has a solemn atmosphere. Lined by numerous tall cedars and fresh green moss-covered stone fences and with the water flowing sound from the stream on the right, the approach is refreshing to walk on, even on a hot summer day.

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Towards the end of the approach, after passing the small red Misogi Bridge (みそぎ橋), there is a rather famous cafe and souvenir shop called Misogi Cafe (みそぎ屋). It is rumored that if you purchase a plum manjū (梅まんじゅう) and eat it as you stand on the Misogi Bridge while making a wish, monetary luck will come your way. Apparently, a couple of pilgrims have won the lottery just by following these simple steps!

So if you are interested in performing this simple ritual, visit Haruna Shrine early before the buns are sold out!

The plum manjū buns come in 2 colors, pink and white. Both of them are suitable for the ritual.

Jinhōden (神宝殿) and Gyōjakei Valley (行者渓)

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Jinhōden, also known as Sanjū no Tō (三重の塔), is a 3-story pagoda that was completed in 1869. It is a building that syncretizes Shinto and Buddhism. Apparently, it is the only pagoda in Gunma Prefecture.

At the other end of a tunnel from Jinhōden, there is a red Shinkyō Bridge (神橋) crossing a deep valley known as Gyōjakei. It was where the mountain worshippers would train, thus the name.

The valley’s scenery consisting of strangely shaped rocks is captivating from Shinkyō Bridge. But this is just the starters. Beyond the bridge are even more enormous and amazingly shaped rocks.

Mannen Spring (萬年泉)

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You will encounter a well following the stone stairs close to Shinkyō Bridge. Its name means a ‘spring whose water never dries up’.

Since ancient times, the water from the well has been used in many rain-praying rituals and is said to be effective.

Misuzu Falls (瓶子の滝) and Omizuya (御水屋)

Proceed further towards Haruna Shrine’s main hall, there is a small waterfall. Because the shape formed by the rocks that sandwiched the waterfall resembles the bottle that holds the sacred wine offered to the god, they were named Misuzu. The waterfall that falls into the “sake bottle” was thus named Misuzu Falls.

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After checking out the waterfall, don’t forget to turn around and rinse your hands and mouth at Omizuya, Haruna Shrine’s purification fountain.

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Yatatesugi (矢立杉) and Miyukiden (神幸殿)

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Amongst the many tall trees in Haruna Shrine’s precinct, the 55-meter-tall cedar might catch your attention. It is just opposite Omizuya and on the left of the staircase leading to Shōryūmon Gate.

The tree named Yatatesugi is a designated National Natural Monument (国の天然記念物). It is said that the famous warrior Takeda Shingen (武田信玄) shot an arrow from the cedar to pray for victory to take down Minowa Castle (箕輪城).

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The old building next to Yatatesugi is called Miyukiden. Completed in 1859, it is where many of Haruna Shrine’s rituals are held. During the ritual, the god enshrined in the main worship hall is transferred by a portable shrine to Miyukiden. Prayers and performances will then take place.

Shōryūmon Gate (双龍門)

The most unforgettable architecture in Haruna Shrine has to be the Shōryūmon Gate. Constructed underneath magnificent dark-colored rocks, realistic dragon images are carved throughout the gate. From its shape, the left rock behind the gate was named Halbert Rock (Hoko-iwa, 鉾岩). It is also called Candle Rock (ローソク岩) due to its shape.

The gate is so majestic looking that it feels like it is holding some kind of power energy within it!

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Although they are all discolored, the dragon carvings on the gate look so lively that it seems like they could fly out any second! This is why the gate was named Shōryū.

When Shōryūmon was reconstructed in 1855, around 2,280 people were involved in reconstructing it!

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Honden (本殿)

Haruna Shrine’s most important worship halls are located behind Shōryūmon Gate, including Honden (本殿), Hokusosha (国祖社), Gakuden (額殿), and Kaguraden (神楽殿). The worship halls were built against the rocky cliffs to form a rectangular square. Although Honden is the main worship hall, reconstructed in 1806, it is a relatively newer building.

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The main hall, Honden, is particularly unique. It is formed by three buildings: Honsha (本社) at the back, Haiden (拝殿) at the front, and Heiden (幣殿) in the middle. While it would seem like the worship hall is just in front of the cliff, if you view it from the side, you will realize the Haiden is built in the rock.

The rock is called Misugata Rock (御姿岩). It is Honden’s object of worship. Haruna Shrine’s main god is enshrined in the part of the building in the rock. According to the priest, it is also where you can gain sacred power.

Hokusosha (国祖社), Gakuden (額殿), and Kaguraden (神楽殿)

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The worship halls on the left of Honden are Hokusosha and Gakuden. They are Haruna Shrine’s auxiliary shrines. Hokusosha was first completed between 1716 and 1736, followed by Gakuden, Hokusosha’s annex. Gakuden was completed in 1814 as a place to view the performance at Kaguraden.

It wouldn’t be hard to tell that the buildings have existed for centuries, given that the wooden plaques hung are all old-looking and discolored. The gods enshrined there are all related to Haruna Shrine’s main god.

Opposite Honden, Kaguraden was reconstructed in 1764. It is where shrine maidens would give dance performances to entertain the gods.

The reason that the performance stage’s floor is of the same height as Honden is to allow the gods in Honden to see the performances clearly.

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The Iron Lantern (鉄灯篭)

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In front of the Kaguraden at Gakuden’s left, an iron lantern is fenced. Determined to be made in 1323, it is Gunma Prefecture‘s oldest iron lantern.

The lantern is said to be offered by Niita Yoshisada (新田義貞), a feudal lord in the early 14th century.

Water Fortune Slip (ご神水開運おみくじ)

Haruna Shrine is also known as a shrine to pray for rain. In the good old days, a bamboo water bottle filled with the shrine’s sacred water was given to pilgrims after a prayer ritual. The pilgrims would then perform another rain-praying ritual with the sacred water in areas where rain is needed. It is said that the ritual is really effective!

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So in addition to the normal fortune slips, Haruna Shrine also offers visitors water fortune slips. After obtaining a blank fortune slip from the tables in front of the Kaguraden, pour water over it at the Suikinkutsu opposite Misogi Cafe on your way back down. Your fortune will soon be revealed. If you are not happy with your fortune, insert the slip into the gigantic Kaiun Lantern (廻運燈篭) nearby.

Don’t worry about not being able to find the Suikinkutsu. It has a large explanation board with the image of the water fortune slip next to it (refer to the photo on the right above)!

The lantern has 12 boxes. Each box has been assigned to a specific zodiac. Spin the lantern after putting your fortune slip into a box representing your zodiac sign. By doing so, good luck will follow (^_-)-☆.

Before the Haruna Shrine disposes of your fortune slip, the priest will give blessings to it, hoping that the person who has drawn the slip will live a happy life.

Regarding the Suikinkutsu, it is said that if you listen to the clear sound it produces with your life partner, you will live happily thereafter. This is why you might see couples pouring water down the Suikinkutsu together during your visit.

Tsudura Rock (九折岩)

The last thing we want to introduce is Tsudura Rock.

If you follow the promenade along the Haruna River from Haruna Shrine to Mt. Haruna and walk for around 20 minutes, there is a rock called Tsudura-iwa. It is as if the cliff was once alive as it stretches towards the sky. Because the rocks are stacked on top of each other like a Genga, it was named Tsudura.

Haruna Shrine’s Fall Foliage Season

Haruna Shrine’s autumn foliage season is usually from late October to mid-November.

Haruna Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Haruna Shrine is open from:
    • 7 am to 6 pm from April to September
    • 7 am to 5 pm from October to March
  • From JR Takasaki Station west exit (高崎駅西口), take Gunma Bus’s service bound for Lake Haruna and get off at Haruna Jinja-mae (榛名神社前).
    • The bus trip takes around 70 minutes.
  • If you plan to come from Ikaho Onsen, take the Gunma Bus service bound for Harunako Onsen Yusuge and get off at the terminal stop. From Harunako Onsen Yusuge, take the Gunma Bus service bound for Takasaki Station West Exit and get off at Haruna Shrine.

Exploring Lake Haruna and Mt. Haruna

Click the photo for more information about Lake Haruna and Mt. Haruna!

The trio, Haruna Shrine, Lake Haruna, and Mt. Haruna are located so close together that many people will visit them one after another in one day. If you plan on driving, it will only take around 20 minutes to travel between Haruna Shrine and Lake Haruna. So if you have a day to spare, how about exploring another scenic destination in Takasaki City after visiting Haruna Shrine in the morning?

For more information, refer to our Mt. Haruna and Lake Haruna article!

Discover Other Attractions in Ikaho Onsen

Not too far from Lake Haruna, Ikaho Onsen is one of the most well-known hot spring towns in Gunma Prefecture. Not only does it have mineral-rich hot springs and is filled with delicious cafes and shops, but the onsen town also offers amazing scenery!

So refer to our Best Guide to the Must-Visit Spots in Ikaho Onsen to plan your visit!

Ikaho Stone Stairway Ikaho Onsen Shibusawa Gunma Japan
Click the photo for more information about Ikaho Onsen’s attractions!