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Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Hiraoka Shrine: A Scenic Shrine That Holds a Laughing Ritual

Nestled in a sacred area at the foot of Mt. Ikoma (生駒山麓) bordering the Nara Basin, Hiraoka Shrine (枚岡神社) is known as Kawachi Province’s Ichinomiya (河内国一之宮). It means the shrine was the most influential shrine in the Kawachi Province. Because the Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) in Nara enshrines the two main gods in Hiraoka Shrine, Hiraoka Shrine is also known as the Moto-Kasuga (元春日).

Hiraoka Plum Grove

The southern part of the Hiraoka Shrine’s precinct is where the plum grove is. The Hiraoka Plum Grove, which consists of around 500 plums of 23 varieties, is where the locals visit for the plum blossoms from mid-February to early March. You can adore the flowers from the top of the hill, which also overlooks Osaka’s cityscape.

The plum grove was originally occupied by a Ōbakushū (黄檗宗) temple. But it was demolished at the beginning of the Meiji period after a decree of separation of Shintoism and Buddhism was issued. Unfortunately, the initially planted plums had to be cut down due to the trees being infected by a virus a few years ago. So, the plum blossoms you will see are still young.

Tip: The Plum Blossom Festival was held at 10 am on the 1st of March in 2024.

About Hiraoka Shrine

Hiraoka Shrine has a long history. It was established in B657 by Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇) to pray for peace in Japan. Amenokoyane no Mikoto (天児屋根命) and his wife, Himemikami (比売御神), were the two gods enshrined initially. As it is the top shrine in the area, it won’t be surprising that it has vast ground with many buildings scattered on the hill.

The shrine’s original location was in Mt. Ikoma, and it is now called Kamitsudake (神津嶽). If you have time, you can hike up to the sacred spot, which will take you around 90 minutes.

The current main worship hall was renovated in 1826. It was constructed in a special style called Hiraoka-tsukuri (枚岡造). The most unique feature of this style is that the worship halls are connected and built parallel to each other.

Another special thing about the shrine is the deer statues. Dragons are usually used for the purification fountains in Japan. However, in Hiraoka Shrine, water is coming out of a deer’s mouth (the 4th photo in the IG post).

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

In addition, instead of the lion dogs guarding the shrine, the deer takes over the role in Hiraoka Shrine. The deer on the right is the father (the photo above), and the two on the left are the mother and the child.

It is said that by stroking the sacred deer, you can receive blessings such as safety for your family and good health.

But what does deer have anything to do with Hiraoka Shrine? The answer lies with the 4th god enshrined, called Takemikaduchi no Mikoto (武甕槌命). He was originally enshrined in Kashima Jingū (鹿島神宮). When a part of his spirit was ceremonially enshrined in Kasuga Taisha, he rode a white deer to travel across Japan.

Hiraoka Park (枚岡公園)

Nowadays, the precinct is maintained as Hiraoka Park where you can enjoy light hiking to various attractions in the shrine. If you are up for a little bit of challenge, climb up to Hiraoka Observation Deck (枚岡展望台) from the shrine to overlook Osaka Plain (大阪平野).

On a clear day, you can see as far as Mt. Rokkō (六甲山) and Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge (明石海峡大橋) in Kobe and even Awaji Island (淡路島)!

The shrine is at the foot of Mt. Ikoma, receiving ample water from the mountains. Thus, the Hiraoka Shrine has as many as three wells! You will also find a water fountain called Tokowaka no Mizu (常若の水). Please check with the staff to ensure it is safe to drink before drinking it.

Shimekake Shinji Ritual (注連縄掛神事)

If you visit Hiraoka Shrine on the 23rd of December, you can witness the called Shimekake Shinji (注連縄掛神事) at 10 am. It is when the shrine replaced the old Shinto white rope (Shimenawa, 注連縄) with the new rope.

Because those who participate in the ritual need to laugh out loud, the ritual is commonly known as Owarai Shinji (お笑い神事), which means laughing ritual.

The Shimenawa rope is a marker that separates the sacred area from the outside. In Hiraoka Shrine, it is tied between two stone pillars, replacing the lintel.

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

What is the purpose of laughing during the ritual? It is related to the legend of Amano-Iwato (天岩戸). You can refer to our article on Togakushi Shrine for more information.

Essentially, the main god of Hiraoka Shrine, Amenokoyane no Mikoto, opened the stone cave where the God of the Sun was hidden by singing her blessing. The laughing from the crowd in the ritual is to prevent the God of the Sun from hiding in the cave again.

Leaving the legend aside, the Owarai Shinji is a cheerful event. Laughing itself is good for our health, physically and mentally. Even if you were unhappy on the day, you would surely be cheered up by the atmosphere at the event after laughing for 20 minutes.

If you aren’t in a hurry, stay around for the Amanoiwado Biraki Shinji (天の岩戸開き神事), which starts at 5 pm and lasts an hour. The ritual reproduces the legend that the Owarai Shinji is based on.

Hiraoka Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Hiraoka Shrine is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
  • Getting to Hiraoka Shrine is easy. Please get off at Kintetsu’s Hiraoka Station (枚岡駅), and follow the approach from the station’s east exit to the shrine.

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