If you are planning to visit the world heritage Kōyasan, remember to drop by the Niutsuhime Shrine (丹生都比売神社), which is on the pilgrimage route of Kōyasan chōishi-michi (高野山町石道) starting from Jison-in Temple in Kudoyama Town. The shrine has a deep connection with Kōyasan’s founding. One of the gods who is enshrined here – Kariba Myōjin (狩場明神), formally known as Takanomiko no Ookami (高野御子大神), is the god who pointed the way to Kōyasan for Kōbō Daishi.
Niutsuhime Shrine, founded 1700 years ago, was Kii Province’s (紀伊國) biggest shrine. The main god – Niutsuhime no Ookami (丹生都比売大神), is the sister of Amaterasu Oomikami (天照大御神), the goddess of the sun and one of the major deities of Shintoism.
As you would have expected, Niutsuhime Shrine was also registered as a world heritage site.
Ryōbu-torii Gate (両部鳥居)
Niutsuhime Shrine, in the south of Katsuragi Town (かつらぎ町), is located at the foot of Kōyasan at an altitude of 450 meters.
When you arrive at the shrine, you might notice that the torii gate looks a bit fancier than the others you have seen in the country. The gate in front of you has four more pillars and a “black roof” on top of the gate.
The name Ryōbu came from the womb realm and diamond realm of Esoteric Buddhism. This type of torii gate is common among the shrines that have synced Shintoism and Bushism. The most well-known example is the Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) in Miyajima.
Around 1200 years ago, the god who lent a helping hand to Kōbō Daishi in search of an ideal place to build temples for the Shingon Sect was the son of Niutsuhime Shrine’s main god. Because of the encounter, the shrine became the first shrine in Japan that combined Shintoism and Buddhism.
Rinkyō Bridge (輪橋)
Passing through the torii gate, the arch bridge in front of you has a steep slope that you can’t even see what is on the other side!
This bridge is called Rinkyō Bridge, a bridge for the gods to get to the other side of the pond. So when you cross it, remember to walk on either side of the bridge. The center, where no stairs were constructed, is for gods only.
The bridge was gifted by Yodo-dono (淀殿), known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s concubine and second wife.
The Tower Gate (楼門) of Niutsuhime Shrine
After the Rinkyō Bridge, beyond another Ryōbu-torii Gate, it is easy to mistake the tower gate in front of you as a worship hall. After all, this is where pilgrims pray at first!
Together with the main worship hall, the tower gate first built in the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573) has a cypress bark roof and was registered as a National Important Cultural Property.
The flower stands on both sides of the staircase of the tower gate have roses inside them.
On the costume for the shrine’s ritual dancing – Bugakumandaraku (舞楽曼荼羅供), rose flowers are embroidered. This is why roses have become Niutsuhime Shrine’s representing flower.
The Main Worship Hall of Niutsuhime Shrine
The main worship hall is of the style of Kasuga-zukuri (春日造). It is the biggest Kasuga-zukuri building in Japan. Inside each of the smaller halls, a separate god is enshrined.
Niutsuhime Shrine’s Fortune Slip
At Niutsuhime Shrine, various types of fortune slips are prepared to suit your interest. From the ordinary ones where you draw a wooden stick out of a container to fancier ones where the slip is put inside a small container of different shapes (such as a dragonfly), you might have a hard time deciding which type of fortune slip you want to draw (´▽｀*).
If you can’t make up your mind, go with the most famous fortune slip – Michibiki Inu Mikuji (みちびき犬みくじ). The containers are shaped like the two dogs that guided Kōbō Daishi to Kōyasan. The dogs are the messenger of Takanomiko no Ookami (高野御子大神), and if you put the container in your room, it is said the “guide dog” will provide you with guidance for your work, your study, and your relationship!
Suzuhime-gō (すずひめ号) and Daiki-gō (大輝号)
Have you browsed through the photos in the Instagram post above? If so, you will have seen the two dogs of Niutsuhime Shrine. The white one, Suzuhime-gō was offered to the shrine in December 2018. Since then, it has been a participant in the monthly ritual. Suzuhime-gō’s second son, born in September 2019, was later offered to Niutsuhime Shrine too. The grey dog named Daiki-gō started to join the monthly ritual on the 16th of each month from February 2020.
If you are excited to meet them, plan your visit for the 16th of each month. This way, you get to witness the ritual, and afterwards, the friendly dogs will be around to greet the pilgrims!
The dogs will be around for 90 minutes from 10 am and 1 pm on the day of the ritual.
Niutsuhime Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- You can access the shrine any time during the day. The shrine’s office is open from 8:45 am to 4:30 pm.
- Note lighting is limited at night.
- From JR Kaseda Station (笠田駅), take Katsuragi Town’s Community Bus’s (かつらぎ町コミュニティバス) Amano Line (天野コース) and get off at Niutsuhime Jinja-mae (丹生都比売神社前).
- Refer to HERE and click “天野コース” for the timetable. It is in Japanese only.
- The bus is operating every day except from the 31st of December to the 3rd of January.
Futatsu Torii (二ツ鳥居)
In 819, when Kōbō Daishi obtained Kōyasan from the gods Niu Myōjin (丹生明神) and Kariba Myōjin (狩場明神), he put these two torii gates there to mark the precinct of god. So beyond the gates, logging was forbidden.
Back then, the gates were made of wood. In 1649, they were reconstructed with granite by the 243rd head of Kongōbuji (金剛峯寺).
Why did he build two torii gates? The reason is there were two gods! So one gate per god (^_-)-☆. It is where pilgrims can worship the gods from afar.
Niu Myōjin (丹生明神) is another name for Niutsuhime no Ookami (丹生都比売大神).
If you are hiking all the way from Jison-in, you have completed one-third of the pilgrimage route to Kōyasan. Reward yourself by taking a rest at the observatory south of the gate for a wide view of Amano Basin (天野盆地), which features the beauty of Japan’s typical rural landscape.
In early June, corresponding to the stars in the sky, if you head to the river in the area at night, you will be surrounded by fireflies’ butt lights!
How to Get to Futatsu Torii
From JR Kaseda Station (笠田駅), take Katsuragi Town’s Community Bus’s Amano Line (天野コース) and get off at Niutsuhime Jinja-mae (丹生都比売神社前). From the bus stop, it is a 30-minute walk.
Discover more Attractions in Kudoyama that Relates to Kōyasan and the Famous Samurai – Sanada Yukimura
Niutsuhime Shrine isn’t the only attraction outside the sacred mountain but is related to Kōyasan’s founding. There are a few other temples and shrines located around Kudoyama Station that you would want to visit to complete your pilgrimage to Kōyasan.
Also, Kudoyama is known as a town deeply related to the renowned samurai in the Sengoku period – Sanada Yukimura. Being so proud of the town where the Sanadas spent 14 years, the family’s crest can be seen just about anywhere you go!
For more information, please refer to our article on Kudoyama Town (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Discover Kōyasan, One of Japan’s Most Sacred Mountain
Kudoyama is like the prelude to the center of Japan’s Shingon Buddhism.
To find out more divine places to visit during your time at the sacred mountain, please read our article on Kōyasan. You will also find information on restaurants to enjoy the vegetarian Shōjin Ryōri, as well as temples you can stay overnight!