When visiting Sendai, a must-see shrine would be the Ōsaki Hachimangū (大崎八幡宮). It is the only place in the Tohōku region that houses a National Treasure. The shrine was erected in 1607 as the guardian shrine for Sendai and carries Date Masamune’s (伊達政宗, Sendai Domain’s first lord) hope to bring happiness to his subjects. Even today, the shrine still plays an essential role to Sendai’s citizens. Ōsaki Hachimangū is also where athletes pray for victory before important matches. If you are a fan of the famous Japanese figure skater, Hanyu Yuzuru, or a Sendai-based Japanese sports team, Ōsaki Hachimangū should be on your pilgrimage site list!
Ōsaki Hachimangū’s Origin
The Ōsaki Hachimangū Shrine we see today was originally a shrine called Chinjufu Hachimangū (鎮守府八幡宮), established by a Shōgun named Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上田村麻呂) in the Heian period (794 – 1185). At the time, Tamuramaro led an army to suppress the unrest in the Tōhoku region. To pray for a victory, he ceremonially transferred a divided Hachiman Daijin’s spirit from Usa Jingū (宇佐神宮) in Ōita Prefecture, the head shrine of all Hachimangū in Japan.
In the Muromachi period (1336 – 1576), the shrine was relocated to Ōsaki City by the head of the Ōsaki clan, who was in charge of the region. The shrine was thus called Ōsaki Hachimangū.
After the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い), Date Masamune returned to Sendai, which was when the Sendai Domain was formed. He then moved Ōsaki Hachimangū to the northwest entrance of Sendai Castle’s castle town, where the shrine currently sits.
Tip: It takes around 30 minutes to explore Ōsaki Hachimangū.
Ōsaki Hachimangū Ichi no Torii (一之鳥居)
Assuming you visit Ōsaki Hachimangū by taking public transportation, you will be welcomed by the gigantic torii gate at the side of the prefectural road. While splendid, the torii gate doesn’t quite blend in with the surrounding township, making it clear that behind the gate, something unique awaits!
If you pay close attention to the “Hachi (八)” of the Hachimangū on the plaque attached to the top of the gate, you will notice the word “eight” is formed by two doves!
The vicinity past this torii gate (called Ichi no Torii) is considered the grounds of Ōsaki Hachimangū, a place reputed to be filled with cultural properties and nature.
Ōsaki Hachimangū Ni no Torii (二之鳥居)
Ni no Torii, standing shortly after Ichi no Torii, is a stone torii gate completed in 1668 and was donated by Sendai Domain’s fourth lord, Date Tsunamura (伊達綱村). The gate was made using granite from Iwate Prefecture‘s Ichinoseki City (一関市) and is now a prefectural tangible cultural property.
Behind the Ni no Torii, you will cross the bridge built atop the small artificial river that is a part of the Yotsuya Irrigation (四ツ谷用水). The irrigation was constructed across Sendai under the order of Date Masamune and was the essential water supply for the locals until the early 20th century.
Then, you will get to a staircase that is 100-step tall. Whilst it may look ordinary, the stone staircase leading to the main worship hall is a designated cultural property of Sendai City.
Once you are at the top of the staircase, the third and last torii gate of Ōsaki Hachimangū awaits.
At the left of the approach is a space for horseback archery rituals and the venue of the Matsutaki Matsuri (松焚祭), a big festival held in January. You will also find the shrine office on the left of the horseriding grounds.
Ōsaki Hachimangū’s Shrine Office and Auxiliary Shrines
Buying Omamori amulets and drawing fortune tips won’t be something you do at the shrine’s office. Ōsaki Hachimangū’s shrine office is a place for entertaining architecture enthusiasts, allowing them to examine this designated national cultural property in detail. There are also a couple of small shrines located next to the shrine’s office. Each of them has a different god enshrined. So don’t forget to pay them a visit for the below benefits!
- Suwa-sha (諏訪社): enshrining a god who protects water and controls birth and death
- Kashima-sha (鹿島社): enshrining a god of martial arts spirit and determination
Hokushin-sha (北辰社): enshrining the god who created the universe
- Ryūjin-sha (龍神社): enshrining a dragon god who controls rainfall
- Daigen-sha (大元社): enshrining Daigensuimyōō (大元帥明王) or Āṭavaka in Hindi, who repels evil spirits and brings good fortune
Othering Interesting Spots Along Ōsaki Hachimangū’s Main Approach
Before you proceed further to the main worship hall, remember to check out the large stone ema plaque placed above a stone pedestal on the right of the approach. It is probably the only stone ema plaque you will find in Japanese shrines!
Apparently, the pedestal was the base of a bronze horse statue made in 1925. But during the Second World War, it was seized by the government to repurpose the bronze it was made of. So a stone ema plaque was made in 1959 to replace the horse statue. After all, the ema plaque was developed from real horses!
Refer to our article on the Kifune Shrine for the evolution of ema plaque (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Close to the stone ema plaque, there is a horse stable. The stable is also a designated national cultural property. Until the end of World War Two, the shrine’s horses were kept here. Next to the stable, there is a cafe space called Kura (鞍), a place to enjoy some delicious traditional Japanese sweets and matcha green tea.
With many types of cherry blossoms planted in Ōsaki Hachimangū’s precinct, the cherry blossom season at Ōsaki Hachimangū is long. Usually, you can adore the beauty of the flowers from the end of March to early May!
Just in front of the main worship hall, there is a building called Nagatoko. In Japanese, Nagatoko originated from Shugendō (修験道). It was where practitioners made their prayers. Now, it is an elongated temple or shrine building in front of the main hall.
Compared to the main hall, Ōsaki Hachimangū’s Nagatoko is rather plain. But it is one of two Nagatokos in Japan designated as important national cultural properties! The other one is in Kumano Shrine in Kitakata (喜多方市) in Fukushima Prefecture.
While the exact construction date remains unclear, the building has existed since 1686, making it the oldest Nagatoko in the Miyagi Prefecture.
Shugendō (修験道) originated in Japan. It is derived from animistic beliefs and embraces Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism. It aims to cultivate spiritual power through ascetics in holy mountains.
At Nagatoko, you will find many ema plaques. Many of them were hung by sports players and athletes. As the god enshrined in Ōsaki Hachimangū looks after victory, many professional sports teams based in Sendai pray at the shrine before the season starts.
This is also where you find Hanyu Yuzuru’s ema!
Before the 2017 Winter Olympics, Yuzuru prayed for his victory at Ōsaki Hachimangū. Thus, You will find many ema plaques from Yuruzu’s fans filled with prayers for him.
Another thing that you will find at Nagatoko is Daruma Dolls. Different from the Daruma Dolls that are made of wood you might have encountered, the ones at Ōsaki Hachimangū are all made of paper. This type of Daruma Doll is called Matsukawa Daruma (松川だるま).
The Daruma Dolls is a type of local handicraft Sendai Hariko (仙台張子). The craftwork originated from the Edo period, created by the Sendai Domain’s samurais. The dolls were created for the commoners to enjoy life. And because Daruma Dolls are auspicious items, it is one of the most popular Sendai Hariko.
The Main Worship Hall – Goshaden (御社殿)
There will be no doubt that the highlight of your visit to Ōsaki Hachimangū is the Goshaden. The hall, constructed in the luxurious Gongen-tsukuri style (権現造り), is the only National Treasure in the region.
Completed before Tokugawa Ieyasu passed away, and thus the Nikkō Tōshō-gū (日光東照宮), it is the first Gongen-tsukuri style building and the oldest building in Japan from the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568 – 1603).
As you can imagine, building something of this scale requires a lot of time. In 1604, Date Masamune invited top-class artisans around the country, and it took them three years to complete the construction. Whether internal or external, the building is lacquered and decorated with colorful golden fittings!
Tip: If you want to examine the interior of the worship hall, apply for a private ritual or praying session.
If you are after Omamori amulets, fortune slips, or even a Matsukawa Daruma, Saigi-tō, to the right of the Goshaden, is the next place you want to visit between 9 am and 5 pm. It is also where you apply for private ritual and praying sessions.
At the resting space, you can also learn more about how the shrine maintains the Goshaden by watching the documentary.
- Saigi-tō is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
- Applications for rituals are open from 9 am to 4 pm.
Heading Home from the North Approach – Kita Sandō (北参道)
In autumn, the part of the shrine with the most vivid scenery is the North Approach, parallel to the Goshaden. It is also the approach leading to the shrine’s free car park at the back of Goshaden.
What lines the approximately 150-meter approach are numerous maple trees that dye themselves in a bright color come autumn.
The Kita Sandō Torii that separates the shrine’s precinct and the parking lot is said to be the biggest torii gate in the Miyagi Prefecture. The 8-meter wide and 7-meter tall torii gate was made from 300-year-old Hinoki trees from Aomori Prefecture.
The Car Purification Site (自動車祓所)
At the side of the shrine’s car park, you will encounter a Car Purification Site. The purification ritual was previously performed on the animals used to carry humans, including cows or horses. But since cars have become more common, the ritual was transformed into one suitable to perform on cars.
So if you live in Japan and want to be blessed with a year of road-traffic safety, apply at Saigi-tō. After the ritual, you will be given an Omamori (amulet) with your name, the date of the ritual, and your car plate number written.
After the shrine receives your application, the ritual will be performed within 30 minutes. But note that the ritual won’t be performed from the 1st to the 15th of January and when festivals and events are on.
Important: The car park is closed at 6 pm
The Roosters at Ōsaki Hachimangū
When you stroll around in Ōsaki Hachimangū, you will most likely run into one of the shrine’s five roosters. Since the shrine brought them back, they became one of the highlights of the shrine!
While the roosters normally stay in the temple’s spacious vicinity, there were times when one of them was brought back by the local police (´▽｀*). Because of these roosters, the connection between the shrine and the locals has deepened.
So why roosters? If you know some Japanese language, it won’t be hard to gather how chickens relate to shrines. The word torii originates from chickens perching atop a tree (according to one theory). So to shrines, chickens are treated as god’s messengers.
Another reason the roosters are kept in the precinct is that Ōsaki Hachimangū’s priest hopes people who visit the shrine can be at ease from coming into contact with living creatures.
Chicken and Ōsaki Hachimangū
According to the legend, there was a chicken with golden feathers came to the railing of a bridge and cried every night. Annoyed by the chicken, the locals visit Hachimangū Shrine to complain to the god. This is when they saw this chicken walking into an ema plaque.
To stop the chicken from coming out at night, people put a mesh around the ema. However, just when the locals hoped they could finally have a good night’s sleep, the town was flooded by heavy rain that night. This was when they realized the chicken was trying to inform them of the natural disaster to come.
To commemorate the event, the bridge where the chicken cried was named Tori-hashi (鶏橋), which is close to Ōsaki Hachimangū!
If you don’t know the story, the bridge might be just another one in Japan. But we are sure it has become a spot that you want to visit after knowing the legend (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Tori-hashi Bridge isn’t marked on Google Maps. It is close to 5-Chōme-2 Hachiman Aoba Ward (青葉区八幡5丁目2).
Matsutaki Matsuri (松焚祭)
While several big rituals and festivals are held at Ōsaki Hachimangū throughout the year, the biggest and the most exciting festival has to be the Matsutaki Matsuri, held from the 14th to the early dawn of the 15th of January. It is a ritual where the shrine burns the prior year’s New Year’s pine decoration (松飾り), and old amulets are collected from the pilgrims to pray for a disease-free year and prosperity for their businesses. Each year, around 100 thousand people participate in this magnificent event!
Matsutaki Matsuri is also known as the Donto Matsuri (どんと祭) from how the Japanese describe the raging fire. The flame is believed to be a medium to pass people’s prayers to the gods. In addition, the fire purifies the participants’ minds and bodies, bringing peace to the pilgrims and their families.
Moreover, the festival has some “naked” elements. As a part of the ritual, a procession is formed by thousands of men with their clothes off during the middle of winter!
How to Get to Ōsaki Hachimangū
- From JR Kunimi Station (国見駅), a 15 to 20-minute walk.
- From JR Tohokufukushidai-Mae Station (東北福祉大前駅), a 10 to 15-minute walk.
- You can also take a bus from JR Sendai Station’s (仙台駅) bus stop no. 10 or no. 15 at the west exit. Many of the services stop at the bus stop, Ōsaki Hachimangū-mae (大崎八幡宮前), or a bus stop close to the shrine.
- Sendai Sightseeing City Loop Bus, Loople Sendai (るーぷる仙台), also stops at Ōsaki Hachimangū-mae
- Refer to the official website HERE for the service’s timetable and bus fare.
Discover Other Fantastic Attractions in Sendai
You might not be aware of it, but Sendai, the Tōhoku region‘s biggest city, receives more than 20 million tourists each year!
So if you want to find out how Sendai managed to attract so many people to visit it, refer to our article on Sendai, which is filled with historical, cultural, and natural attractions (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.