Do you feel like nothing you have done recently has gone smoothly? Then, next time you visit Japan’s Kansai region, you may want to stop by Tamura Shrine (田村神社). Known for its power to help pilgrims get rid of their bad luck, it is also a popular place to pray for a safe upcoming trip.
The Origin of Tamura Shrine
Tamura Shrine was established in 812, featuring Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (坂上田村麻呂) as its main god. From the late 8th to the early 9th century, Tamuramaro was a court noble and shōgun (general). He served a total of three Japanese emperors, Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇), Emperor Heizei (平城天皇), and Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇).
Emperor Saga was also enshrined in Tamura Shrine.
The shrine is located at the border of the Ōimi and Ise Province (current Shiga and Mie Prefectures). Before a proper road, Tōkaidō (東海道), was constructed there, people had to travel through the mountainous Suzuka-Tōge Pass (鈴鹿峠) to arrive at the other side of the border.
Back in the 8th century, many bandits gathered at Mt. Suzuka and eyed the fortunes carried by travelers. The frequent robbery events in the region finally made the imperial court order an army to be sent there to defeat the bandits. The warrior who led that army was Tamuramaro.
After Tamuramaro accomplished his mission, he fired an arrow as a gesture of purification ritual. It is said that bamboo sprouted from the soil where the arrow had landed. Thus, a shrine was constructed. Even today, the bamboo that grew at the time can still be seen in front of the worship hall!
The locals often described the bandits as demons, so as Tamuramaro was enshrined at Tamura Shrine, people believed that he had the power to disperse the evil spirits and the bad luck they brought with them.
This is why two giant arrows cross above the gate at the end of the approach.
The Otearai River (御手洗川)
In front of the main hall is a river flow known as the Otearai River.
In the past, the pilgrims bathed in this river before entering the worship hall. After all, you must show respect to the god you worship, so looking dirty is not ideal.
One of the main roles that the Otearai River still plays today is to wash away the bad luck on the last day of winter (called Setsubun (節分) in Japanese).
On this day, roasted soybeans are traditionally thrown out of the front door or at someone wearing a demon mask. The beans are referred to as fortune beans (Fukumame (福豆)). Evil spirits are believed to be chased away by throwing the beans out of the door or at the demon-masked person. Therefore, fortunes will come in without evil spirits in the house.
So how does this ritual have anything to do with the river? Well, apparently, Tamuramaro delivered a sacred message in a dream. In this dream, it is believed he said that bad luck would be swept away if fortune beans were flowing down the river. Since then, instead of throwing beans, at Tamura Shrine, people let the exact number of beans that represent their age flow down the river. It is like the fortune beans carry your age’s worth of bad luck flowing away from you. A simple purification ritual that pilgrims have performed in all age groups!
On a normal day, your heart has already been cleansed as you walk through the solemn atmosphere created by the dense forest and cross the fresh stream flowing underneath Taiko Bridge (太鼓橋).
Tip: One of the fall foliage spots is at the bridge on the left of the main worship hall. But it can be hard to get the correct lighting for photos.
If you are a fan of traditional architecture, remember to check out the intricate carvings around the eaves and under the ceiling of the worship halls.
Tip: If you don’t mind the non-vegetarian broth, the udon noodle shop at Tamura Shrine opens on Sunday from 6 am to 1 pm or until the noodles are sold out. A bowl of noodles only costs 200 yen!
Tamura Festival (田村まつり)
Tamura Festival, officially Yakuyoke Daisai (厄除大祭), is the ritual of chasing away evil spirits.
The origin of the ritual started in 812 when people suffered from a year of bad harvest while the epidemic was prevalent. Under the order of Emperor Saga, rituals and prayers were continued for three days. It is said that those who suffered from the epidemic recovered quickly afterwards.
Since then, similar rituals have been held from the 17th to the 19th of February. Placing fortune beans down the flowing river is one of them!
If you want to participate in the event, you can purchase fortune beans from the shrine’s office at 200 yen per bag. Many temporary stalls will also be set up during the festivals, ensuring you have enough food to eat and keep you warm.
Tamura Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- The shrine office is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
- From JR Kibukawa Station (貴生川駅), take Kaga Area Community Bus (甲賀地区コミュニティバス) bound for Tamura Jinja or Ōgawara (大河原) from the south exit and get off at Tamura Jinja (田村神社).
- As the number of services is limited, please refer to HERE and click (土山本線（上り）and 土山本線（下り）underneath the 2nd map.
Discover Other Fascinating Attractions in Kōka City
Kōka City is known for its ninja-themed attractions and is the hometown of one of the Six Ancient Kilns in Japan.
Furthermore, there are a couple of hidden gems for cherry blossom and fall foliage hunting. So check out our article on Kōka City and start planning your next trip (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.