Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Complete Guide to the Sacred Togakushi Shrine

Togakushi is a quaint village an hour from Nagano City Centre. Togakushi Shrine is the main attraction no visitor should miss out on. The Shrine, with a vast precinct, is surrounded by rich nature. It is the best place to visit to know more about the area’s history. After all, the village’s name deeply connects with the gods enshrined here!

Centuries ago, Togakushi used to thrive as a place of mountain worship and as the training ground of Shūgendō (修験道) to cultivate spiritual power through ascetics in holy mountains. It might be surprising to some, but Togakushi Shrine was initially established as Togakushiyama Kenkōji Temple (戸隠山 顕光寺) 2,000 years ago.

In the Kamakura period, along with Mt. Hiei and Kōyasan, Mt. Togakushi was known as Sanzenbō Sanzan (三千坊三山), which was used to describe the enormous number of practitioners and worshipers that were once gathered at Togakushi.

In the Edo period (1603 – 1867), Togakushi also received support from the Tokugawa Clan, with many small temples built around Chū-sha and Hōkō-sha to accommodate the pilgrims from around the country.

Even after the separation of Buddhism from Shintoism during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century, you can still see traces of the past property of Togakushi, where many monks of Shūgendō trained in.

The Five Shrines of Togakushi Shrine

Togakushi Shrine, established more than 2,000 years ago, is largely divided into the lower, middle, and upper shrine areas. Each is about 2 km apart. Within these areas, five sub-shrines of the Togakushi Shrine are scattered around. The best way to explore the entire Togakushi Shrine is by following the below sequence.

Togakushi Hōkō-sha (宝光社) ⇒ Hinomiko-sha (火ノ御子社) ⇒ Togakushi Chū-sha (中社) ⇒ Togakushi Oku-sha (奥社) ⇒ Kuzuryū-sha (九頭龍社)

From Hōkō-sha to Kuzuryū-sha, it will be a 2 to 3-hour trek. If you don’t want to walk between the five shrines and can’t access a car, you can take a bus instead. But just keep in mind that from the car park and the closest bus stop, it takes an hour to get to Oku-sha and Kuzuryū-sha.

How to Get to Togakushi Shrine by Bus

To get to Togakushi Shrine by bus, take Alpico Bus’s route 70 or 73 from Nagano Station or Zenkōji Temple.

Nagano Station’s bus stop is just in front of the Alpico Kōtsu Nagano Station Information Centre.

  • For those who are starting the journey from Ichi no Torii (一の鳥居), please only take route 70 and get off at Mt. Iizuna Trailhead (飯綱登山口). This bus stop is closer to the car park and the toilet.
  • If you want to go straight to Togakushi Shrine, both bus routes stop at Togakushi Hōkō-sha (戸隠神社 宝光社).
  • Refer to HERE for the timetable and bus fare.
    • The timetable is abbreviated. Mt. Iizuna Trailhead is 3 stops before Soba Museum.
  • For a complete timetable for Route 70 and Route 73, please refer to HERE.
    • “平日” means weekday
    • “土日祝” means weekends and public holidays.

Tip: If you are planning a day trip to Togakushi, get the Zenkōji & Togakushi 1-Day Ticket from Alpico Kotsu Nagano Station Information Center to save before boarding the Nagano Station bus. The bus ticket gives you unlimited bus rides between Nagano Station and Togakushi. A return bus trip costs more than the ticket price already, so you are guaranteed the ticket is worth more than its cost!

Togakushi Kodō (戸隠古道)

Nowadays, the most popular way to explore Togakushi Shrine is to start from Togakushi Hōkō-sha. However, for a pilgrimage, the proper way to get to Togakushi Shrine is by trekking the 12.5 km long Togakushi Kodō to Oku-sha. It is an old road starting from Ichi no Torii (一の鳥居) that many pilgrims took in the past. Although it may seem arduous, the entire trail is almost flat, so as long as you can walk for a long distance, it shouldn’t be a problem for inexperienced hikers.

Time-wise, a one-way journey will take around 3 to 3.5 hours. Including sightseeing and breaks, it is better to allocate around 7 hours for the trek for a return trip.

For the English map, click HERE. You can also refer to the Japanese map HERE that has other trails marked.

Important: A pair of hiking shoes is a must to trek through Togakushi Kodō.

Below is a list of places that we will discuss in this article.

If you understand Japanese, you can join one of the guided tours in the area. Refer to HERE for more information. If you don’t understand Japanese but would love to explore Togakushi with a professional guide, you can book a tour with Shinano Discovery. For more information, please refer HERE.

Tip: Refer to the LIVE CAMERA for the current scenery at Togakushi.

The 30 Folios of Rubbings along the Togakushi Kodō

If you are up for a challenge, a fun thing that you can do is collect all 30 folios of rubbings along the mountain trail.

At each of the historic sites and scenic spots, a stone pillar is placed as a landmark. Atop the stone pillar, an image related to the spot is engraved at the top for you to rub the image with a pencil.

You can get the Togakushi Kodō Walking Takumoto Collection Book (戸隠古道ウォーキング拓本集印) from Togakushi Tourist Information Centre (戸隠観光情報センター) around Chū-sha for this activity. Although the brief explanation of the spots in the book is only in Japanese, it will still make a great souvenir for yourself.

Refer HERE for more information.

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What to Wear and What to Bring to Trek the Togakushi Kodō

  • The Togakushi Kodō is a mountain trail that consists of mostly earthen roads. Hiking shoes won’t be necessary but come with shoes and clothing that are comfortable to move around in.
  • The trail is located at an altitude of around 1,300 meters. On average, the temperature is about 6 degrees lower than the city center, so come with enough warm clothes that can be easily taken off and put back on.
  • Remember to bring enough water. Along Togakushi Kodō, there are almost no vending machines.
  • In summer, don’t forget to bring insect repellent.
  • No matter which season you visit Togakushi, having a bear bell with you will minimize the chance of running into a wild bear that lives in the area.

Ichi no Torii (一の鳥居)

To avoid confusion, don’t expect a torii gate there when you get to Ichi no Torii. The stone torii gate that marked Togakushi Shrine’s precinct was knocked down during an earthquake magnitude of 7.4 in 1847.

As the gate wasn’t restored, only the foundation of the stone gate remains.

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

Chōishi Stone (丁石)

Along the Togakushi Kodō, if you pay attention to the side of the track, you will notice some stone indicator called Chōishi. Every time you see one of them, you have trekked another 109 meters.

Most of the Chōishi stones are still quite new. This is because there were hikers who took them back as souvenirs.

So when you see the stones, let’s not increase the work of the mountain trail staff. Please leave them alone.

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Togakushi View Point/Soba View Point (戸隠展望苑/蕎麦展望苑)

On the way to the first sub-shrine of Togakushi Shrine – Hōkō-sha, you will walk past a vast field of soba (buckwheat) with Mt. Togakushi (戸隠山) afar.

From early to mid-September, the white buckwheat flowers will bloom and start to bear soba seeds for restaurants to grind in October for delicious Togakushi soba noodles!

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From mid to late October, the area will be decorated with vivid fall colors!

Refer to HERE for details of how you can enjoy soba-making activity held at Togakushi.

Yunomine Yūhitenbōen Observatory (湯之嶺夕日展望苑)

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

Trekking further toward Togakushi Shrine, the Yunomine Yūhitenbōen Observatory will give you a panoramic view of the surrounding mountain ranges.

To the right, there is Togakushi Mountain Range (戸隠連峰), extending to Niigata Prefecture. Then on the left, there is Mt. Arakura (荒倉山).

In the middle back, there are quite a few mountains, including Mt. Kashimayarigadake (鹿島槍ヶ岳), which is a part of Mt. Tate Mountain Range stretching to Toyama Prefecture. Mount Shirouma (白馬岳) is also between Mt. Arakura and Togakushi Renpō.

In spring and summer, expect a resplendent sunset view from the observatory.

Double-body Taoist God (双体道祖神)

To get to the 5th attraction – Jizō-dō, marked on the English map from Yunomine Yūhitenbōen Observatory, you will need to make a detour. Referring to the Japanese map HERE, at the intersection before Jizō-dō, there is a Togakushi Tourist Information Center (戸隠観光案内所).

Apart from grabbing some tourist pamphlets, you can utilize their toilet facility here.

From the information center to Hōkō-sha, it is only another 600-meter trek. On the way, you will see a graveyard, a few monuments, and a small stone pagoda.

In front of the graveyard is a small stone statue on the ground with an image of two people engraved. It is the statue of a Double-body Toaist God pronounced as Sōtai Dōsoshin. The god is said to be able to keep misfortune out of the border he is guarding.

You might notice the top of the statue is covered by black soot. It results from a fire ritual performed on the 15th of January. It is believed the fire will burn all the misfortune accumulated during the past year.

Yūkonshahi Monument (幽魂社碑)

The Yukonshahi Monument is a large flat stone with a white rope wrapped around it, standing on one side of the track. It was built for the priests who passed away in other provinces as a result of a dispute known as the Sori Incident (雪舟事件) in 1780.

At the time, the priests of Hōkō-sha and Chū-sha were disputing the right to log and transport firewood. The dispute was eventually brought to the local government office for a decision. Unfortunately, Hōkō-sha’s priests lost the trial and were banished from the province.

In 1881, the monument was built as a prayer site for a peaceful afterlife for them.

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Next to the monument, you should see a small stone pagoda. Unlike other monuments in Japan, which are used to store Buddhist sutras, this one was used as a gravestone.

Jizō-dō (地蔵堂)

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

The Jizō-dō at Togakushi enshrined the Jizō Bodhisattva and the ten judges of the hell. A couple of Buddha statues that lost their home when Buddism was separated from Shitonism during the Meiji Restoration are also placed in the precinct.

What is special about this Jizō-dō is the statue of Jizō Bodhisattva is half-buried in the ground. It is said that the statue is slowly coming out of the ground. And when the entire statue is finally above ground, it is said a disaster will strike the world…Σ(゚Д゚)

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Next to the Jizō Bodhisattva statue, there are two other wooden statues. The one on the left is En no Gyōja (役の行者), who is the founder of Shugendō. The one on the right is Gakumon Gyōja (学問行者), the monk who founded Togakushi.

They were both originally enshrined in Togakushi Shrine. But after the decree of separation of Buddhism and Shintoism came out, they got moved to Jizō-dō.

Togakushi Hōkō-sha (戸隠神社 宝光社)

Coming from the center of Nagano City, the first shrine of the Togakushi Shrine you will encounter is the Hōkō-sha.

The shrine’s approach is formed by the 270 staircases mostly in the cedar forest beyond the torii gate. Among the five sub-shrines of Togakushi Shrine, the Hōkō-sha has the most staircases.

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

Tip: If you aren’t confident climbing up all the 270 staircases, a gentle slope called Onnazaka (女坂) stretches to the left from the middle of the long staircases. The path will eventually lead to the worship hall as well.

The current worship hall was rebuilt in 1861 and is the oldest hall in Togakushi Shrine. The god enshrined here is Ameno Uwaharu no Mikoto (天表春命), who is the son of the god enshrined in Togakushi Chū-sha, which can be reached from the pilgrimage route on the right of the worship hall.

Ameno Uwaharu no Mikoto is the god of practical arts and sewing. He is also known as the god of smooth delivery and is the guardian deity of women and children.

Hōkō-sha’s Founding Myth

As you know, Togakushi used to be a training place for Shugendō, which has a deep connection with Buddhism. So the myth of why Hōkō-sha was built isn’t related to the legend of Amano-Iwato (天岩戸). Instead, it is a story of Jizō Bodhisattva.

In 1058, the locals found something shiny atop a big tree where Hōkō-sha is located today. After taking a closer look at what it was, people realized it was the mirror of the Togakushi Shrine that was treated as an object of worship. Instead of reflecting those who were around, the mirror exhibited the image of the Jizō Bodhisattva.

At the time, a young girl in the crowd suddenly collapsed to the ground. After catching everyone’s attention and putting everyone in a panic, she slowly said, “I am the Jizō Bodhisattva who looks after the precinct. Because there is a barrier forbidding women from entering the precinct, please build a temple here and enshrine me in the temple. This way, women can also worship the gods and Buddhas here”.

Of course, people weren’t just going to believe what she said. So they replied, “If you are truly the Jizō Bodhisattva, please move into someone’s sleeve”. Hearing the request, the mirror flew into the sleeve of a monk there and transformed into a statue of Jizō Bodhisattva.

Seeing the scene, a temple was immediately built, and the Jizō Bodhisattva statue was enshrined. The temple is then treated as a branch of Oku-sha.

Hōkō-sha’s Shrine Office and Shinyo

The shrine’s office on the left of the worship hall is open from 9 am to 5 pm.

To the right of the worship hall, there is another small building housing the portable shrines (Shinyo, 神輿). The one on the right was made in 1804. While all sub-shrines of Togakushi Shrine, excluding Hinomiko-sha did receive one of the portable shrines at the time, the other three don’t exist anymore.

The portable shrine was used to carry the object of worship of the god to travel through Japan for pilgrims to worship the god and gather believers. Due to wear and tear, in 1991, a new portable shrine replaced the old one (which is the one on the left).

From Hōkō-sha to Hinomiko-sha

From the pilgrimage route to the right of Hōkō-sha, just 800 meters away, is where the Hinomiko-sha is located. Please look for the directory signs that say “(Kanmichi Iriguchi, 神道入口” or “(Kanmichi, 神道)”. The path is a part of Togakushi Kodō (戸隠古道) that we introduced earlier.

Along the way, you will see a large cedar tree with a white rope tied around its bark. The place is Fushiogami-dokoro (伏拝所), the prostration for the Oku-sha.

Passing the Fushiogami-dokoro, the road will split. If you go straight, you will be bypassing Hinomiko-sha and arrive at Chū-sha. So remember to head to the smaller road on the right. A directory board will be there to remind you.

Before you reach Hinomiko-sha, the road will split again. Follow the directory sign and turn left this time.

Tip: If you are driving and visiting Togakushi Shrine on weekends and public holidays, park your car in Hōkō-sha or Chū-sha’s car park. Hinomiko-sha’s car park can easily be filled.

Hinomiko-sha (火之御子社)

Hinomiko-sha is the only shrine at Togakushi that has always been a shrine since its establishment. The other four were previously temples of Shugendō.

Togakushi Shrine was established based on the legend – Amano-Iwato (天岩戸). Assuming you have read through the story in the Wikipedia link, the goddess, Ameno Uzumeno Mikoto (天鈿女命), who danced in front of the cavern where Amaterasu Ōkami (天照大神) was hidden, is enshrined as the main god in Hinomiko-sha.

Thanks to her dancing, the sun is shining in the sky again. And to avoid Amaterasu Ōkami, the goddess of the sun hiding in that cavern again, the cavern was thrown far, far away and became the Mt. Togakushi that you will be visiting (´▽`*).

This is how the mountain got its name as well, with “To” meaning the cavern and “Kakushi” meaning hidden.

The Benefit of Worshipping the Gods at Hinomiko-sha

So, if you have wishes relating to performance arts, remember to ask for god’s help at Hinomiko-sha!

And because when she was dancing, the fire was lit, it is said that worshipping the gods here will protect you from fire hazards.

The last benefit of paying respect to the gods at Hinomiko-sha is finding a great romantic relationship. Since Ameno Uzumeno Mikoto met her husband due to dancing in front of the cavern, she is also at the shrine helping pilgrims seeking a good life partner.

Hinomiko-sha’s Worship Hall

The current worship hall of Hinomiko-sha was reconstructed in 1884 due to major wear and tear. On the back-left of the hall, you will find two giant cedar trees sharing the same bark.

The two trees are said to be more than 500 years old and are another reason people head to Hinomiko-sha for relationship-related wishes. The two trees merging into one reminds you of marriage, doesn’t it? So don’t forget to check them out when you visit the shrine!

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As Hinomiko-sha doesn’t have its own shrine office, after you visit the Hinomiko-sha Shrine, you can ask for the Goshuin (御朱印), which is the seal stamp of the shrine from either Chū-sha or Hōkō-sha’s shrine office.

In winter, where Hōkō-sha and Hinomiko-sha Shrines are closed, you can get the Goshuin of both shrines from Chū-sha.

From Hinomiko-sha to Chū-sha

To get to Chū-sha, the promenade continues from the left back of the worship hall.

➡ When the road splits to the right, just stay on the original road.
➡ Along the way, you will walk past another graveyard. The end is when the road split again. But again, stay on the road you are on, which should lead to the right.
➡ There is another intersection just before a residential area. Please ignore the road to the right and head straight.
➡ Inside the residential area, you can either go straight or right at the intersection. Both will lead to Chū-sha. But going straight is the shortcut.
⤴ + ➡ After climbing up a slope, head left and then straight at the following 2 intersections.

And then, if you keep walking on the road, you will soon see the large torii gate of Chū-sha. This is where another tourist information center is situated.

Togakushi Chū-sha (中社)

According to Togakushi Shrine’s documentation, Oku-sha is its first shrine. Hokō-sha was later established. In 1087, the head priest of Togakushi Shrine had a dream where he was told that Togakushi Shrine should consist of three sub-shrines. So in the middle of Oku-sha and Hokō-sha, Chū-sha was built. This is why the shrine is named “Chū”.

Whether the dream was true or not, after the Chū-sha was founded, it certainly improved the lives of the priests at Togakushi Shrine. During winter, when Oku-sha became too cold to live in, Chū-sha was where they would temporarily migrate.

Similar to Hokō-sha, beyond the torii gate, there is also a set of long staircases for visitors to climb up to where the worship hall is. And again, if you prefer a more gentle slope, the Onnazaka (女坂) is just on the stairs’ left. Note in winter, Onnazaka is the only way to access the worship hall.

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The worship hall of Chū-sha had gone through several restorations since it was first built. The most recent reconstruction was in 1956.

On the right of the main worship hall is the Seiryū-den Hall (青龍殿). It is where the treasure hall of Chū-sha is located. If interested, you can pay to explore it between 9 am and 4:30 pm (closing early at 4 pm in winter).

The main god of Chū-sha is Ameno Ygakoro Omoikane no Mikoto (天八意思兼命). He is the god who had the idea of how to lure the sun of god, Amaterasu Ōkami (天照大神), out of the cavern. Known as the god of wisdom, many come here to pray for academic excellence and prosperity for their businesses.

On the precinct of Chū-sha, there are a lot of smaller worship halls and Buddha statues for you to visit.

Sanbonsugi Cedar Trees (三本杉)

You will see three giant cedar trees sticking to each other on the precinct. Each of them is said to be more than 800 years old!

According to legend, the trees were planted by a fisherman wanting to save his children who had eaten the meat of the mermaid he killed. Long story short, his children ate the meat out of hunger when he was away. As a result, scales started appearing on their skin.

Worrying so much about his children, the fisherman couldn’t sleep for days. Just when he finally fell asleep, he received a divine message asking him to become a monk and repent for his killing of the mermaid at Togakushi. He was also asked to plant three cedar trees as a sign of his determination.

Following the message, he became a monk at Togakushi, and his children were said to have passed away peacefully without further suffering.

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Shukubō Gokui (宿坊極意)

Exploring the entire Togakushi area will take more than a day. Instead of returning to Nagano’s city center, you can choose to stay locally. A good choice is Shukubō Gokui, which has its buildings registered as a national cultural property.

Unlike the Shukubō experience at other Japanese temples, the six rooms here in its thatched-roof house are equipped with an air conditioner and a TV. So other than the futon bed, which may be harder to sleep on, it is just like a Japanese ryokan!

And just like staying overnight at a Japanese temple, you get to participate in the morning ritual. Instead of Buddhist chanting, it will be the Shintoism service led by the priest of Togakushi Shrine.

Interested? Make a booking on their website HERE!

Important: They currently can’t cater to special dietary requests. But you can check if they have accommodation plans excluding dinner and breakfast.

If you don’t plan to stay overnight at Togakushi, you can still come in for lunch.

From Togakushi Chū-sha (中社) to Togakushi Shrine Oku-sha Approach (戸隠神社 奥社参道)

From Chū-sha to Oku-sha and Kuzuryū-sha, it is around a 30 to 40-minute walk to get to the 2 km Togakushi Shrine Oku-sha Approach.

If you don’t want to walk, take a bus from Chū-sha and get off at Togakushi Okusha (戸隠奥社入口). There are also a couple of car parks around the bus stop for you to park if you are driving.

If you are trekking through the Togakushi Kodō, there are a few small attractions between Chū-sha and Oku-sha. Each of them is marked by the black stone pillar for you to get a Folio of Rubbings.

The Ruins of Nyonin-dō (Nyonin-dō-ato, 女人堂跡)

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

Back when women were forbidden to visit Togakushiyama Kenkōji Temple (戸隠山 顕光寺), a worship hall was established for women to worship the Buddha/gods from afar, which is why it was named Nyonin-dō.

Although the hall does not exist anymore, it deeply connects with the next attraction.

Bikuni-ishi Stone (比丘尼石)

The large stone close to Nyonin-dō has a somewhat sad story.

Back then, when women were strictly prohibited from entering the Togakushiyama Kenkōji Temple precinct, those rules also applied to nuns. One day, a nun broke the rule and went past Nyonin-dō. Although stopped by her attendant, she was really determined to reach Togakushiyama Kenkōji Temple.

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But without being able to proceed too far, she collapsed on the spot, and before her attendant realized what had happened, the nun had become a stone.

Chigo’s Pagoda (Chigo no Tō, 稚児の塔)

Ⓒ 戸隠観光協会

This pagoda has a more realistic story about the filial piety of a boy.

Back in the samurai era, there was a man named Tadayoshi (忠清). He was great at martial arts but couldn’t read. While he was away trying to accomplish a mission assigned by his lord, his second wife was having an affair. After Tadayoshi came home, he sensed something was off and started doubting his wife.

When his wife was away, a love letter from the man she was seeing arrived. Unable to read, Tadayoshi asked his son to read it for him. With the hope of maintaining the relationship between his father and stepmother, the son changed the letter’s content to a letter of greeting.

Tadayoshi was consequently ashamed of himself for doubting his wife. He decided to repent his “mistake” by devoting himself to Buddhism. And his second wife, regretting committing infidelity, chose the same road and became a nun.

As to the son, although with good intentions, deceiving his father is a disobedience to Buddha’s teachings. So he chose to become a monk as well.

Knowing the story, the locals built this pagoda for him in 1400, praying for a peaceful afterlife for him.

Togakushi Shrine Oku-sha Approach (戸隠神社 奥社参道)

At the entrance of the approach, there is a large rectangular stone with “下馬” engraved on it. It is called Gebahi (下馬碑).

When horses were the main mode of transportation, the stone was put there to remind people they should get off their horses from this point on. Also, please be aware that pets are not allowed beyond the stone as well.

From the entrance of the approach to where Togakushi Oku-sha (奥社) and Kuzuryū-sha (九頭龍社) are located, it is around a 60-minute walk through the long approach in a cedar forest. The promenade is mostly flat for the first 1.5 km, with the last 500 meters consisting of some steep slopes and staircases.

The Cedar Forest (杉並木)

The cedar forest, consisting of around 80 trees that line the two sides of Togakushi Shrine’s approach, is the spot that best represents Togakushi Shrine.

These trees are more than 400 years old. They were planted in the early Edo period to increase the dignity of the Togakushi Shrine.

These trees have most certainly achieved their purpose. Together, they created this solemn atmosphere making you forget the hustle and bustle in your life and focus on the pilgrimage in process.

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

Another thing that is worthwhile to mention is these trees are actually from the cutting of the Sanbonsugi cedar trees at Chū-sha!

Zuijinmon Gate (随神門)

Around the middle of the 2 km approach to Oku-sha, this red thatched-roof gate is there to guard the precinct against evil spirits.

You might notice that the statues on the two sides of the gate look different from the Niō statues you normally see at Buddhist temples in Japan. They look a lot more human-like. And you are right!

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

Before Buddhism was separated from Shintoism in the late 19th century, the Zuijinmon Gate was originally the Niōmon Gate of Togakushi. After the separation decree was issued, the Niō Statues were moved to Kankeiji Temple (寛慶寺) next to Zenkōji Temple (善光寺) in the city center of Nagano.

Replacing the Niō Statues, two Zuijin Gods’ statues were placed in the now Zuijinmon.

After passing the Zuijinmon Gate, you will see the remains of the twelve houses that used to be the monks’ residences in Togakushi before Budhissim was separated from Shintoism during the Meiji Restoration.

Toilet Facility at Togakushi Oku-sha

Just before the slope and staircases to Togakushi Oku-sha, you will find the only toilet in the area. As there isn’t any toilet facility in Oku-sha and Kuzuryū-sha, remember to finish your private business before you proceed further.

Kuzuryū-sha (九頭龍社)

Kuzuryū-sha is somewhat different from the other four sub-shrines of Togakushi Shrine, in that it enshrines the guardian deity of the land of Togakushi. The founding of this shrine was before Togakushi Oku-sha.

According to the shrine’s documentation, the legend started with a monk chanting the Lotus Sutra (法華経) while travelling to Mt. Togakushi in 849.

Suddenly, a nine-head dragon appeared before him and said, “I was the head monk of the temple in the area. But I was transformed into a nine-head dragon because I treated Buddha without respect and neglected my duties. Many monks traveled to Mt. Togakushi while chanting other sutras before you. But they died from the poison coming out of me.

Today, getting the benefit of listening to your chanting of the Lotus Sutra, I was released from this monster form.”

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

The dragon then transformed into a guardian deity and promised to look after Togakushi.

The Benefits of Worshipping the God of Kuzuryū-sha

Because dragons are known as gods who control the water supply, since ancient times, the locals have worshipped the dragon god here for proper rainfall. Furthermore, because water is essential for us to live and for breeding new lives, it is said that the god of Kuzuryū-sha also grants good relationships to its pilgrims.

Also, if you are troubled by tooth-related issues, you can offer the dragon god’s favorite food – pears. The Japanese word for toothless is “Hanashi (歯なし),” and pear is pronounced as “Nashi (梨)”. So taking away the “Nashi” from “Hanashi” leaves you with “Ha (歯)”, which means tooth. This is why the Japanese offer pear to the dragon god when they want to pray for the health of their teeth (´▽`*).

Togakushi Oku-sha (奥社)

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

The main god of Oku-sha is Ameno Tajikarao no Mikoto (天手力雄命). In the legend, he is the one who pulled the god of the sun out of the cavern when she opened the cavern she was hidden in.

The benefits you will get from worshipping him are better fortune and fulfilment of your wishes. He also looks after prosperity and victory in sports competitions (since he was powerful enough to open up the cavern completely that the god of the sun was hiding in).

The worship hall of Oku-sha collapsed numerous times in the past due to an avalanche. The current one that we have today was restored in 1979. To prevent it from collapsing again, this time, the hall was built with concrete.

There is only one shrine office for both Oku-sha and Kuzuryū-sha, which is in front of Kuzuryū-sha.

Important: This shrine office will remain closed after the Chinkasai Festival (鎮火祭), held on the 7th of January each year to mid-April.

The Scenic Route between Togakushi Chū-sha to Oku-sha

On the way back from Oku-sha, instead of going through the 2 km approach again, you can head back to Chū-sha by detouring to the stunning Togakushi Forest Botanical Garden, Kagami-ike Pond, and Kotoriga-ike Pond.

When you get to Suijinmon Gate again, instead of going straight, turn right to get to Togakushi Forest Botanical Garden. Following the promenade, you will be led to Kagami-ike Pond, then Kotoriga-ike Pond, and lastly, Togakushi Chū-sha.

For more information, please read our article on the Scenic Route between Togakushi Chū-sha to Oku-sha!


You can also follow the same direction described in the article and go through this route from Chū-sha to Oku-sha.

Nenbetsu-ike Pond (念仏池)

Beyond Oku-sha, if you are heading to Togakushi Campsite or Togakushi Pasture, you will likely walk past a small pond called Nenbetsu-ike. The pond’s story is related to a monk called Shinran Shōnin (親鸞上人).

According to the legend, the pond was created by Shinran when he stuck his khakkhara into the ground while chanting Amida Buddha’s name. Even up until now, the water is still springing out!

Other Interesting Attractions in Togakushi

Ⓒ ながの観光コンベンションビューロー

The mountain range of Togakushi is known for its beautiful Chinese-ink-painting-like scenery. So it would be a shame to only visit the sacred mountain of Togakushi Shrine.

Food-wise, Togakushi is known for Togakushi Soba Noodles.

There is also a large campsite, a ski resort, and a Togakushi ninja school!

Check out our article on Togakushi to discover the best restaurants for mouthwatering soba noodles, how to improve your ninja skills, and more (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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