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Isonokami Shrine – The Oldest Shrine in Japan: Video Introduction

This video, titled "[Nara / National Treasure] Rainy Scenery at Isonokami Shrine in NARA, JAPAN -" (【奈良/国宝】石上神宮 - Rainy scenery of the Isonokami Jingu Shrine in NARA, JAPAN -), was uploaded by "channel WASABI."

This video, shot during autumn, shows both the beauty of nature and the divinity of the area. Be sure to check out the video before reading along.

Isonokami Shrine – A Brief History of the Shrine

Image of Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara
Photo:Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara

Isonokami Shrine is located in

Tenri, Nara, in Japan's Kansai Region, at the western foot of Mt. Ryuo. The haiden (拝殿, hall of worship) is the oldest existing hall of worship in Japan and is designated as a National Treasure.

Isonokami Shrine has been worshipped as the ancestral deity of the Mononobe Clan, a powerful clan in the Asuka Period (circa 592-710 A.D.). The shrine is also known for its blessings of health and longevity, its power to heal illnesses, protect from disaster, and fulfill wishes, and is designated as the 19th site on the Shinbutsu Reijo Junpai no Michi, a pilgrimage route to sacred Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The pilgrimage route is made up of 152 sacred sites in Japan's Kinki region, including Ise Jingu Shrine.

The Gods Worshipped at Isonokami Shrine

Isonokami Shrine worships three main deities. Here we'll introduce them briefly.

Futsunomitama no Okami – A sword that appears in Japanese mythology. The deity is said to have been inspired by the sword held by Takemikazuchi no Kami, a god of thunder.

Furunomitama no Okami – Said to refer to one of the sacred treasures given to Nigihayahi no Mikoto (a god and ancestor of the Mononobe Clan) by Amatsukami Mioya, as well as its mysterious powers.

Futsushimitama no Okami – A divine sword used by Susanoo no Mikoto when he defeated Yamata no Orochi, a legendary 8-headed dragon serpent, and the spiritual power of the sword itself.

Chickens: Messengers of the Gods at Isonokami Shrine

Image of the sacred chickens of Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara
Photo:The sacred chickens of Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara

The 30 to 40 chickens at Isonokami Shrine are called goshinkei (御神鶏, lit "sacred chickens") and are designated as a protected species by the Japanese government. They are free-range chickens at Isonokami Shrine and welcome visitors to the shrine. Chickens, which appear in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), are believed to be messengers of the gods, and their crowing is thought to ward off evil. On the temple grounds, Goshinkei Mikuji (御神鶏みくじ, sacred chicken mikuji), which come in containers shaped like chickens, and ema (wooden prayer plaques) depicting a chicken crowing at dawn, are also popular.
[Video] 2:05 - Chickens at Isonokami Shrine

Highlights of Isonokami Shrine

Image of Izumo Takeo Shrine at Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara
Photo:Izumo Takeo Shrine at Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara

The tower gate, designated as an Important Cultural Property, was built in 1318 in the late Kamakura Period (1185-1333), and in the past, a bell was hung on the upper level of the gate. The space behind the hall of worship, which is the oldest in Japan and is designated as a National Treasure, is a consecrated ground, and serves as a sacred space where the shrine's deities reside.

The worship hall of Izumo Takeo Shrine, an auxiliary shrine to Isonokami Shrine, has also been designated as a National Treasure. The historic and solemn atmosphere of the shrine as well as its divine appearance can be seen in the video.
[Video] 3:25 - Izumo Takeo Shrine's Worship Hall

Seven-Branched Swords, Divine Amulets & More

Image of Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara
Photo:Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara

The seven-branched sword of Isonokami Shrine is an ancient relic that has been handed down within the treasury of Isonokami Shrine. It's assumed to be the same as a sword which was presented by the Baekje people (an ancient Korean kingdom) many years ago.

The uniquely shaped sword, measuring 74.8 cm in length, is made of iron and has three "branch" swords on each side. The amulet called Go-shinken Mamori, which represents this seven-branched sword, is said to be a lucky charm with the power to rescue someone on the brink of death. The shrine's shuin stamp also depicts a seven-branched sword.

Summary of Isonokami Shrine

Isonokami Shrine is known as a power spot and is visited by many people seeking blessings. In addition to Isonokami Shrine, there are many other interesting historical sightseeing spots in Nara Prefecture. If you're planning a visit to Nara, consider visiting Isonokami Shrine as well!

【Official Website】Isonokami Shrine Official Website|Tenri, Nara

【TripAdvisor】Isonokami Shrine

Written By
Last Updated : Dec. 28, 2022
鈴木 正孝(Masataka Suzuki)
A writer born and raised in Asakusa, Tokyo who loves traveling and novels
Isonokami Shrine – The Oldest Shrine in Japan. Discover Sacred Swords, and Ancient Amulets at This Shrine Surrounded by a Divine Forest in Kanagawa Prefecture
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