Izumo Shrine

From SamuraiWiki
Jump to navigationJump to search
  • Other Names: 日栖宮 (Hisumi no miya), 杵築大社 (Kitsuki taisha)
  • Japanese: 出雲大社 (Izumo taisha, Izumo oho yashiro)

The Grand Shrine at Izumo is one of the oldest and most important shrines in the Shinto tradition, along with Ise Shrine. Located in Shimane prefecture, it is most strongly associated with the deity Ôkuninushi.

The shrine welcomes an Imperial envoy every May 14 in a special annual festival.


The shrine is mentioned in the Nihon shoki, as well as in the Izumo fudoki, the most complete of the surviving provincial fudoki "gazetteers" of the 8th century. In the Nihon shoki, Ôkuninushi, based as Izumo, is described as overseeing the realm of the gods, or 幽, while the emperor, based at Yamato, oversees the realm of man, or ken 顕. On special occasions during the Kofun through Nara periods, such as on the occasion of the accession of a new emperor, priests from Izumo journeyed to Yamato to perform rites, offer prayers, and present gifts of sacred objects such as magatama meant to extend the protection of the gods over the emperor and the state.[1]

In the Yayoi period, Izumo was a major center of trade and interaction; shell bracelets made from turbo shells from the Amami Islands and as far away as Okinawa Island have been found in archaeological excavations there. Izumo was also a major center of glass bead production well into the Asuka and Nara periods and provided magatama and other such ritual objects to the Yamato court.[1]

The shrine has been reconstructed numerous times over the course of its history. A reconstruction in 1664 produced a particularly significant number of models, manuals, and other documentary and material artifacts relating to the design and construction of the shrine.[1]


The main shrine is separated from the outside, secular/profane, world by three layers of fences, from the Wild Fence (Aragaki) which is the outermost, to the Pure Fence (Mizugaki), to the Jade Fence (Tamagaki), the innermost of the three. Entrance deeper into the shrine beyond the Jade Fence is restricted only to those closely associated with the shrine, or to those with special permission.[2]

The Main Hall of the shrine has been designated a National Treasure. It is periodically rebuilt, but always incorporates elements of the earlier structure, including the Uzu Pillar (Uzu-bashira), a roof-ridge-holding pillar which records within its tree rings the history of the shrine. The main hall is today roughly 24 meters tall, though in the past it was 48 meters high during the medieval period, and according to archaeological evidence, a stunning 96 meters tall in ancient times.[3] The hall is located high above the ground, atop 27 wooden pillars arranged in nine groups of three, in a 3x3 square. The central set of three pillars are known as the shin no mi-bashira ("heart pillars"). The main hall is accessed via a lengthy stairway extending straight out from the front of the hall.[1]

The Main Hall is flanked by two side shrines to the east and west, enshrining respectively the god of Uji, and the god of Kutami. These serve as "gatekeepers" for Ôkuninushi.[3]

A 22-meter tall torii gate at the shrine, erected in 1915, is one of the tallest in the country.[4]

Three auxiliary shrines located within the grounds include the Mimukai, Amasaki, and Tsukushi Shrines. Mimukai Shrine is dedicated to Suseri-hime-no-mikoto, the wife and partner of Ôkuni-nushi in creating the land. Tsukushi Shrine is dedicated to Tagiri-hime-no-mikoto, a goddess born of vows between Amaterasu and Susano-o; a wife of Ôkuni-nushi, she gave birth to two other deities, Ajisukitaka-hikone-no-kami and Taka-hime-no-mikoto. And Amasaki Shrine is dedicated to Kusagai-hime-no-mikoto and Umugai-hime-no-mikoto, two goddesses who helped treat Ôkuni-nushi's burns after a trial on Mt. Temayama.

The successive heads of the Senge family have been for centuries, and remain today, the hereditary heads of the shrine.[1]


  • Gallery labels, Masuura Yukihito, "The Shrines of the Gods," UCSB College of Creative Studies, Jan 2014.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Gallery labels, "Yamato and Izumo," special exhibit, Tokyo National Museum, Feb 2020.
  2. Gallery labels, Masuura Yukihito, "Shrines of the Gods," College of Creative Studies, UC Santa Barbara, Jan 2014.[1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gallery labels, Masuura Yukihito, "Shrines of the Gods," College of Creative Studies, UC Santa Barbara, Jan 2014.[2]
  4. Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, University of California Press (1996), 122-123.