On the short walk from the parking lot to the shrine grounds, there is a stairway up to the left, and a sign that boasts Japan’s Largest Owl. Indeed, as you wander around the grounds, you can see many owl statues, and the shrine is nicknamed “Owl Shrine”. Of course, there is also a play on words here, something akin to “let go of your worries” or something.
But the largest owl of all, the largest owl in Japan, was at the top of those very first steps I encountered.
Beneath the owl is a spot to write a letter, describing your troubles and letting them go and praying for help with them. You then seal the letter and post it in the Owl Post that is located there. It’s not real mail, of course, it stays at the shrine. One assumes someone will offer a blessing over them before burning them.
The entire thing seems pretty tourist-trappy to me, but I guess if something like this attracts visitors who then go on to visit the shrine proper, and buy food and drink and charms and souvenirs, supporting the continued existence of this place, then it’s not so bad.
Number: 84 Name: The Thousand-Year Cryptomeria of Torinokosan (鷲子山の千年杉) Type: Cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica) Height: 32m Trunk Circumference: 6.8m Age: 1000 years (according to folklore) Location: 栃木県那須郡那珂川町矢又 (36° 42′ 00″N 140° 14′ 06″E) Date of Visit: 2011-8-13
Straddling the border of Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures is Torinokosanjo Shrine (鷲子山上神社, The Shrine Atop Mt. Torinoko). When facing the stone steps leading up to the shrine, to your right is Ibaraki, and to your left is Tochigi.
The shrine was established in Daidou 2 (大同２年, 807 CE). Three deities are enshrined therein. Ame-no-hiwashi-no-kami (天日鷲神), started farming flax or cotton in Awa Province (阿波国) and was the patron god of the Inbe Clan (忌部氏). When the sun goddess Amaterasu was hiding in the cave of Amano-Iwato because her brother Susanoo, the wind and sea god, had dropped a cow on her head, the other gods gathered outside of the cave and held a party, hoping to draw Amaterasu out and bring light back to the world. At that time, Ame-no-hiwashi-no-kami took part, playing a stringed instrument. Suddenly, an eagle alighted on Ame-no-hiwashi-no-kami’s bow. The assembled gods were overjoyed, as they saw this as an omen of immense good luck. It was at this time that the “washi”, eagle, was added to his name. He’s also known as a god of booze, good fishing, commerce, good luck and farming.
The second god enshrined there is Oonamuchi-no-mikoto (大己貴命, also known as Ookuninushi, a figure who has cropped up on this blog before.)
The third is Sukuna-hikona-no-mikoto (少彦名命), the child of Kami-musubi-no-kami (神皇産霊神) or Taka-musubi-no-kami (高皇産霊神) depending on the source. During Ookuninushi’s nation-building adventures, Sukuna-hikona-no-mikoto visited him on the Mirrored Sky Boat (天乃羅摩船 — yes I realize I’m really pushing it, but I concede that my translations and explanations may not always be perfectly accurate.) He’s a god of nation-building, the world of the dead, medicine, hot springs, magic, grain, knowledge, sake brewing and rocks, among others. Anyway, I digress.
The Thousand-Year Cryptomeria stands at the top of the stone steps, after passing through a two-storey gate that wouldn’t be out of place in a Buddhist temple. Within it are statues of the Deva Kings, as well. Of course, it’s on the left side of the stairs, and so it lies within Tochigi Prefecture. I didn’t take the front stairs to go up, though, as they were steep and I was tired. There’s a back way up that’s less steep, and less high due to the gentle slope of the path to the back. There’s also apparently a view of Fuji if you continue along the path instead of climbing to the shrine, but I don’t believe and so I didn’t check it out.
Of course, this is not the only cryptomeria on the grounds. Nono, the place is positively littered with them. There’s one or two others designated as natural monuments, but monuments of Ibaraki, and so they have no place here~.
Torinokosan was selected as one of Tochigi’s top 100 most beautiful natural sites, and has also featured on national lists of the same type in the past.
I think this place would be ridiculously beautiful in autumn, and I am definitely planning a return.