Kenzan Jinja is a small Shinto shrine perched atop Mt. Bizan in Tokushima City (Tokushima Province) on Shikoku, Japan’s third major island.
Although the shrine is small, and not open daily (it was closed the day I visited), Kenzan is a good example of a small Shinto shrine dedicated to the kami that inhabit Mt. Bizan.
Like many Shinto shrines, Kenzan’s entrance features a torii – this one made of stone rather than wood. The gate denotes the entry to a sacred space.
Sacred ropes called shimenawa (the ropes themselves are nawa, and are made of hemp or rice straw) and strips of folded white paper known as shime adorn both the entrance:
and the necks of the sacred komainu (lion-dog guardians) standing watch nearby.
The ropes and papers are used to ward off evil spirits and/or to indicate the presence of kami, or deities.
Like all Shinto shrines, Kenzan has a purification fountain near the entrance, which worshippers normally use to ritually purify their hands and mouths before approaching the shrine to pray. The fountain was not operational the day I visited.
Despite this, it had fresh shime hanging around and over it.
Japan has many local shrines, and most are worth a visit if you happen to be in the area. Although not as impressive as the enormous, nationally recognized shrines like Ise and Fushimi Inari, Shinto worship is alive and well at these smaller shrines as well, and many of them are located in lovely locations, on mountaintops, near streams and beside waterfalls. When open, most have priests or priestesses available to stamp visitors’ goshuincho (sacred stamp books), and even when closed the shrines are marked by lovely traditional Japanese art and architecture.
When visiting, it’s good to remember that these are holy places – even if you’re not a follower of the shinto faith, it’s polite to show respect and to remember that the shrine and surrounding area are holy sites. Photographs are normally allowed (at least outside the worship hall), but don’t climb on or otherwise disrespecting the statues and holy buildings.
Have you visited a Shinto shrine? What’s your favorite type of site to visit in foreign countries?