Shinzan shrine among tall-growing sugi

Shinzan shrine named after the mountain it resides on is probably mostly known for the Sedo festival which is held there in early February each year. An other festival is the Hadaka matsuri, where (almost) naked men carry offerings to the shrine by walking through the snow. Close by are the the Namahage museum and the Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum both of which are highly recommended to learn about the unique traditions of the Oga peninsula. Featuring life-sized namahage straw dolls with frightening masks, crafted by artisans of the different villages who participate in the new year rituals, the namahage museum is dedicated to the history and the festivals of the local ogres. Although namahage are known to frighten lazy children and wives they still seem to be popular, as we saw many families visiting the different cultural establishments near the Shinzan shrine.

Niō guardians standing on the left and right of the niōmon (仁王門 temple gate)

The road leading to the Shinzan shrine is bridged by a huge stone torii through which cars can drive through. When we visited on the first days of January there were quite a few people who most likely came for hatsumōde (初詣), the first shrine visit of the new year. We stepped through the wooden niōmon that marks the entry of the religious site and is guarded by two fierce-looking guardians, and made our way up the stone steps to the haiden (拝殿 front shrine) with an inner honden (本殿 main shrine).

Shinzan shrine with visitors for hatsumōde – look at all those fluffy sugi trees!

The Shinzan shrine incorporates kami worship as well as Buddhist beliefs and structures and is hence an example of syncretism of Shintō and Buddhism called Shinbutsu-shūgō (神仏習合). So after the main shrine further stone steps lead to an other wooden and smaller structure surrounded by tall-growing sugi (杉 Cryptmoeria trees), the Yakushidō (薬師堂 healing Buddha temple). Most people however stayed at the main shrine and offered they’re prayers there.

The Yakushidō is a small Buddhist temple located behind the main shrine

Other viewing spots include more structures as well as a wooden dugout boat and an innumerable amount of sugi. Walking on the different platforms among tall trees is very enjoyable and well worth a visit. The mountain is covered with a dense forest and I imagine the surrounding to be a beautiful place to get lost. Like other shrines I visited in northern Japan the Shinzan shrine is believed to have its roots in mountain worship which is practiced in the form of Shugendō (修験道), Japanese mountain asceticism incorporating Shintō and Buddhist concepts.

Mikoshi (神輿) are miniature shrines where kami reside in while being carried around.

As interesting the Namahage museum and the Folk museum may be we decided to skip the educational structures and enjoyed the beautiful architecture from outside. Both structures are impressive in their own way and blend well into the scenery.

Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum – the hatched roof is beautuifully curved

And as the words fade out our time in Akita prefecture comes to an end. From the Sea of Japan all the way through the mainland, we made it to the other side and the Pacific ocean. After a short stay in Morioka which is located right at the border to Akita prefecture it was time to discover some of Iwate prefecture.

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