Sightseeing in Niigata: The Yahiko Shrine (弥彦神社) - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sightseeing in Niigata: The Yahiko Shrine (弥彦神社)

The Yahiko shrine (弥彦神社 or 彌彦神社) in Niigata is situated at the root of the sacred Mt. Yahiko, and surrounded by a forest of 400-500 year old cedar and zelkova trees it is known throughout Niigata as a "power spot". It is one of the most popular shrines in the prefecture, and has a history dating back to around 711 when according to ancient records the main shrine was built.

During my trip to Niigata for the Tsubame Sakura Matsuri festival we made a short visit to the Yahiko shrine, which I have written more about below.
Arriving outside the entrance to the shrine area there's a row of small traditional houses where you can find some souvenirs and local specialities.

According to ancient legends the Yahiko shrine was dedicated to the great-grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto (天香山命). The legend says that he sailed across the Sea of Japan and ended up settling down in Yahiko, where he used his knowledge and know-how to teach the locals various skills. His teachings are said to have been very influential in the industrial foundation of the region. 

A 8.4m tall torii marking the entrance to the shrine area
The shrine is well-known throughout Niigata, and it has even been mentioned in a number of old Japanese writings such as the 8th century poetry anthology "Man'yoshu" (万葉集). Back then the shrine was known under the name "Iyahiko" (伊夜彦). Here is one of the poems about the shrine that can be found in Man'yoshu:


"Heavenly Iyahiko,
Even on a day
Of blue clouds,
A little rain"

In order to get into the shrine area you have to pass through a 8.4 meter tall torii gate called Ichi no Tori (一の鳥居 / いちのとりい), or "the first torii of the shrine". This torii symbolizes the entrance to the spiritual world

The Tamano Hashi (玉の橋) bridge can be seen in the background
On the way to the main shrine you pass by the Tamano Hashi (玉の橋) bridge, which with its peculiar design is said to have been build for the crossing of gods - kami (神).

Before entering the main shrine area visitors wash their hands in the Temizuya (手水舎), a common feature of Japanese shrines.

The sandou seen from the Zuijinmon gate. Notice how people avoid walking in the middle of the path.
The main path approaching the shrine is called a sandou (参道). It is believed that the middle of the road is reserved for the kami, and that commoners should stick to the edge of the path.

The gate to the main shrine called the Zuijinmon
At the end of the sandou you'll reach the final gate to the main shrine called the Zuijinmon (随神門 / ずいじんもん)

A komainu outside the gate to the main shrine
The Zujinmon gate is guarded by two komainu (狛犬) guardian lion-dogs named Agata (阿形) and Ungata (吽形). These statues were both designated an Important Cultural Property as of September 1998. 

The main building with Mt. Yahiko in the background
After passing through the Zujinmon gate and you'll find yourself in front of the main shrine building, the Haiden (拝殿). The original haiden is believed to have been built back in 711 but it had to be rebuilt in 1916 after it got destroyed in a fire in 1912. This building was also recognized as an Important Cultural Property as of September 1998.
My brother and I in front of Yahiko Shrine
Inside the shrine area you can also find various lucky charms, as is common in the Japanese shrines. Some are meant to ensure luck in love, while others are meant to give you luck in competitions or even help you pass your exam. 

Ema - votive picture tablets
Ema - votive picture tablets

You can see some examples of the lucky charms below. There are for instance lucky charms (omamori - お守り) with the character「勝」which means victory and can give you luck in love, competitions or exams, or「草」that means grass/weed/herb and is believed to give you luck in your career.

After wrapping up our visit at the haiden we also took the time to explore the surroundings of the shrine. As we visited Niigata in mid April it was just during the sakura (cherry blossom) season, and right outside the main shrine area there was a beautiful garden with cherry trees in bloom.

Going back out the main torii
As mentioned the Yahiko Shrine is located right by the root of Mt. Yahiko, and if you have more time during your visit I would recommend taking the ropeway to the top to see the view of the area (or alternatively go for a hike to the top). Unfortunately we didn't have time for that this time, so I suppose that's yet another reason to come back. Either way the Yahiko village is famous for its onsen (hot springs) as well, so while you're here you should definitely try out one of the traditional Japanese ryokan hotels in the area (we stayed at Shikino Yado Minoya, a ryokan situated almost right outside the entrance to the shrine).

Thanks for reading!
Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments.

Basic Info
  • ・Name of Place: The Yahiko Shrine (弥彦神社)
  • ・Address:2887-2 Yahiko, Yahiko-mura, Nishikanbara-gun, Niigata 959-0323
    ・Phone: Yahiko Tourism Association, 0256-94-3154 
  • ・Access: 20 minutes by the JR Yahiko Line (JR弥彦線) from Tsubame Sanjyo Station (燕三条駅)  to Yahiko Station (弥彦駅) + 15 minutes walk from Yahiko Station 
  • ・Official Home Page: (Japanese only)

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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