The Great Shrine of Niigata
Yahiko-jinja is an important regional Shinto shrine located at the foot of Mount Yahiko in the north of Niigata prefecture. Founded more than 2,400 years ago, the sacred grounds includes several wooden pavilions, of which the main one was rebuilt in 1916. The top of the mountain offers a beautiful panorama on the surroundings.
Yahiko-jinja is the main shrine of former Echigo province and has been ruling over Niigata’s northern territory for more than 2,400 years. Nestled in a dense forest of century-old cedar trees, the Shinto site is imbued with a strong spirituality, enhanced by the view of Mount Yahiko overlooking the Sea of Japan in the background.
The area’s inhabitants visit the shrine all year round. It is dedicated to kami Amenokaguyama no Mikoto (or Amanokagoyama no Mikoto), the great grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who among other things, grants good fortune, prosperity in business and success in love when prayed. According to a local legend, Amenokaguyama is said to have encouraged the birth of Echigo province and taught its people how to improve their livelihood with fishing and agriculture.
Shinto shrine of regional significance
The importance of the place is noticeable as soon as the neighboring downtown, from which stems an avenue marked by an immense and flamboyant Otorii (the third largest torii ⛩️ of japan), built in 1982 for the opening of the Joetsu Shinkansen 🚅 line. Walking toward Yahiko-jinja, a succession of several torii gates stand to indicate the sacred and majestic character of the place into which one is walking.
Shrouded in the forest, visitors begin the discovery with the view on the sacred bridge called Tama-no-Hashi (玉の橋). The structure is for the exclusive use of the gods and can not be crossed by humans. It spans a stream that was once used as an ablution site to purify. A little bit further, a recent construction hosts a ring for sumo wrestling, and sumo come here for training after the Obon period. The shrine also shelters a hen-house home to several species of gallinaceous and a pen for shika deers.
In November, the rectilinear alley leading to the esplanade of the main hall hondo is bordered by numerous chrysanthemums, creating a lovely colored fresco of a miniature Yahiko-jinja. The chrysanthemum festival (Kiku Matsuri) is one of the highlights of the shrine’s year. It attracts many visitors who come to admire the flowering and enjoy the ephemeral specialty: salmon maki with chrysanthemum blossoms.
The shrine’s grounds displays secondary pavilions and mausoleums with carved raw wood facades that associate well with the surrounding nature. The shade of the trees offer a breather in a relaxing environment conducive to reconnecting with oneself.
The ascension of Mount Yahiko
The sacred enclosure is limited by the foot of Mount Yahiko, on which visitors can easily climb thanks to Yahikoyama Ropeway. In autumn 🍁, the climb offers a wonderful view on the vegetation changing color. Reaching the top, one can admire the following landscapes:
- The deep green of the mountain forests;
- The lighter green of the agricultural land of Echigo plain; and,
- The blue of the Sea of Japan, blending with the sky.
On a clear weather day, the view extends to the coast of Sado Island. The panorama is worth the climb, and we encourage hikers to use the pleasant and easy trail, with a good marking. At the top of the mount, at 634 meters of altitude, stands a small Shinto shrine belonging to Yahiko-jinja complex.
Mount Yahiko is also accessible by car 🚙. A scenic road winds into the mountain and gives beautiful views on the coastline. Note however that this road in closed in winter due to the heavy snowfalls. There is also a typical Japanese cuisine restaurant, whose terrace is also an observation platform, and a 360° observation tower whose metal structure contrast with the landscape.
Yahiko-jinja offers an interesting combination of a spiritual site discovery, an easy mountain hike and a viewpoint over the area. The best seasons span from spring 🌸 to autumn, when the vegetation is flourishing.