The shrine in the mountains of Nikko
Futarasan-jinja is a syncretic shinto shrine located in Nikko, in Tochigi prefecture in Japan. Founded in the 8th century by Buddhist priest Shodo Shonin, the site was enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage in 1999, along with its famous neighbors Tosho-gu and Rinno-ji. Twenty-three of its pavilions built over three different sites, mainly in the city, are designed Important Cultural Assets.
When planning a visit to Nikko, Futarasan-jinja is not the spiritual site that first come to one’s mind. Located half-way between shoguns Tokugawa Ieyasu and Iemitsu’s mausolea, the shrine can easily go unnoticed. It is however one of the most ancient monuments of Nikko, directly linked to the city’s history.
The shrine is born from Shodo Shonin’s will to spread esoteric Buddhism in the area. Shodo, a hermit of the Shugendo doctrine, created this syncretic place to introduce his school to the local beliefs. The three sacred mountains of Nikko, Mount Nantai, Nyoho and Taro are worshipped in Futarasan-jinja. Each of them is a volcano 🌋 home to a shintoist kami deity, that Shodo considered Buddha’s manifestations. The shrine is thus developed around three distinct places, creating a sort of pilgrimage route from downtown Nikko to the top of Mount Nantai, via Chuzenji Lake. Shinkyo Bridge, located near the station, is also part of the shrine’s buildings.
The visit of the main grounds starts at a stairway surmounted by a great torii ⛩️ gate, which became green over time, echoing to the majestic cedar trees surrounding the shrine’s buildings. The sacred grounds span on a 3,400 hectares surface deep into the mountains and Nikko National Park. The great trees offer a quiet and enrapturing atmosphere favorable to contemplation, a nice break amidst the touristic flow. The alpine green and the pavilions’ vermillion colors blend harmoniously. The walk takes to a forest visually beautiful and spiritual.
One of the highlights of the year is the celebration of the coming spring 🌸, in mid-April, during Yayoi Festival. Colorful floats, named hana-yatai, parade in the shrine’s grounds. Futarasan-jinja also holds Shinto marriage ceremonies all year round. People come to pray for luck when starting a family, for giving birth and for good health for the babies as well.
Futarasan-jinja is not the most famous shrine in Nikko, but it is worth the visit, especially if you are planning to stay several days in the area.