Kibitsu-jinja is a great Shinto shrine located in the north-west of Okayama. Loved by the locals, it displays an original and preserved architecture, amidst the popular legends that surround this unique place in the area.
Nestled on a green hill, Kibitsu-jinja shrine appears after a few minutes’ walk in the Japanese countryside from the eponymous station, on the Momotaro JR Line (or Kibi Line) connecting Okayama and Soja stations.
The birthplace of Momotaro’s legend
Kibitsu-jinja is known as the shrine of Momotaro, the famous boy born in a peach and warrior hero of one of the oldest and most popular stories of Japan, that all children know. Momotaro’s tale itself is supposedly inspired by the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-Mikoto, who was said to have defeated Ura the demon ogre at the exact location where the shrine is standing nowadays.
Another legend has it that Ura’s head is still enclosed it a big cauldron sheltered in the Okama-den pavilion. The priests heat it up during a sacred ceremony called Narukama Shinji and the sound produced by the cauldron on the fire is considered the ogre’s answers to the worshipers’ wishes and is used in divination practices.
The large omotesando alley, lined up with Japanese pine trees and leading to the entrance of the site, is quickly reached. The row of food stalls and the two large parking areas show how much the shrine is popular among the local population. It is by the way a good place to encounter Japanese people dressed in kimono 👘, either for wedding pictures or for family celebrations such as Shichi-go-san or Hina Matsuri 🎎. In autumn 🍁, the yellow leaves of the great sacred ginkgo biloba are arranged in a circular shape on the ground, offering a beautiful spot for seasonal pictures.
A unique, large-scale architecture
A large stone stairway, sometimes bordered by paper lanterns inscribed with the names of the many donors of the shrine, leads to Kibitsu-jinja’s main building. This impressive honden was rebuilt in 1425 and designated National Treasure for its authentic kibitsu-zukuri architectural style. Renovated in 2008, its roof covered in hinoki cypress bark and double dormer gables on each side is unique in Japan.
Moving from the first and important plaza, many other various pavilions including an archery dojo are connected by a 360-meters (~1,181ft.) long covered passageway. This pleasant lengthy corridor follows the gentle curves of the hill in a straight line. Its structure must be regularly checked due to its unusual length.
Visitors who are used to large touristic city’s spiritual sites will be pleased to find some quietness in Kibitsu-jinja, especially on weekdays. Before leaving, you can purchase a peach-shaped amulet affectionately named momomamori to bring back as a souvenir and lucky charm.