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Goin’ Japanesque!

Samukawa Shrine: Kanagawa’s Prestigious Shrine with Talismanic Power

Samukawa Shrine is the oldest and the most prestigious shrine in Kanagawa Prefecture; according to a historical record made in 927, the shrine was categorized as “Ichinomiya,” the title given to the shrine of the highest prestige in a region. The foundation date of the shrine itself is not clearly known but a record tells of the construction of the shrine hall in 727.

The area around the shrine has traditionally been considered to be “ura kimon,” which means an area filled with devilish spirits and considered to bring bad luck. Political leaders throughout history have worshipped the shrine as the god of “happo yoke,” the guardian against bad luck.

It is said that the sun always passes right above the shrine at the time of the spring and autumn equinox as well as the summer and winter solstice, which suggests that the shrine is located on the “ley line,” the line of mysterious solar energy, and many believe that gives the mysterious power to the shrine.

 

Happo Yoke

八方除

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Writer’s Photo: Compass / Statues of Four Gods / Armillary Sphere: Memorial Monument Associated with Happo Yoke (talismanic power against bad luck)

Japanese people have long believed that direction, date and time, movement of stars and all other elements of nature follow a certain principle. Based on this principle, believers would calculate the direction and timing of auspicious and inauspicious occasions and use it to guide their decisions and actions.

Many people still care about a direction filled with bad luck (called “kimon”) when building a house. When holding a celebratory event such as weddings, they refer to the Japanese calendar to choose the day of “taian” (lucky day) and avoid the day of “butsumetsu” (unlucky day). Also, when reaching the ages of “yakudoshi,” which is a set of “unlucky” ages, many people visit shrines and temples for an exorcism ritual.

Even when you are concerned about such super natural principles, you sometime have to make a decision that is likely to cause bad things to happen according to the principle. That is when people offer prayers of “happo yoke,” which literally means “driving off bad luck in all directions,” in order to minimize the possibility of facing bad outcomes from such decisions and turn it around for the better as much as possible.

There are shrines elsewhere where you can offer prayers to bring good lucks and avoid bad lucks but Samukawa Shrine especially attracts a lot of visitors because of the guardian god of happo yoke it is dedicated to.

 

From Ichi No Torii Gate to the Main Shrine Hall

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Writer’s Photo: Ichi No Torii Shrine Gate

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Writer’s Photo: Ichi No Torii Shrine Gate

Both pillars of the torii gate have branches of sakaki tree, which is considered a holy plant in Shinto religion, tied to them. The gate marks the border between the sanctuary inside the shrine site and the outside world.

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Writer’s Photo

You can see four happo yoke talisman slips stuck on the wall of the store inside the shrine. Each talisman slip has its own direction where it can be most effective. On the slip in the photo, it says “direction of,” which is south, so it is supposed to be most effective for driving away bad lucks in the south direction.

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Writer’s Photo: Shinmon Gate

As you go along the approach leading straight from the shrine gate, you will come across another gate called “shinmon” gate. Past “shinmon” gate, you will come out into a large area covered with white stones and find the main shrine hall there.

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Writer’s Photo: Main Shrine Hall

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Writer’s Photo: Main Shrine Hall

Usually, visitors offer their prayers by tossing coins into the donation box in front of the shrine hall. But if you make an official application and pay the fee for a prayer ritual at the shrine office, you will be invited into the shrine hall and receive a Shinto prayer ritual performed by a shrine priest. Map

Related Articles:
Learn for Your Trip to Kyoto: Differences in Etiquette for Shrines and Temples

 

Kantakeyama Shin’en Garden

神嶽山神苑

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Writer’s Photo

Those who have received a prayer ritual at the shrine hall will be allowed to go inside the garden called “Kantakeyama Shin’en.” It was once set off limits as a sanctuary but became accessible in 2009.

You will enter the garden from here. There are sacred areas in the garden here, so be mindful of your behaviors and not to take photos in unpermitted areas.

<Kantakeyama Shin’en Garden>
Opening Hours 9 AM – 4 PM
The garden is open from early March until early December and closed during the rest of the year in winter.
Closed on Mondays (Except Sundays and Public Holidays)
*Subject to Temporary Closure / Make an Inquiry before Visiting, Official Website

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Writer’s Photo

Going past some sacred spots such as the spring which is said to be the origin of the shrine and the back shrine alter, which is located right behind the main shrine hall, and through yet another small gate called “uchimon”, you will come out into the green rich Japanese garden with a serene and refreshing spring.

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Writer’s Photo

Here you can enjoy maccha green tea and Japanese sweets while admiring the seasonal beauty of the garden.

<Chaya (Cafe) Warakutei>
Opening Hours 9AM – 3:30PM on the Opening Days of the Garden
(Last admission is 3:00PM)
Maccha and sweets are offered for 500 yen.
*You don’t necessarily order anything when going in the cafe but please note no drink and food from outside is allowed.

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Writer’s Photo

At Hotoku Museum located across the cafe, you can learn about the history of the shrine, the belief about the shrine’s sacred power of happo yoke and the idea of yin-yang philosophy and oriental astrology which support the belief.

You can take a walk around the pond and through the small “uchimon” gate again and get back to the starting point and leave the garden.

 

Cafe “Chinju No Mori Koyo”

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Writer’s Photo

Beside the store inside the shrine, there is also a building in the parking located next to the shrine housing a souvenir shop on the 1st floor and a cafe on the 2nd floor. At the cafe, you can enjoy “hachifuku mochi (rice cake),” which is also sold as souvenir at the shrine.

<Chinju No Mori Koyo>
Tuesday – Friday 9AM – 6PM / Sat, Sun and Public Holidays 8AM – 7PM
Closing Day: Mondays and Occasional Irregular Holidays
Map

 

Samukawa Shrine is one of Japan’s most prestigious shrines which has long been worshipped by many for enshrining the guardian god with talismanic power and sits in a stately atmosphere matching its high prestige. Also, Kantakeyama Shin’en Garden, which is surrounded by woods and accessible only for those having received a prayer ritual, will surely heal your soul with the scenic beauty that varies by seasons. The shrine is definitely a recommendable tourist spot. Make sure to include it in your itinerary when you travel around Japan.

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