Unique Shrine with Two Names, Located on the Border of Nagano and Gunma
Two Names? Why?
In this article, I would like to introduce to you a shrine, which is, very uniquely, located directly on the border between Nagano Prefecture and Gunma Prefecture. The borderline runs through the middle of the shrine, which is referred to by two names of “Kumanokotai Shrine” and “Kumano Shrine” respectively on both sides. The shrine thus has two shrine maidens, who separately dedicate each of their own prayer ritual to the shrine, as well as two lucky charms, two red shrine seals, two shrine offices and etc., which all separately belong to each of the shrines.
History of the Shrine
The history of the shrine can be traced as far back as to the ancient times when the shrine was first mentioned in two of the oldest books in Japan (Kojiki and Nihon Shoki) as constructed by the legendary prince called Yamato Takeru.
The document about the origin of the shrine tells a story of Yamato Takeru when he lost his way in a dense fog when he was approaching Usuitoge Pass on his way back from the eastern expedition. A sacred crow then appeared and showed him the way with a leaf of the nagi tree in its beak. The prince managed to reach the summit of the pass thanks to the sacred crow. Then he established a shrine to enshrine the god of Kumano in his great gratitude towards the god who saved him. This is said to be the shrine’s origin.
By Car: About 15 Minute Drive from Karuizawa Station / About 10 Minute Drive from Kyu Karuizawa Ginza Dori Avenue
By Bus: Take the Karuizawa Kotsu Bus Bound for “Kyu Usui Toge Miharudai” and Get off at “Miharudai” / 5 Minute Walk from the Bus Stop to the Shrine
By Foot: About 70 Minute Walk via a walking path leading from Kyu Karuizawa Ginza Dori Avenue (Long Mountain Path Only Suitable for Those Physically Fit), Map
1. Main Shrine
Once you are inside the shrine site, you will see two donation boxes placed side by side and a line leading from the center of the gate runs between them and divides the whole shrine site to the Nagano side and the Gunma side. Both sides of the shrine are respectively dedicated to the Goddess who gave birth to all the gods in Japan (Izanami No Mikoto) and the legendary prince, Yamato Takeru, who founded this very shrine. It would be a bit troubling to decide which side to make a donation for.
2. Japanese Lime Tree (Shinanoki) Filled with Mystical Energy
This Japanese lime tree found within the shrine site is said to be about 850 years old and designated as a natural monument of Nagano Prefecture. It is also said that your life will be extended by one year if you go around the tree clockwise.
3. “Football Lucky Charm” for Football Fans
The shrine has a several kinds of lucky charms themed on the legendary sacred crow, which is believed to have guided Yamato Takeru. The sacred crow, which is known by the name of “Yatagarasu,” is actually also the symbol of the Japan national football team. The shrine also offers “football lucky charms,” which are designed with the symbol crow emblem of the national team and available in blue and white.
Tourist Spots in the Vicinity
1. Shigenoya, a Teahouse in the Usuitoge Pass
Writer’s Photo, Shigenoya, Map
Just in front of the shrine, there is a teahouse, which is called “Shigenoya” and has about 300 years of history. Especially recommendable here is the rice cake called “Chikara Mochi.” You can eat them at the deck of the teahouse while admiring the beautiful scenery of the Usuitoge Pass.
One thing which is particularly unique and you should not miss out here is the restroom. It has a kettle shaped faucet and many other interesting features.
2. Kyu Karuizawa Ginza
Writer’s Photo, St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Map
Descending from the shrine, at the foot of the mountain, there is an area called “Kyu Karuizawa,” which provides a perfect place to stroll around after visiting the shrine. The area once prospered as a post town on the Nakasendo highway. A missionary built a villa here in 1886 and the area has ever since become known as a summer resort. The area has a shopping street with many old shops and restaurants which has long served many visitors to the resort area from within and outside Japan. The area has nice bakeries, restaurants, churches and various other things to see.
Kumanokotai Shrine of Nagano, or Kumano Shrine of Gunma as it’s otherwise so called on the other side, though not much in size, is an attractive shrine with a great history and a lot of unique features and things worth checking out. If you have already visited famous shrines and temples around Japan and are looking for something special and unique, this is a perfect place for you. As the center line divides everything in this shrine on both sides, it is all up to you to decide which side to make a donation for, from which side to get a lucky charm and so on. It would surely add a little bit of interesting twist to your trip in Japan.