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Goin’ Japanesque!

Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki: Multiple Shrine Gates and 193 Step Stone Stairway

Suwa Shrine is easily accessible in about 10 minutes from Nagasaki Station by tram and on foot. The shrine is cherished by locals and friendly referred to by the nickname of  “Osuwa-san.”

About 360 years ago (in 1624), the dissemination of Christianity led to burning of all Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Nagasaki. It was around this time when Katakiyo Aoki, who was later to be the first chief priest of Suwa Shrine, restored the shrine with the support from the Tokugawa government.

Every year in the early morning of the 7th of October, a traditional Shinto ritual dance is dedicated to the god at the square in front of the main shrine hall, which is broadcasted live on the local TV network as an autumn feature of Nagasaki.

The photo above is the entrance to Suwa Shrine. You can see a very large and tall shrine gate standing here. The stairway leading from here up to the main shrine hall has as many as 193 steps. If you dash up this many steps all the way to the main shrine hall, you will definitely be out of breath.


Multiple Shrine Gates along the Way to the Main Shrine Hall

There are three shrine gates or “torii” along the 193-steps leading up to the main shrine hall.

1. Gate at the Entrance to the Shrine Approach → 2. Gate along the Shrine Approach → 3. Gate at the Top of the Steps

Writer’s Photo: Shrine Gate at the Entrance to the Approach

This photo shows the shrine gate located at the entrance to the shrine approach, the first among the many gates you will go through. The large stone lanterns on both sides of the stairway and the large stone column with the shrine’s name inscribed on it are noticeable features here. Every year at the time of the festival called Nagasaki Kunchi, which is hosted by the shrine, as well as during New Year’s holidays, the area around here will be very crowded with a lot of visitors.

Writer’s Photo: Five Shrine Gates along the Approach

Going past the entrance shrine gate, you will then find five other shrine gates along the shrine approach. (The gates here are numbered one to five in order of the year of construction.)

The oldest gate was established in 1835. It was originally a bronze gate. It suffered a collapse in a typhoon and was even removed to be mobilized as war material. It was reconstructed in 1952 in concrete and steel in celebration of the conclusion of the peace treaty for the Second World War.

Round shaped stones called “Otoko Ishi (man stone)” and hexagon-shaped stone called “Onna Ishi (woman stone)” are embedded in the shrine approach. It is said that you can tie the knot with someone you love if you step on both of these stones as you go along the approach and finally step on the “ying yang stone” at the end to visit the main shrine hall. The “man stone” and “women stone” can be both found near the shrine gates along the approach. Make sure to find them as you walk along this area.

Writer’s Photo: Large Gate at the Top of the Stairway

Past the five shrine gates, you still have a long way before you get to the main shrine hall. This long stairway is awaiting you at the last part of the approach. This stairway leading up to the large gate at the top is called “Nagasaka (long slope)” and has 73 steps.

Writer’s Photo: View from the Top of the Nagasaka Stairway

The Nagasaka Stairway overlooks the panoramic view of downtown Nagasaki. But why is this stairway referred to as long “slope”? That’s probably because the climb up the steps is steep and the distance is long, the view from here will make you feel like you are at the top of a slope.

Nagasaki Kunchi, the shrine’s festival, will be held at the platform seen in the center of the photo. Every year in autumn, “kokkodessho” “snake dance” and other traditional dances will be performed for the festival here. But the admission tickets to the festival venue are always so competitively sought after that you can rarely get to see the event. The tickets are often sold out so many people watch the event on TV on October 7th, the day of the festival. It is such a representative event of Nagasaki.


What else awaits you as you go through many shrine gates and get to the main shrine hall?

Check out the article in the following link for other things of interest about the shrine.: 
Nagasaki’s Suwa Shrine: Must-Visit Highlights within the Shrine Loved by Locals

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About the author

I am a housewife who has lived in Nagasaki, Kyushu for over 30 years. Nagasaki has a distinct culture even in Japan, having received a lot of influences from China and Europe. I hope to report based on my experiences so more of you can learn about the appeals of Nagasaki.

View all articles by Masumi