The first stop of the sacred Munataka Taisha.
Located about 40 minutes from Fukuoka City, Hetsumiya Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Japanese history. It’s hondo, or the main hall, was built during the 12th century, but its grounds have a sacred site for Shinto since the 6th century. In those days, places of worship were commonly outdoors, and Hetsumiya was one of the first places where Shintoism was practiced.
Along with Okitsumiya and Nakatsumiya shrines, Hetsumiya Shrine makes up the Munakata Taisha World Heritage Site. Hetsumiya is the trio’s main shrine and the most easily accessible because it is the only one located on Kyushu’s mainland.
The three sisters of the Munakata Taisha
The three sisters of Munakata, or goddesses, are worshiped at the Munataka Taisha. Ichikishima Hime is the goddess of Hetsumiya. Mariners and fishermen have been praying to Ichikishima Hime for centuries to ensure their safety on the open seas. Historically, Munakata was a large port town connecting Japan to the rest of Asia. The emperor himself would pray to the goddess before diplomatic meetings with visitors from Korea or China.
Hetsumiya’s main prayer hall is a massive wooden structure that was built in 1590. Twenty-four wooden shrines of different sizes from other Munakata shrines across Japan encompass the main shrine.
On Hetsumiya’s grounds is an open-air ceremonial site, or the Takamiya-Sanijo, where ancient rituals took place. An assortment of stones creates a border around the area. Here, the three goddesses are said to have first touched down on earth. Although it is off-limits for visitors, yearly ceremonies are held here.
A path near the main shrine hall takes you to replicas of the shrine’s sister shrines, Okitsumiya and Nakatsumiya. The shrines are named Teisangu and Teinigu respectively. Okitsumiya Shrine is on an island that is so sacred; it is mostly off-limits to visitors. Nakatsumiya Shrine is 11 kilometers off the coast and 25 minutes by ferry. If you want to visit all three shrines, your chance to do so is on the grounds of Hetsumiya Shrine, as you can visit replica shrines of the other two here.
The Shimpokan Museum is also within the Hetsumiya Shrine complex. It is home to tens of thousands of sacred treasures and artifacts unearthed around the Munakata Taisha shrines. Artifacts such as jewelry, swords, coins, and more that originated from all across Asia were brought to Japan for trade. You can see some of these historical artifacts on the Shimpokan Museum website (Japanese only).