The setting of one of Japan’s oldest legends.By Laura Payne
Located east of Shimane Prefecture’s capital city, Iya Shrine and a nearby site known as Yomotsuhirasaka are famous because they are believed to be connected to the entrance of Yomi no kuni (the Shinto realm of the dead).
Specifically, Yomotsuhirasaka is said to be an entrance to Yomi no kuni. Iya Shrine is dedicated to a goddess who legend tells has been trapped in this underworld long ago. Those who travel to these two sites are visiting the alleged setting of one of Japan’s oldest legends.
The Kojiki, one of Japan’s oldest texts, claims that the Japanese archipelago was created by the deity Izanagi and his wife Izanami. The two also became parents to many Shinto deities, but sadly Izanami died giving birth to one of her children.
Distraught, Izanagi decided to go to the realm of the dead to find his wife. Once there, however, he discovered that her body had begun rotting even though she was alive in this realm. At the sight of her, Izanagi fled from the underworld and sealed the entrance with a giant boulder. From the other side of the boulder, Izanami told her husband that because of his actions, she would kill 1,000 people from the world of the living each day. In response, Izanagi said he would create 1,500 people each day.
This site is sacred, as evidenced by the shimenawa (woven straw rope) that hangs over the trail leading here. Some visitors leave coin offerings in front of the boulder, and others will leave a letter in the mailbox beside it. A sign explains that a ceremony is held once a year to send letters from this box to people who have passed away.
About a 20-minute walk from Yomotsuhirasaka lies Iya Shrine, dedicated to Izanami. Local historical records from the 8th century mention this shrine, which has existed at least since then.
Visitors today can buy omamori (amulets meant to bring safety or fortune in various areas of life) at the shrine office or offer prayers at the main hall. Some local travel sources say that prayers related to women’s health are powerful here, while others suggest praying for Izanami to rest in peace.