When in Izumo, it’s customary to do two things: eat the soba noodles the area is famous for and visit Izumo Taisha Shinto shrine.
The shrine is one of Japan’s oldest, as well as a top destination when in Shimane Prefecture. Many of the buildings at the shrine complex reflect the indigenous Taisha-zukuri style, the oldest architectural tradition in Japan. Almost completely surrounded by mountains, the atmosphere here is sacred and serene.
The giant straw ropes called shimenawa that resemble anacondas coiled around a tree branch are Izumo Taisha’s most famous feature. They represent the separation between the mortal and supernatural worlds. In fact, the shimenawa at the Kagura Hall at Izumo Taisha are the largest in Japan, measuring 13 meters long and weighing five tons.
What’s with all the rabbits at Izumo Taisha?
The main worship hall, where the Shinto deity Okuninushi is enshrined, is fenced in to divide the sacred from the everyday space. Built in 1744, this hall is the tallest in Japan, at about 24 meters. But it’s what lies behind the cherished building that catches most visitors’ attention.
At the back of the hall, there’s a cluster of cute rabbit statues! The rabbits are important to this shrine because of their connection to Okuninushi. Japan’s sacred text of creation stories, the Kojiki, tells a legend about how the god rescued a white rabbit from being eaten by sharks. Delight in the different personalities, quirks, and poses of each one as you walk through the shrine grounds.
At the nearby museum you’ll find Japan’s largest collection of excavated bronze swords and bronze bells, and learn more about the history of the holy Izumo region.
A shrine dedicated to matchmaking
The ritual for praying at Izumo Taisha is slightly different than at other shrines around Japan. Instead of clapping twice as you usually do at a Shinto shrine, at Izumo, you clap four times—twice for yourself and twice for your current or future partner.
Many young Japanese girls come to the shrine to pray for luck finding a future husband. Okuninushi is the Shinto god of marriage and good relationships, after all.
Close to the shrine is an entire street lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. Try regional specialties like Izumo soba, which is made from buckwheat seeds and served with grated daikon, nori (dried seaweed) and spring onions.
Shimane Prefecture has yet to reach tourists’ Japan bucket lists, but it’s well on its way.