Omiwa Shrine and Mount Miwa
A sacred Shinto shrine and a wholly holy mountain.
Thought to be the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan, Omiwa Shrine rests at the base of Mount Miwa in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture. Not only the shrine but the entire mountain is considered sacred. So sacred, in fact, that you must request permission if you wish to make the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain.
Unlike other shrines, there is no main hall at Omiwa to honor its deity. This is because the mountain itself is said to enshrine the gods. People direct their worship to Mount Miwa through a special triple torii gate located behind the prayer hall. This is a rare, ancient type of gate and one of the unique features of the shrine.
Another interesting highlight in the area is the water fountain near Sai Shrine, a smaller shrine just a few minutes away from Omiwa Shrine. The water that flows from here is Miwa’s natural spring water and is said to have healing properties. Sai Shrine (Map) is also where you need to visit to get permission to ascend Mount Miwa. Simply go to the shrine’s office where you will receive a form and some other essential instructions.
Ascending Mount Miwa
Mount Miwa (also known as Mt. Mimuro) is one of Japan’s most sacred locations as it is believed to accommodate the soul of Omononushi (a very influential god in the Shinto tradition). As such, access to the mountain is restricted.
Many people choose to make the pilgrimage barefoot, in order to absorb strength from the mountain.
It’s important to realize that climbing the mountain is considered to be a pilgrimage and not a normal hike or sightseeing activity. As such, there are strict rules that must be followed when on the mountain, including no eating, no smoking and no photography.
Before you are granted permission, the monks will explain everything to you and give you a form to fill in. This will all be in Japanese, so you will need to have a reasonable understanding of the language or bring a friend with you to translate. Once permission has been granted, you’ll receive a white sash (tatsuki in Japanese) to wear on the climb. The white color symbolizes purity and it’s usually worn by pilgrims all over Japan. This sash is proof that you are permitted to enter the mountain, and you must wear it at all times.
The hike is steep in places, but not too strenuous, and as you approach the summit you’ll find a number of shrines where you can pay your respects. Many people choose to make the pilgrimage barefoot, in order to absorb strength from the mountain, but the choice is yours!