Nagoya: Atsuta Shrine and its Sacred Sword (熱田神宮)
We admit that we have only limited knowledge on Shintoism, the main religion of Japan. So we decided to go to one of the largest Shinto shrines in the country, the Atsuta Jingu (Jingu means shrine). Upon entrance to the gate you are greeted with a large Torii, signifying that you are about to enter a hallowed ground.
It is the second largest and most important shrine in Japan (the largest is the Great Shrine of Ise). Since over seventy (70) festivals and ceremonies are being celebrated here yearly, more than nine million people visit this place every year. Because of its large size we have no idea where to go. Though a brochure is being distributed upon entrance, it is written in Japanese, and the signages inside are all written in Japanese (no English translation 🙁 ) so we were really, really lost. We just looked in the drawings in the map to serve as our guide.
The sacredness of the ground made the silence deafening. We visited the shrine at the morning, so the visitors are still few. Upon entrance to the shrine, we noticed several devotees washing their hands and feet in a well, as a symbol of purifying one’s soul before entrance. We didn’t immediately noticed the so-called Nobunaga Wall which is eight feet high. It was donated by Nobunaga Oda in 1560 because of his victory in war.
After some moments of walking we reached the Front of the Shrine (Main Shrine (or Hongu is unfortunately not open to the public). The Atsuta Shrine is said to be the center of worship in Japan during the ancient times. The deity enshrined here is Amaterasu-Oomikami which is represented by a sacred sword, the Kusanagi-no-tsurugi. The said sword is the most important treasure stored here and one of the three sacred treasures of the Imperial House.
The sacred sword has an interesting but mysterious story: according to the legend, one of Amaterasu’s grandsons brought with him three treasures as he descended to earth, namely a jewel, a mirror, and a sword. All of these treasures are scattered all around Japan – the mirror is in a shrine in Ise, the mirror in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and the sword in the Hongu of Atsuta Shrine. Unfortunately, it is forbidden to take photos of it nor to show it to the ordinary people, adding mystery to the sword. The semi-legendary status of the sword is an important factor why millions of devotees and visitors visit the shrine each year. Also enshrined here is the “Five Great Gods of Atsuta” which are all mythologically connected to the said sacred sword.
At the middle of Atsuta Shrine is the Bunkaden or Treasure Hall. It is where you can see more than 4,000 articles donated by different people of all classes, from the Imperial family, shoguns or feudal lords and even from the ordinary people. There are also other swords, daggers, paintings, masks and other articles displayed here, all connected to the sacred sword and their respective deities. The treasure hall is open to the public.
After several hours of strolling, we did not only learned something, but also gained awareness on the deep faith of the ancestors taking care of the shrine as well as its long history.
- By Meitetsu Railways
Take the Meitetsu Nagoya Line from Nagoya Station to Jingumae Station (5 minutes, 230 yen), from where the shrine can be reached in a three minute walk.
- By subway
Jingunishi Station on the Subway Meijo Line is a five minute walk from the shrine.
- By Japan Railways (JR)
Take the JR Tokaido Line from Nagoya Station to Atsuta Station (6 minutes, 190 yen), from where it is a ten minute walk to the shrine.
DASH OF HISTORY
During the bombings of the Second World War, many of Atsuta Shrine’s buildings were destroyed by fire. Many of the shrine’s main buildings, such as the honden, were reconstructed and completed in 1955. Construction of other buildings were then continued on the shrine grounds. In 1966, the Treasure Hall was completed to house the shrine’s collection of objects, manuscripts and documents. (Source: Wikipedia)