Namgyal Tsemo

Mani and I were back in Leh. After a memorable experience in 2018, we had been thinking about going back to the “land of high passes” for some time. The tourist season in Ladakh starts around early May. This time, to escape the crowds, we came a month early in April itself. As we deplaned, the air was brisker and the Sun was softer. After settling in at the Hotel Kesaar Palace, which I totally recommend, we set out to revisit the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa.

The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery, also known as Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, is perched atop a hill overlooking the charming town of Leh. “Namgyal” translates to “victorious” in Tibetan, while “Tsemo” means “red hill.” It forms a part of the Leh palace complex and is maintained by monks from the Sankar Gompa.

When you meet locals in Leh, it is rewarding to wave, smile, and say “joo-lay”

Nestled amidst the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Himalayas, Leh, the capital of Ladakh, stands as a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage and historical significance. Among its many treasures, the Namgyal Tsemo Monastery holds a special place, offering a glimpse into the vibrant history and spiritual essence of the area.

King Tashi Namgyal

Built in 1430 CE by King Tashi Namgyal, the founder of the Namgyal dynasty, the monastery serves as a historical repository, offering a window into the past of this remote region. The Namgyal Tsemo is a testament to the flourishing cultural and artistic expressions of the time, as well as a reflection of the king’s commitment to Buddhism.

King Tashi Namgyal was a prominent historical figure in the region of Ladakh. He was the founder of the Namgyal dynasty, which ruled Ladakh for several centuries. He is credited with unifying the fragmented regions of Ladakh and establishing a stable and organized administration. His reign marked a significant period of political consolidation and cultural development. This monastery not only served as a place of worship but also as a symbol of his dynasty’s rule.

The typical ascent route to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa is from the Leh Palace road near the entrance to the Leh Palace. However, we had booked a cab for the day and he drove us right to the top of the hill and drpped us off at the entrance of the gompa.

The skies were sunny and blue as we walked up the stairs of the gompa. Indide the monastery one can find a large collection of scriptures, murals, and artifacts that offer insights into the spiritual practices and artistic achievements of Ladakh’s people. The intricate thangkas, vibrant murals, and meticulously handwritten manuscripts speak volumes about the dedication of the artisans and the reverence for Buddhist teachings. The monastery also hosts a three-story high solid gold idol of Maitreya Buddha.

Because we were ahead of the tourist season, the halls of the monastery were closed.

Even without the ancient artifacts, you can still enjoy the amazing view. The environment around Namgyal Tsemo Gompa looks very attractive surrounded by snowcapped peaks of the Zanskar range. The city, with towering edifices of granite and gravel mountains encompassing them, look frail and inconsequential.

Beyond its artistic treasures, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery is a living testament to the resilience of Ladakh’s people. Throughout its history, the region faced numerous challenges, including political upheavals and environmental adversities. The monastery’s continued existence amidst these challenges echoes the unwavering determination of the Ladakhi people to preserve their heritage and way of life.

Namgyal Tsemo also plays a crucial role in the spiritual life of the locals. The monastery serves as a place of worship, meditation, and reflection, offering an escape from the demands of daily life. The panoramic views from the monastery’s vantage point further enhance its spiritual ambiance, providing a sense of elevation both physically and spiritually.

In recent times, with increased tourism to Ladakh, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery has gained much recognition. Visitors from around the world are drawn not only to its historical significance but also to the ethereal beauty of its surroundings.

Views from the summit are spectacular – the town of Leh and the Indus Valley lies to the north and west at the foot of the hill. The smaller hill of the Shanti Stupa lies across town to the north. Leh rests in the “Trans-Himalayan” region of India — dividing the India Great Himalayan Range in the west from the Tibetan plateau to the east. Two smaller ranges surround the valley and are visible as distant snow-covered giants — the Ladakh Range to the east and the Zanskar range to the west.

We sat there for some time in silence watching the snowfall slowly engulf the far away mountains. It is exciting that such exquisite beauty can emerge from such simplicity. Even though the gomoa is ond if the mist important landmarks of the city of Leh, very few tourists visit the heritage site on a regular day. As we lay there, a breathtaking spectacle unfolded over the majestic Himalayas.

Leh is surrounded by some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. The town is nestled amidst the mighty Himalayas and the Karakoram Range, offering awe-inspiring views of snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, and serene lakes. The faraway mountains are generally veiled in thick snow. The town’s high altitude lends a rarefied quality to the air and offers panoramic views that are unlike those found in most other places. The clear skies and vibrant colors of the landscape add to the allure. It offers photographers a treasure trove of subjects, from stunning landscapes to intricate architecture and vibrant cultural celebrations.

Thanks for reading! Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my story or follow me on my journey as I visit the Stok Monastery on the outskirts of Leh.

The enchanting Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha

The first time I visited Fushimi Inari-taisha was way back in January of 2016. Since then I have been to the heritage site a couple of times but I never came around to writing about it.

The Inari shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Japan. The classical vermillion Torii (gate) with a pair of stone fox images guarding such shrines can be found everywhere in the country. The most striking feature of Inari worship (Inari shinkõ) is the high degree of diversification and even personalization of this kami. Devotees do not simply worship “Inari,” but a separate form of Inari with its own name.

Fushimi Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is the head shrine of the Kami Inari, located in Fushimi-ku area of Kyoto. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain, also named Inari, which is about 230 meters in height. Most of the shrine’s prominent structures are located right at the base of the mountain. However, for the adventurous types, there are numerous trails that lead right up to the summit of the Inari mountain, where you can find some very old and interesting shrines.

Whichever trail you choose, it is about 3 km to the top. Along the way, you will witness hundreds of smaller shrines, some freshly painted and some, in a somewhat debilitated state. The most intriguing part of the hike, however, are the thousands of vermilion-colored gates called Torii.

Vermilion is said to be a color that repels magical powers and is the reason it is often used in shrines, temples and even palaces in Japan.

Most of you, I assume, would be arriving to Fushimi Inari-taisha from Kyoto via the JR train line unless you are using your personal vehicle. As soon as you get off the train at the Inari Station, you cannot miss the huge Torii gate that leads to the main shrine grounds. The shrine’s close proximity to the bustling city of Kyoto makes it very easy to reach but that also means massive crowds, especially during the weekends. My recommendation would be to reach as early as you can.

The Great Torii of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Visit to a Japanese temple or shrine starts with passing through an exorbitantly designed gate. These ubiquitous gates that form an integral part of every Shinto shrine, vary from shrine to shrine in terms of both size and effect. Made from bronze, stone or wood, they are typically constructed to form a horizontal beam – kasagi, supported by two cylindrical columns called hashira. The first massive gate you pass while visiting Fushimi Shrine is known as the Daiichi Torii. It is meant to indicate to the visitor that he or she is now passing into an even more sacred space.

If you visit the Taisha from Keihan Fushimi Inari Station via Miyuki Road, you will not be passing through this torii gate.

The wooden ones are always colored in bright vermilion. Though commonly built at a scale that comfortably fits a small group of people, they range from miniature torii placed on shrines by worshipers to mighty structures such as this one leading into Fushimi Inari-Taisha.

Beyond the Torii, you will find the entrance gate to the shrine known as the Rōmon gate or Plum Blossom Gate, guarded with statues of foxes on either side. Generally, you will find a couple of lion-dog statues beside the shrine gate, but in the case of an Inari shrine, a fox statue is placed instead of the guardian dog. How the fox began being considered as the guardian spirits of the Inari shrines and messengers of the Gods. I will deal with a little later in this very article.

The Rōmon gate was donated to the shrine by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1589

The Rōmon gate along with the entire complex burned to the ground during the Onin War (1467-1477) in the mid-15th century and everything you will see onwards from here is a reconstruction. Beside the Rōmon gate, you can find the Chozuya, to purify yourself before entering the shrine complex.

A brief history of Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice cultivation and business success. This deity is said to grant a wide variety of prayers, from gokoku hojo (better crop output) to shobai hanjo (business prosperity), and in some regions of Japan, anzan (safe childbirth), manbyo heiyu (being completely cured of any illness), and gokaku kigan (prayers for academic success). Owing to the popularity of Inari’s division and re-enshrinement, this shrine is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines (bunsha) throughout Japan.

Inari is a different kami to each believer, shaped by what each person brings of his own character and understanding of the world.

The earliest structures on Mt. Inari were built as early as 711 CE. It was originally erected as their patron deity by the influential Hatas, the descendants of the Korean prince naturalized in the 4th century. The day Inari Okami was enshrined on Mt. Inari is known as “Hatsuuma.” To commemorate Inari’s enshrinement, the Hatsu-uma Festival began to be celebrated every year. It’s been about 1300 years since and the custom is still maintained to this day. The shrine was later re-located to the base of the hill in 816 on the request of the monk Kūkai.

The shrine became the object of imperial patronage during the early Heian period (794-1185). In 965, Emperor Murakami decreed that messengers carry written accounts of important events to the guardian Kami of Japan. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines, including the Inari Shrine.

Inari was first worshipped in the form of three deities (perhaps because there are three peaks on Inari Mountain in Fushimi) and later, from the time of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), as five deities. There has been great variation in the priestly assignment of kami as the three main deities of Inari Mountain; the current tradition of enshrinement, standardized during the Meiji period, is as follows:

  • Lower Shrine: Sannomine Uganomitama no õkami
  • Middle Shrine: Ninomine Sadahiko no õkami
  • Upper Shrine: Ichinomine Õmiyanome no õkami

Another custom that developed during the Heian period was the “souvenir cedar” (shirushi no sugi), a term so popular it became symbolical with the Inari shrine. The custom required one to take a small branch from one of the cedar trees on Inari’s mountain and attach it to themselves as a kind of talisman. It was especially popular to do this on the first horse day in the second month (nigatsu no hatsuuma), the traditional day of Inari’s worship.

In 1875, the name of Inari Shrine was changed to Mizuho Kosha

From 1871 through 1946, Fushimi Inari-taisha was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government-supported shrines.

The mythical Fox of Inari

At Inari shrines, foxes (Kitsuné), are regarded as the messengers of Gods. The word Kitsuné comes from two Japanese syllables: Kitsu & ne. Kitsu is the sound of a fox yelping and ne is a word signifying an affectionate feeling. Each fox statue holds a ball-like object representing the spirit of the Gods, a scroll for messages from the Gods, a key for rice storehouses, or a rice ear in its mouth.

One legend suggests that an agricultural cycle is similar to that of a fox’s behaviors and habits, and the routes of the shrine gates are considered to be foxes’ routes. Ancient Japanese people seemed to believe that foxes had mystical powers.

According to the Nihon Ryoki, one of the oldest records, a great number of foxes lived in the national capital of Kyoto in ancient times. According to the Nihon Shoki, the Kitsuné were held in respect as an animal of good omen. In 720 a black fox was presented from the Iga province to Emperor Gemmyo (661-726 CE), the founder of the capital of Nara.

It is said that during the reign of Emperor Kammu ( 737-806 CE), foxes used to bark at night inside the Imperial Palace grounds and sometimes were even seen walking up the stairs of the palace. In the Edo Period (1603–1867), local people established the practice of erecting gates along the path of the foxes on the mountain behind the shrine to protect and fulfill their prayers.

Night Photo-walk at Fushimi Inari-Taisha

The daytime experience at Fushimi Shrine is one of noisy crowds and chattering school children. Because of its close vicinity to Kyoto, the Fushimi shrine is always crowded with the daily wide-eyed tourists from different parts of the world who generally forget to respect the heritage place in their excitement. So this year when I decided to visit the shrine once again, I planned it specifically at night, when it truly becomes magical. The number of tourists also decreases significantly at this time and I can promise you that it will be a much better experience if you choose to do the same.

As you walk out of the JR train station, you will immediately notice a fox illuminated by a beam of light near the station gate, carrying a rice stock in its mouth.

Heritage structures at Fushimi Inari Taisha

The first Torii leads you to another. It is a beautiful sight sans the crowd.

The two-storied Rōmon gate is the building that makes up the main entrance of Fushimi Inari Taisha and has been designated an important cultural property. It was not part of the earliest structures of the Inari shrine, but there is evidence that it already existed around 1500 CE.

The two-storied gate, built with a hip-and-gable roof covered with cypress bark thatching, is believed to have been built during the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the time from the Warring States period to the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Hideyoshi prayed for his mother Oomandokoro’s recovery from illness, and the gate was built in gratitude for her recuperation.

On both sides of the Rōmon gate are statues of gods called “zuijin” and they act as bodyguards for Inari Okami. Of all the Rōmon gates at shrines located in Kyoto, this is considered to be the oldest and the largest.


Just beyond the two-storied Rōmon gate, will find the Gehaiden, illuminated brilliantly by the lanterns inside. This brightly lit structure is used for various dance performances during festivals. When I visited the shrine in 2018, I was lucky to experience a dance inside the hall. The hall was then surrounded by hundreds of people and absolutely not like how it is presented below.

The Gehaiden is built with a hip-and-gable roof covered in cypress bark thatch. It is also a designated important cultural property. The iron lanterns hanging from the eaves (edge of a roof) depict the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Azumamaro Shrine

While facing the Gehaiden, on your right you will find a small narrow path that leads to the Higashimaru Shrine enshrining Kada no Azumamaro. On its left wall, you will find hundreds of omikuji and wooden ema plates left behind by visitors.

Azumamaro was active in the mid-Tokugawa period as a priest of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and wrote works including “On Opening Schools and Annotations” to Nihon Shoki. In the modern period, he came to be extolled as one of the four great men of kokugaku or the “Learning of the Imperial Land.”

Prior to Azumamaro, there was Ooyama Tameoki, a disciple of Suika Shinto of Yamazaki Ansai, who also served as the priest of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and studied Shinto as the Learning of the Imperial Land. Kada Azumamaro was from the Hakuro family and Ooyama Tameoki was from the Hata family, these two came from two competing priest families. Yet, they both tried to master the Learning of the Imperial Land through the interpretation of Kojiki and Nihon Shoki.


Just behind the Gehaiden, lies the main shrine referred to as Naihaiden. It is very close to the Gehaiden at the base of the mountain. A small flight of steps leads you to into the red building. Here you can pay your respects by giving a coin offering, ringing the bells, and praying by bowing twice, clapping twice, praying silently, and then bowing once again. The Naihaiden was also burned down during the Onin War, and the existing building is said to have been rebuilt in 1499.

The main shrine or Honden lies just behind the Naihaiden. It is the holy building where Inari Okami resides. It is also where festivals and prayer rituals are held. The main shrine located within the Naihaiden was built in 1499 in the nagare-zukuri style with its streamlined roof. The 500-year-old building is painted vermilion and is an important cultural property.

Five kami, or gods, are worshipped: Ukanomitamano Okami, Satahikono Okami, Omiyanomeno Okami, Tanakano Okami, and Shino Okami. Collectively, these kami are referred to as Inari Okami. The gables in the entrance are Karaha-fu, a type of cusped gable, and each beam has beautiful Chinese firebirds and flowers carved into it.

Juyosho or Shrine Management Office

This is where you can buy souvenirs like ema plates, amulets, talismans, and the ever-popular omikuji. Applications for prayers, kagura performances, and offerings are also accepted here. The Ema plaques that they sell here are unique. They are called “gankake torii” which are shaped like torii gates. Usually, during the daytime, there is a long queue in front of the counter with a good number of young girls trying their luck at omikuji.

At the inner shrine and at the Gozendani, ema are shaped like white fox faces and called Gankake Myobu Ema. Ema (wooden tablets for writing wishes on) are very popular in shrines and temples around Japan. People write their wishes and leave the tablets hanging up at the shrine where the kami (Shinto deities) can receive them. Usually, ema have a more rectangular shape, but the special ema at Fushimi Inari Taisha is in the shape of a fox. The ema can be purchased at the shrine for ¥500. After purchasing the ema, write your wish on the back, and on the front draw the face of a fox. It is quite similar to Kasuga Taisha, where instead of a fox, you draw the face of a deer. It is very exciting to see all the ema lined up with the different faces that the visitors have left behind.


The Gonden is used as a temporary home for the kami when the main shrine or other buildings are being repaired. It is a lot smaller than the size of the main shrine, and it is made in the Gokensha Nagarezukuri style, an asymmetrical gabled roof style with six pillars. It too is a designated important cultural property. The current building is a reconstruction built in 1645. To the left of the Gonden hall, you will find a series of steps that go up the mountain. Climbing this stone staircase marks the beginning of “Inariyama Mikamiseki worship.”


This is the Kami-Massha shrine. The big torii to its left goes towards the Okumiya shrine from where the series of torii gates start.

Okumiya Shrine

At the top of the wide stone steps, you will find the Okumiya shrine dedicated to the same Inari Okami as the main shrine. It used to be called the Kamigoten and is made in a different architectural style than the other shrines in the precinct. It also is a designated important cultural property.

To the left of the Okumiya shrine, somewhat hidden by the trees you can find the first of the series of giant torii gates leading through Senbon Torii to the Okusha Shrine.

Continue along the large torii pathway called Myobu Sando and the path will split into two routes with torii gates that stretch tunnel-like. When going to Okunoin from the entrance, pass on the left side. On the other hand, when going down from Okunoin, pass on the right side. That is, we should always keep to the left in the direction we are going.

Senbon Torii

As I mentioned before, the highlight of the Fushimi shrine are the rows of torii gates, known as Senbon Torii. Those who have heard about the Fushimi Inari Shrine, immediately think of the Senbon Torii, or the thousands of red torii gates leading pilgrims up the sacred mountain. The word “Senbon,” literally meaning a thousand is just used here to represent many many more, closer to 10,000. They are so close to each other, that they form an almost perfect tunnel that completely conceals the outside world. Some of the old Japanese literature describes Senbon torii as a tunnel, similar to a birth canal from which a true believer is reborn onto the sacred space on the Kami’s mountain.

Even though I have been here multiple times, I have never thought about counting these torii gates. It is said that there are about 10,000 torii gates lining this road up the mountain to the shrine at the top. This sight of the torii, all lined up is magnificent and, perhaps one of the most iconic views of Japan.

Currently, about 10,000 torii gates stand side by side along the entire approach to the mountain.

After passing through the “Senbon Torii”, you will arrive at Okusha, commonly known as “Oku-no-in”. Legend has it that if make a wish in front of the stone lantern here and lift the empty ring (round-headed stone) of the lantern. It is said that if the weight you feel when you lift it is lighter than expected, your wish will come true, and if it is heavy, it will not come true. From here we turn left and head up into the mountain.

The gateways here are of a brilliant vermillion and black and are engraved with inscriptions from the donors. The custom of donating a torii began in the Edo period (1603-1868.) At times tightly packed and at times irregularly spaced and several yards apart, the torii lead visitors on the 3 km hike up, along the steep hillside, past an assortment of smaller shrines. Strolling up one of the torii tunnels, you will feel lost in a magical red world. It is an almost unreal sensation that washes over you as you venture yet further into the belly of the mountain through this surreal passage.

Some 30 thousand torii are said to have been donated by various people seeking Inari’s blessing on their businesses over the years. Merchants from all over Japan pay large sums of money to get a torii installed dedicated to them, at the shrine. As you move into the next set of torii gates, it does not feel like a tunnel anymore as the gates begin to get separated little by little. The gates here are a little more orangish.

The gates space out more as we head towards the summit. As the torii spread out, the outside light begins to pour into the tunnel and my attention was drawn to the forest that I had entered almost without noticing. The gates here are also not illuminated from the inside so you only have the lights from the street lamps to move around in the dark. The emerging space in alliance with the sequence of columns and beams creates a crisscross of patterns of light and dark.

The path continues upward through the dense cedar forest passing various clusters perched on the hillside until you reach the end of the torii gates.

This area is generally quieter with only the dedicated tourists making it up this far. Being late at night it was almost deserted apart from a couple of young Japanese visitors. A fleet of steep stairs will take you up to a four-point crossroad. The path to your left goes up the hill. On your right, you will find a very narrow lane called the Tamahimesha.


This is the Tamahimesha area where you can find many shrines dedicated to Inari. There is a place called Yotsuji in the middle of Mt. Inari. This is a perfect place to rest and you can enjoy the view of Kyoto. The view at sunset is especially beautiful!

Lit candles at a Kanmidokoro Takeya.

This was as far as we went. We didn’t go beyond this point and started our descent back to the base of the hill. During daytime you can hike further to the top of the mountain. While descending we took a different route.

As we reached the base, the Gehaiden was looking absolutely stunning in the night.

It was pretty late at night by the time we started to leave. To my surprise, I could still see some people making their way into the shrine. Yes, the shrine is open 24 hours with both the approach to the shrine and, the Honden itself, illuminated all night. So you can visit anytime you want.

Contrary to general assumption, the Inari Shrine does not own the entire mountain and a number of religious establishments on the mountain are totally independent from the Fushimi Shrine. It is impossible to tell though, which belongs to the shrine. Most guides are also not aware of this division between shrines and private areas.

The pilgrimage tradition at Fushimi’s Inari Mountain that started in the Heian period is still thriving. There’s something to be said about Japan’s almost seamless blend of new and traditional. Never have I seen such a balance of modernism from such an industrious country, all of their technological advances, infrastructure, media, and corporate lives don’t depreciate their respect for tradition and history.

Thanks for reading! Please leave your comments or questions using the comment form below. I am now going to double-check my shopping list before I disembark for India in a couple of days’ time. If you like my stories you can also connect with me on Instagram.

Admission Timings

Open 24/7

Admission Fees



711 CE

Annual events at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fox-feeding (Kitsune-segyo)
A custom prevailing in Osaka and vicinity. Believers visit their local Inari shrine carrying a small paper lantern shouting “O-segyo! O-segyo!” a call to the fox that it is feeding time. On their way home, they leave the fox’s favorite food of azuki-meshi, fice boiled with red beans and fried bean curds on the banks or any other place where foxes are expected to go.

Rice Planting Festival in Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Rice has been very important for Japanese people for centuries, and farmers have always worked hard together to cultivate rice. At Fushimi Inari-taisha, you can get a brief glimpse of this ancient Japanese culture. The Shinto rituals for prosperity and good harvests include seeding, planting, and harvest festivals are held respectively on April 12th, June 10th, and October 25th.


Zenkō-ji is a Buddhist temple located in the city of Nagano, Japan. The temple was built in the 7th century. The modern city of Nagano began as a town built around the temple.

Catching the train to Nagano

Nagano countryside

Nagano Station

Niomon Gate

Souvenir shops

Sanmon Gate

Incense Urn

Rokujizo Statues

Main Hall of Zenko-ji

Temple grounds

Sutra Depository

Wooden idols inside Sutra Depository


Statue of Shinran

Bell tower

Last shot of Zenko-ji before leaving

Waiting for the train to Nagoya

Thanks for reading

Great Buddha of Shoho-ji

After a beautiful morning at Gifu Castle we were ready to proceed to our next destination in Inuyama. But before we left the area, we dropped by to see the Shōhō-ji Temple – a rarely visited Buddhist temple near Gifu Park.

Shōhō-ji Temple

Shōhō-ji Temple lies at a 5-minute walk from Gifu Park. If you are already here visiting the Gifu Castle, you might as well take out a few minutes to explore this unique Golden Buddha created using dry lacquer.

For a building that houses a 13-meter high Daibutsu (Buddha), the temple building looks very innocuous from the outside. On a stone pillar near the entrance, the words “Nihon Sandai Daibutstu” (Japan’s Third Great Buddha) are engraved. It goes on to say that Gifu Buddha is regarded as one of the three great Buddha portrait statues in Japan along with Todai-ji in Nara prefecture and Koutoku-in in Kamakura.

The temple does not face the road. You have to walk around to the back. You can find the ticket booth on the left side of the entrance gate to the hall.

The admission fee for adults is ¥200. The lady at the counter also gave us a pamphlet in English, explaining various things about Shōhō-ji and the Daibutsu. This was my second visit to the peaceful temple and both times, the area was completely devoid of people.

Brief history of Gifu Buddha

As you enter the darkened room, it will take you a minute to adjust your eyes to the surroundings. To the left of the door lies a small bench, placed parallel to the wall. It is the best place to behold the powerful presence of the “Great Buddha”, with its imposing size and golden body, leaning forward over me with a comforting subtle smile. The statue’s kind and solemn expression combined with the calming nature of the temple in which it sits make for a soothing, comfortable atmosphere.

The Gifu Great Buddha (岐阜大仏, Gifu Daibutsu) in Shōhō-ji is one of the larger indoor Buddha statues that I have been privy to in all of Japan. It was conceived by the 11th head priest of Kinpouzan Shōhō temple, Ichyuu, around 1790 CE, in hopes of averting large earthquakes and famines in the area.

Pursuing this dream to erect a large image of Shaka Nyorai, he traveled far and wide collecting donations, most of the time on foot. Unfortunately, after spending 25 years working on the Great Buddha, he passed away in 1815 CE without seeing its completion.

With his predecessor in mind, Ichyuu’s successor, the 12th generation head Priest Kohshuu completed its erection 13 years later in 1832. Overall it took 38 years of construction to finish the Gifu Buddha.

The noble messenger of the Owari feudal clan attended the completion ceremony of this Great Buddha when it was commenced to the public in April 1832. The turnout for the completion ceremony was as grand as when the famous 16th-century ruler Oda Nobunaga gained control of Gifu and first moved into Gifu Castle. Sadly that grandeur is no more and the temple lies in a debilitated state.

The making of Gifu Buddha

The Great Buddha of Gifu is unique due to the method of its construction. Though most Daibutsu statues are made of metal, this statue was made using a technique called mokushin kanshitsu zukuri, where first a wood and bamboo “skeleton” is built, then paper or hemp cloth dipped in urushi (lacquer) are woven through the bamboo and allowed to dry before being guilt in gold.

Urushi is lacquer, made from plant extracts; when this sealant hardens it creates a water and acid-proof finish on the surface of the object.

The construction of the statue began with a central pillar, 1.8 meters in circumference, from a ginkgo tree. The Buddha’s shape was then formed using bamboo lattices. The bamboo was covered with clay to add shape and the statue was then covered entirely with Buddhist sutras. For this reason, this statue is also known as the “Kago Daibutsu” (the basket Daibutsu).

Finally, the scriptures were covered in lacquer and gold leaf, giving the Buddha the appearance that it has today. Because priests and many others prayed for people’s happiness by using Buddhist sutra scriptures, placing the many scriptures onto the body of the Great Buddha was very important in its construction.

However, a significantly large amount of Buddhist scriptures were necessary to completely cover all of the massive statue. Priest Ichyuu traveled by himself to collect sutras, asking for contributions all around Japan.

Gifu’s Great Buddha was eventually completed at 13.7 meters tall. It is now counted among Japan’s Three Great Buddha Statues and is the largest in Japan to be made of lacquer.

The Daibutsu is built leaning slightly forward, giving the impression that it’s trying to draw nearer to the worshipers who visit it. With its plump cheeks and almost closed eyes, the overall impression exuded by this Buddha is one of kindness.

This Daibutsu is characterized by a very long earlobe. The length of the ears is as long as 2.12 meters. Ear lobes longer than the chin are rare.

Daibutsu statues generally have their right hand opened, but the Gifu Daibutsu has its right hand tied with a fixed seal called “Seppoin“, which makes a ring with the middle finger and thumb, striking a pose that looks like an “OK” sign.

In the belly of the Great Buddha of Gifu, a statue of Yakushi Nyorai is enshrined.

On the right of the enormous image of Buddha lies the Binzuru-sama, the Buddha representing the concept of “mubyō-sokusai” (無病息災) or “being in a state of perfect health”. He is one of the most charming characters in Buddhism. His power to heal was matched by his love of drinking 😅.

It is believed that if there is a part of your body in poor health if you rub the corresponding part of this Buddha’s body, your illness or injury will be healed. But of course, be very careful when touching the statue.

Inside the Great Buddha Hall, about 108 statues of Rakan are lined up on the left and right walls so as to surround the Great Buddha. They are known as the Gohyakurakan – the disciples of the Buddha. Each statue has a unique expression, so it is said you can find at least one stone Buddha that resembles you, your parent, or a friend.

Originally there were more of these figures but many of the Gohyakurakan were severely damaged over the years by earthquakes and, as a result, the ones you see here are all that have survived.

The temple does not take long to explore so if you have the inclination for some non-flashy heritage places, this is a must-go. The temple might lack the charm of a Todai-ji or the fame of Kamakura, but it is an interesting place to enjoy history without the distraction of massive crowds.

Thanks for reading! Please leave me your comments or reviews. If you liked my story please consider following me on Instagram or continue with it as I visit the beautiful Inuyama Castle.

Built in

1832 CE

Built By


Admission Fees



9:00 – 17:00

Inuyama Castle

Located in the outskirts of Nagoya, Inuyama Castle is one of the 12 original Japanese castles. Founded in 1440 CE along the Kiso river, it dominates the quaint town of Inuyama from its stunning position over the hill.

After an interesting morning at Gifu Castle, we took the JR train to Unuma Station. From the station its a 25 minute walk to the Castle. Please note that I used the JR line because I had the JR Pass on me. If you are paying for tickets, it would be more meaningful to use the Meitetsu line and get down at the Inuyamayuen station which is a lot closer to the castle.

It was a beautiful weather and in the soft cool breeze, the walk to the castle was just lovely. After a few minutes we reached the Inuyama Bridge. Opened to the public in 2000, the iron beam bridge beautified with three arches, connects Kakamigahara in the Gifu Prefecture with Inuyama in the Aichi Prefecture. On the opposite side of the walkway you can see the Meitetsu Inuyama Line running parallel to the road.

Right after crossing the bridge over the Kiso river, we turned right, into a paved path lined with colorful momiji trees.

This straight path goes on for about 10 minutes before you hit a narrow winding elevated road that leads you to a huge white Torii. The path leading via this gate will lead you directly to the castle via the Nezutsu Shrine. However if you are one of those explorer types… follow me.

Sanko Inari Shrine

Just left to the huge white Torii, you will see a series of red torii gates. These gates lead to the Sanko Inari Shrine.

Located at the base of Inuyama Castle, Sanko Inari Shrine has a long, rich history. It’s name was originally Sankojisan and it is a highly revered place of worship for locals and tourists alike. In the Meiji period of Japan, because of the separation of gods and Buddhas, it became the Sanko Inari Shrine.

Every year on July 22, there is a traditional festival custom where families visit the shrine after dark carrying small red paper “chochin” lanterns hanging from branches of bamboo.

Before you enter through the red torii, you can find the Chozuya on your right, where you can wash your hands and purify yourself before praying at the shrine.

Although the exact date is unknown, the shrine is said to have been built in the 1500s. The shrine is particularly known for its cute, heart-shaped ema (wooden wishing plaques). Praying at the shrine is said to bring fortune in matchmaking.

Another compelling legend is the “omokaru” stone. This special stone sits on a red cushion on the side of the main hall. You need to close your eyes while standing in front of the stone and hold a wish in your mind while imagining lifting the stone. It is said your wish will be as easy to realize as the perceived weight of the stone that you felt in your mind.

As an “inari” shrine, visitors also come to pray for a prosperous business. According to one legend, it is said that placing money in a perforated basket and washing coins with sacred water on the shrine grounds will increase the amount of money several times over!

Just beside the main hall of Sanko Inari Shrine lies a short row of torii gates. Walking through the gate only made me desperately want to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Haritsuna Shrine

This shrine is listed in the Engi-Shiki, in the chapter that lists Shinto shrines at the time. It is located in the Inuyama area as one of the Five Owari Shrines and enshrines the Sochinju (local Shinto deity) of the Nobi region. The Inuyama Festival at Haritsuna Shrine has been designated a national intangible folk cultural property.

The shrine was relocated to its present location in 1882. The building structure of the shrine looks similar to “Sanko Inari Shrine”, but the atmosphere of coexistence of vicissitudes and solemnity. People come here from afar to pray for easy childbirth, warding off misfortune, warding off evil, traffic safety, and child conception.

After capturing some pictures of the revered shrine we walked back to the stone path. Before joining the stone path, you can see an “Immortal Horse” statue. It is said that the white horse is the patron saint of children, so this Imperial God Horse can pray for children.

The curved stone path led us to the ticket boot. As of writing this article, it cost us ¥500 per person to enter the castle grounds.

In 1871, many of the castle’s outlying buildings were destroyed on the orders of the new Meiji government. The Honmaru-mon Gate, which is the main entrance to the castle is a wonderfully-done reconstruction.

A brief history of Inuyama Castle

The precise year Inuyama Castle was completed is uncertain. The castle guidebook claims it was completed in 1440. According to the Heian period Engishiki a Shinto shrine, the Haritsuna Shrine was moved to make way for the castle. The structure was rebuilt several times in the Muromachi period and the current configuration was largely the work of Oda Nobuyasu, Oda Nobunaga’s uncle in 1537.

Although the antiquated architectural style of the watchtower atop the tenshu has in the past led many historians to believe this to be the oldest extant tenshu in Japan, that honor goes to Maruoka Castle, built in 1576. Construction on the current main tenshu (donjon) at Inuyama began in 1601, and continued through 1620.

Inuyama Castle was the final obstacle against Oda Nobunaga’s unification of Owari Province. After Nobunaga had defeated the Imagawa clan at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, his cousin, Oda Nobukiyo, seized Inuyama Castle with the support of Saito Yoshitasu on Mino Province. Nobugana recaptured the castle in 1564.

After Nobunaga’s death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi appointed Ishikawa Sadakiyo as castellan of Inuyama. Ishikawa rebuilt the defenses of the castle in line with contemporary designs and the current shape of the donjon is a result of this reconstruction. After the Battle of Sekigahara, the victorious Tokugawa Ieyasu expelled the Ishikawa clan and turned the castle over to Owari Domain.

Under the Tokugawa shogunate, the castle was governed by the Naruse clan, who ruled as daimyō of Inuyama Domain as vassals of the Owari Tokugawa clan until the Meiji restoration. The new Meiji government seized Inuyama Castle in 1871 and destroyed all of its auxiliary buildings except for the donjon; however, after the castle was damaged in the Great Nōbi earthquake, and it was returned to the Naruse family in 1895, on the condition that they repair and maintain it. The castle was thus unique in Japan in that it was privately owned.

Inuyama Castle was privately owned by the Naruse family until 2004 when ownership of the building and grounds was transferred to a non-profit foundation set up by the Aichi Prefecture’s Board of Education in Inuyama.

It was long believed that the donjon of Inuyama Castle was moved to the castle from Kanayama Castle in 1599, until such theory was disproved as a result of examination through a large scale restoration work, involving the dismantling of the donjon, carried out between 1961 and 1965.

After capturing some external shots of the castle, we went up the age old structure. The floor broads creaked like we were going into some kind of haunted house. The roofs are quite low, even for me at 5’10.

You have to remove your shoes to enter the keep, but once inside, the wooden floor boards and naked pillars speak volumes. Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and a host of famous historical samurai figures have trodden these floors.

The castle was for many years the private property of the Naruse clan, who were the lords during the seventeenth century up until 2004, when the management of the castle was entrusted to a public body.

Steep stairs throughout not only saved interior space, but hindered armored invaders, making defense of the castle easier. The first floor is divided into a number of chambers, with wide corridors around these chambers giving the samurai ample space to move in times of attack.

Its four floors contain armories, stock room of the lords and various defense systems. The 唐破風, Karahafu room as it’s called for the beautiful curved gables is located on one of the floors in the castle. The plover shaped windows are unique to Inuyama. The “kara” part of the world signifies the style came from China.

At the top of its steep stairs you will be able to go out and walk on its ramparts overlooking the entire valley and the Kiso River.

As the Sun gradually started to go away for the day, it cast a beautiful golden glow over the surrounding hills.

We waited for the sun to slowly die over Inuyama and the mesmerizing twilight to set in. The castle overlooking the Kiso River is perfectly positioned for one of the most beautiful view of the city. This one view alone is worth the trip.

Some of the places around Inuyama Castle still has traces of the old times like Honmachi street where you can still find merchant houses from the Edo period, including the Jo-an tea room near Urakuen garden.

Once it was dusk we climbed down the Castle and made our way back to the Inuyamayuen Station. Even though I was carrying my JR Pass, it made much more sense to use the Meitetsu line to get to Nagoya from where we could easily get a train to Kyoto.

On the Inuyama bridge, I set up my tripod to capture a couple of shots of the illumitaed castle. Strategically positioned on the wedge shaped hill with the wide, fast flowing Kiso River running around and below it, and with unhindered views of the surrounding area, it was the first castle to be owned outright by the warlord Oda Nobunaga, although he didn’t stay long, or use it as a regular base. Instead, he left his uncle as caretaker while he went off to fight more battles.

To get a close-up shot of the castle I used my 80-400mm Nikon lens. It had gotten pretty cold by then. With freezing fingers I quickly captured a few shots of the castle and packed up.

From Inuyamayuen station we caught the Limited Express to Nagoya Station. The station is an unmanned station(at least at that time we were there) so be prepared with a bit of Japanese or you might run into trouble buying tickets at the counter.

Thanks for reading! Please leave me your comments or reviews. If you liked my story please consider following me on Instagram or continue with it as I visit the mesmerizing Fushimi Inari Taisha at night.

Built in

1440 CE

Built by

Oda Hirochika

Admission Fees

¥500 per person

Events at Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Festival | April
During the first weekend of April, the city comes alive for local matsuri and its parade of floats decorate Honmachi Street. These floats are on display in a local museum. Another, in the castle, display weapons and armors from the civil wars of the sixteenth century.

Kiso River Long Run Fireworks | August
This weeklong fireworks festival takes place on the first nine days of August. During the festivities, Inuyama Castle is lit up for an extra exquisite night.

Hike to Gifu Castle

Today is an interesting day as I get to explore two of Japan’s most beautiful castles in the Chubu region. The first one, Gifu Castle or Gifu-jo, as it is called in Japanese, rests atop Mt. Kinka, located in the city of Gifu in Gifu Prefecture.

The castle was initially established here as a fortress by Nikaido Yukimasa under orders from the Kamakura Shogunate in 1201 CE. It was then known as Inabayama Castle. The fortress was later renovated into the polished structure we see today by Saito Dosan who became master of the castle in 1539.

In 1567 Oda Nobunaga invaded Mino and took control of Inabayama Castle from Saito Yoshitatsu, the grandson of Saito Dosan. After the conquest he moved his headquarters here from Komaki Castle and renamed the castle to Gifu-jo.

Kyoto to Gifu Castle

I was staying at the Keihan Kyoto Grande in Kyoto. After an early breakfast we caught the Hida Limited Express to Gifu. It takes about an hour and a half on the Express train. You can also catch the Shinkansen on the same line, which is about 30 minutes faster.

The Hida limited express train service operates only one service a day from Osaka to Takayama via Gifu.

It was a beautiful morning as we got down at Gifu Station. The station first opened in 1887. It was then named Kanō Station and was primarily used for transporting goods. In late 1888, it was upgraded to a passenger rail station, at which point its name was changed to Gifu Station.

Gifu JR Station contains the Gifu Tourist Information Office on the 2nd floor and a number of shops and cafes including MOS Burger and Mister Donut. Like most urban stations, Gifu Station has two exits. On the South exit there is not much to see except for a unique triangle shaped structure that doubles up as the entrance gate to the station.

On the north side of JR Gifu Station, right outside, lies a golden statue of Oda Nobunaga, standing gracefully over a high pedestal as if looking over the city. You can also find bus boarding platforms for all of the bus lines nearby. To get to Gifu Castle you need to wait for the bus that boards at Bay #12 or #13.

While waiting for your bus you might also catch a glimpse of the many green Gifu Nobunaga buses leaving the bus terminal at the station. The city has strong connections with the warlord Oda Nobunaga which I will go over briefly further down in my journal.

Gifu city existed long before Nobunaga. It was called Inokuchi back then. The city has always played an important role in Japan’s history due to its strategic location in the heart of Japan. “Control Gifu and you control Japan” was a common phrase used during the Sengoku period (1467-1568 CE).

The Sengoku Period, also known as the Warring States Period, was a turbulent and violent period of Japanese history when rival warlords or daimyo fought bitterly for control of Japan. It was in these chaotic times when Nobunaga conquered Gifu Castle, up-till then known as Inabayama Castle and changed the name of both the castle and town to Gifu.

The choice of name was an interesting one. He took the first character (岐) gi from Qishan (岐山), the legendary mountain from which most of ancient China was unified. The second character (阜) fu means “base of the mountain” and comes from Qufu (曲阜), the birthplace of Confucius. Nobunaga chose to use the newly renamed castle and its mountain (Kinkazan) as his base of operations in his mission to unify and control Japan. Oda Nobunaga is no longer around but you can find traces of him all around Gifu city.

After a bit of a wait we got on the bus to the Castle. After a short ride of 20 minutes or so, the bus dropped us off on a sidewalk near the base of Kinkazan.

From the bus stop itself you can view the castle sitting gracefully atop the Kinkazan mountain. From there we walked to Gifu park, located at the base of the mountain. Previously called Inabayama, the graceful mountain has long served as the representative symbol of Gifu.

In 2006, the park was selected as one of Japan’s Top 100 Public Historical Parks. Though Mount Kinka was strategically important for military purposes, living in the castle atop the mountain would have made daily life very difficult. As such, many important rulers built their main residences at the base of the mountain in modern-day Gifu Park.

Gifu Park is blessed with stunning nature and is the perfect place to enjoy the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves in fall. The best season for viewing autumn leaves is from mid- to late November.

This is the location of the former entrance to ODA Nobunaga’s residence.
Period artifacts such as passages and stone fences uncovered in archaeological excavations have been preserved and are displayed here.
You can see a passage made of rare giant stone construction, the remains of something like soil barriers, and fragments of foundation stones for staircase-shaped waterways.

On the east side of the park, there is a vermilion Three Storied Pagoda standing among the trees on a mountainside. It was built in 1916 in commemoration of Emperor Taisho’s accession to the throne.

Sanroku Station

In order to reach the castle, you can either take a 3-minute gondola ride on the Kinkazan Ropeway or hike your way up the mountain via one of the 4 different trails of varying steepness.

Souvenir shop inside Sanroku Ropeway Station

Kinkazan Ropeway takes you from Gifu Park to a midway stop of Mt. Kinka in 4 minutes. During the ride, you can enjoy the dynamic primeval forests covering Kinkazan, the beautiful stream of Nagara River, and the cityscape of Gifu. For a limited period in summer, the ropeway runs until nighttime for night enthusiasts.

The round trip cost us 1080 yen per person. You can also buy single ride tickets just to go up and then hike down the mountain via numerous marked trails.

Tenka Daiichinomon Gate

Centuries ago, the mountain was protected as a hunting ground for the Owari Clan, preserving the trees from being used to build the area as it grew from a small town to a large city. Today, the forest is designated as a national forest, giving protection to the over 700 types of plants and 80 types of birds that can be found on the mountain.

Gifu Castle was originally built by the Nikaidō clan between 1201 and 1204 during the Kamakura Period. Originally called Inabayama Castle, Gifu Castle has gone through a great number of repairs over the course of several generations.

Even though Gifu Castle was considered to be an impenetrable castle, it was once taken over by a mere sixteen men.

In 1601, Gifu Castle was destroyed and the castle towers and turrets were moved to Kano Castle. The castle eventually fell into disrepair and vanished from Gifu’s skyline. The castle we see today was reconstructed using ferroconcrete in 1956.

Shrine outside Gifu castle

Time clock outside Gifu Castle

Inside the castle, there are three floors with exhibits representing the castle’s past. With maps, weapons, pictures and other artifacts on display, visitors can recreate the story of Gifu Castle. On the top floor of the castle, an observation deck, visitors can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the Nagara River and Nagoya.

Exhibits inside Gifu Castle

Oda Nobunaga was a powerful samurai warlord in Japan during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States period) in the late 16th century. He is often called the first great unifier of Japan, as he conquered about a third of the country during his quest of unification before his death.

Nobunaga was born in nearby Owari domain (modern day Aichi Prefecture) and soon rose to fame due to his military conquests and victories. He is recognised as one of Japan’s greatest rulers.

Gifu City was where he realised his dream and its possibilities. It became the first stepping stone in his grand plan of unification of Japan after centuries of civil war. Nobunaga quickly established his lavish palace at the foot of Mount Kinka and a castle town flourished around the castle and mountain. A Portuguese missionary at the time describes Gifu as a “bustling Babylon” rivalling any grand city of the time in Europe.

Today, the citizens of Gifu City continue to honor Nobunaga and his contributions to the city, such as through the Gifu Nobunaga Festival – the city’s most important autumn festival held on the first full weekend of October. Parades of samurai and other historical figures, among additional events, keep his memory very much alive.

The top floor, a watchtower with a ledge running around its perimeter, is a fantastic vantage point from which to look down upon the city in a 360-degree panoramic view! From the turret you can get unhindered views of Nagara river, famous for cormorant fishing. To the east is the magnificient view of Mt. Ena and the Kiso mountains. To the north you can view the mountain range of Norikura and the Japan Alps. To the South you can view the vast expanse of the grand plains of Noubi with a view of the Kiso river serenly flowing into the Ise Bay.

At various points throughout the year, the castle is also open to night viewing, providing an awe-inspiring view of the city.

If you are a fan of samurai culture and Japanese history, then you should definitely pay this historic city a visit and trace the roots of the famous Oda Nobunaga.

Also, in the Kinkazan Squirrel Village, visitors can play with and feed squirrels while learning about the four species inside the Squirrel Village.

If you have time, don’t take the ropeway to the top. Take one of the 4 trails to the top of Kinkazan. It’s generally cool and quiet, making for a nice walk. Nearby the base of Mt. Kinkazan is also a small temple with a huge Buddha made from lacquered paper

Thanks for reading! Please consider leaving your comments or reviews. From Gifu I made my way to Inuyama Castle to catch one of the oldest original castles at sunset.

Nobunaga Festival | October
The locals love him in this city and he is regarded as a local hero and almost founding father like figure. They celebrate him every year by holding a festival called The Gifu Nobunaga Festival. It is held in October and features a samurai warrior parade down the main street of Gifu City.

Open Hours (subject to change)

March 16–May 11: 9:30am to 6:00pm
May 12–October 16: 8:30am to 6:00pm
October 17–March 15: 9:30am to 5:00pm

Night Viewing (subject to change)

April 28 – May 6: until 9:30pm
July 14 – August 31: until 10:00pm
September 1 – October 14: until 9:30pm (Sat, Sun and holidays only)
October 15 – November 30: until 6:30pm


1201 CE

Built by

Nikaido Yukimasa

Original name

Inabayama Castle

Ropeway Cost

1080 yen / round trip
620 yen / one way

After 6:00 p.m. during the panorama night view period:
Adults – 900 yen / round trip


Byōdō-in (平等院) is a Buddhist temple in the city of Uji in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, built in late Heian period.

Fall in Byodo-in

More fall trees

Byodo-in Temple

Bridge to Temple

Other side of Temple

Up the stairs to Temple Bell

Temple Bell Tower

Mani near bell tower

Roaming on the grounds

Viki with momiji

Evening setting on Byodo-in

Shopping for Matcha stuffs

Thanks for reading!

Yasaka Shrine

Today I went to capture the beauty of Yasaka Shrine, one of Kyoto’s most prominent tourist spots. Yasaka-jinja (八坂神社) is a Shinto shrine in the Gion District of Kyoto. The shrine never lacks in visitors throughout the year due to the various festivals spread across the year. For photographers like me, there is an added incentive that the gates to the shrine remain open at all times, which makes it possible to visit even at late hours when the crowds are comparatively less.

Me and my wife, Mani, were staying in the quiet town of Izumo in Shimane Prefecture. After a lovely week in Shimane where we experienced a beautiful sunset at lake Shinji we were excited to go back to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. In the early hours, we caught the Yakumo limited express train service operated by JR West, which runs from Izumo to Okayama. As we waited for the train to arrive, we talked about how the cold was a lot easy here, than compared to Nara.

It takes about 3 hours to get to Okayama from Izumo. The ride through the forested prefecture is absolutely beautiful especially with the fall foliage adding vivid colors to the scenery. From Okayama its as easy as catching a Shinkansen to Kyoto. Obviously, we were carrying our JR Passes that makes the whole ride a lot cheaper.

After the long journey from Izumo, we dropped off our luggage at our hotel at Keihan Kyoto Grande. The hotel is just behind the Kyoto Station and very easy to access using underground lanes, beneath the busy streets. After some 7-eleven onigiris, we walked to the bus stand located just outside the Kyoto Station.

To get to Yasaka Shrine from Kyoto Station, you can either take a bus or the Kyoto subway. We chose to take the Kyoto City Bus #206 as it is simpler. The bus ride takes around 21 minutes and it drops you right in front of Yasaka Shrine. It costs ¥230 one way. You can also opt for the daily bus pass if you are planning to make multiple stops along the way. Last I noticed, it was selling for ¥600 per person at the tourist information booth inside Kyoto Station premises.

You can also use the subway to reach the shrine, but I would not recommend it, as it requires you to change multiple trains. The nearest station would be Kawaramachi. From the station, you then have to walk for about 10 minutes to Yasaka Shrine.

The bus dropped us off at Gion, near the east end of Shijō-dōri, overflowing with pedestrians. The street passes through the courtesan’s district of Gion, branching off to the south, with the famous Ichiriki Chaya at the corner. The long sidewalk features small and large restaurants and shops of all kinds on either side of the street.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Jinja is believed to have been established a little before the Heian Era in Japan and holds hundreds of years of history. It is dramatically placed at the intersection of Shijō-dōri and Higashioji-dori, and as the bus drops you and moves away, you can see the large vermilion torii (shrine entrance gates) rise out of the hustle and bustle of pedestrian crowds and choking traffic.

A series of steps lead up from the street to the main entrance Nishiromon Gate, holding two wooden guards inside wired chambers on each side. Designated as an important national cultural property, the Nishi-romon Gate is considered the symbol of the Higashiyama district of Kyoto and Yasaka Shrine.

Rather than the usual two nio guardians found in most shrine entrances and some temples, at the Nishi-romon Gate you will see a wooden statue of Zuishin (guardians to the nobles in the Heian Period) on both sides of the gate.

As you pass through the gate and if you are familiar with Japanese shrines, you would notice that there is no Chōzuya, the place where worshipers wash their hands. That is because the Nishiromon Gate is not the front gate to the shrine. In fact the front, or main gate to the shrine is the Minami-romon Gate on the south side of the shrine grounds.

Beyond the gate we found a couple of wooden stalls selling mashed potato fries. The inviting scent of potatoes was enough to entice me to get one. As we waited for the order I captured the two charming shishi lions sitting on high pedestals.

Note how one of them has their mouth open and one doesn’t. Shishi is literally translated as “lion” but it can also refer to a dog with mystical powers to repel evil spirits. A pair of shishi typically stand guard outside the gates of Japanese Shinto shrines.

The open mouth, along with the pierced ball, indicate a male shishi, representing the Yang

They are traditionally depicted in pairs, one with mouth open and one with mouth shut. The opened/closed mouth relates to the sounds “Ah” (open mouth) and “Un” (closed mouth). “Ah” is the first sound in the Japanese alphabet, while “N” (pronounced “un”) is the last. These two sounds symbolize beginning and end, birth and death.

From here a system of walkways run around the shrine grounds towards the main hall.

Smaller Shrines at Yasaka Shrine

The Yasaka shrine is dedicated to Susanoo-no-Mikoto as its chief kami, with his consort Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto on the east, and eight offspring deities (yahashira no mikogami) on the west. There are a number of smaller shrines on the grounds of Yasaka Shrine.

Okuninushisha Shrine

In December one of the most interesting things to watch out for is the fall momiji trees around this area. Most hotels will have a map of Kyoto that you can check daily where the fall is in its full colors.

The movement of foreign religious theologies into Japan during the 6th century led Shinto practitioners to systematize their religious tradition to support Imperial rule. Shinto priests began compiling existing myths and legends into written accounts, and a more intricate mythology was created that gave many of these kami a name and genealogy.

Pictured below is a statue of the son-in-law of Susanoo-no-Mikoto and Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto – Okuninushi-no-Mikoto, who is known as the god of Enmusubi. The son-in-law is shown rescuing an injured rabbit, recreating a famous scene from Japanese mythology.

We gradually made our way through the crowd to reach the open area with the main hall.

History of Yasaka Shrine & Gion Matsuri

Originally designed as a Buddhist temple the date of initial construction of Yasaka Shrine is debated. Initial construction on the Shrine began in 656 CE. However it was not until the middle of the ninth century that Yasaka shrine rose in prominence. Because of its climate and location, Kyoto was often prone to summer illness and sickness, and in 869, the illness reached national epidemic proportions. The illness was thought to be the result of malevolent kami, so Emperor Seiwa ordered the priests of Yasaka Shrine to hold a festival to purify the streets and protect the people from the evil spirits.

The townspeople built sixty-six floats representing the various neighborhoods and paraded them through town. One week later the kami at Yasaka, including Gozu Tenno (commonly known as Susano-o mikoto), were placed in portable shrines and carried throughout the city streets. This was the beginning of the Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival), and Yasaka’s subsequent rise in fame.

In 965, Emperor Murakami ordered that Imperial messengers be sent to report important events to the guardian kami of Japan. Yasaka’s prestige continued to increase due to the Gion Matsuri, and by 970 C.E. the festival had become an annual event.

By the tenth century, the festival included floats, musicians, dancers, plays, and artistic treasures. These heihaku were initially presented to 16 shrines; and in 991, Emperor Ichijō added three more shrines to Murakami’s list. Three years later in 994, Ichijō refined the scope of that composite list by adding Umenomiya Shrine and Gion Shrine.

As the festival grew in importance and popularity, so too did the shrine, and in the late 19th century Yasaka was given the title of Kanpei-taisha meaning that it stood in the first rank of government-supported shrines. Similarly, the Gion Matsuri was elevated to the rank of Grand Festival of Japan and is often considered one of the most popular festivals in all of Japan.

Kyoto Maruyama Park

It was too busy so we decided to walk towards the back of the shrine. The east exit of Yasaka leads to an open garden area with benches for resting, fortune tellers, ice cream shops, and a weeping cherry tree. This area used to be called “Makuzugahara” popular for the traditional Waka poems in the Kamakura period.

Of the mountains surrounding Kyoto on three sides, the ones which are closest to the present downtown area lie in the east. This fact gave the whole eastern region of Kyoto its name, Higashiyama, i. e. Eastern Mountains. Since ancient times this area has been rich in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

While enjoying the beautiful fall scenery, I let myself indulge in some Matcha ice cream. If you haven’t had one, you must, it’s absolutely delicious especially combined with vanilla.

It used to be a scenic spot for viewing Cherry blossom at the foot of Mt. Higashiyama and was later converted to a park in 1886. In 1931, the park was designated as a “Place of Scenic Beauty.”

The garden complex branches out to other side streets, and a bit further back the Chion-in, a Buddhist temple and the head of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism, decorates the mountainside. The garden area is a popular retreat for picnicking couples, tourists, and families on a visit to various shrines and temples.

Yasaka Jinja at Night

As evening crept in, I stationed my tripod to capture some illuminated shots of the Maidono of Yasaka Shrine. Let me alert you from before, the crowd actually increases as evening settles in.

Yasaka Shrine is considered to be a powerful place for love in Kyoto. Enshrined at Yasaka Shrine are the husband and wife gods Susanoo-no-Mikoto and Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto. As the two gods were very close, eventually over time, the shrine became thought of as a spiritual love spot.

You will notice adorable heart-shaped ema hung at the shrine, usually with visitors’ wishes for improved relationships or meeting people. You can write and hang one yourself after purchasing one for a few hundred yen.


The platform is usually empty, except when it is the stage for various local events, plays, and dances. At the festival time the platform also holds the bronze-plated mikoshi (portable shrines) that house the kami temporarily so they can be paraded around.

There are other buildings including a shrine shop for purchasing ema (small wooden prayer plaques) and omomori, the administrative building, and the main shrine building which houses the kami. Only priests, sponsors, and other select people are allowed into the main shrine building.

The main hall stands 15 meters tall and has a roof made of hinoki (Japanese cypress) bark. The architectural style of the building is unique because the roof covers the front shrine as well as the main hall, and this design has become known as Gion-zukuri (Gion construction style).

Minami-romon Tower Gate

Just beyond the entrance gate is a small structure with wooden ladles and water flowing from bamboo pipes used to wash one’s hands and face for purification before entering the main grounds.

Because the crest of Yasaka Shrine resembles the cross-section of a cucumber, there is a custom in Kyoto that prohibits eating cucumbers during the Gion Matsuri festival period.

It has been said that Yasaka Shrine got its start in the early part of the Heian Period when Fujiwara-no-mototsune constructed the Kankei sub-temple, Kanjin hall, and the main hall on the grounds. The present structure was rebuilt in 1654 by the 4th Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

Legend says that under the main hall there is a bottomless pond that a blue dragon uses as its lair, drawing energy from the ancient water and acting as guardian for the ancient city of Kyoto.

After we had our fill of the place, we left for some well-earned rest at the hotel.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your reviews and questions. If you are looking to explore more of the Japanese mainland, follow my story as I visit the Gifu Castle.

The black Castle of Matsue

Matsue Castle in the Shimane Prefecture of Japan, is one of only 12 remaining medieval castles in their original wooden form. The castle was built as a fortress over a period of five years and completed in 1611 CE by the local feudal lord and founder of Matsue City, Yoshiharu Horio. The castle is sometimes called the “black castle” after its dark-colored exterior.

I and my wife, Mani were in Izumo for a few days. We were staying at the Dormy Inn Hotel, adjacent to Inzumoshi Station. It is a good place to stay if you are touring Izumo. The hotel’s proximity to the JR train station is very helpful if you will be using mostly public transport. There are several convenience stores nearby as well for daily needs.

For the last couple of days we went around some of the interesting places around Izumo including Cape Hino, Izumo Taisha and Hinomisaki Shrine. On our arrival, we had purchased the “Perfect Ticket” that allowed us to move around most public transits in Izumo, for a small pre-fixed fee of ¥1500. This ticket is valid for three consecutive days of travel.

We woke up to a lazy day. The weather had deteriorated and dark grey clouds had surrounded Izumo. After a simple breakfast of bread and eggs, we left the hotel at around 10.30 am. At 11.34, we caught the Yakumo 16 Limited Express bound for Okayama via Matsue. The “Perfect Ticket” will not work for JR Trains. For this ride we used our JR Passes. JR Passes are a great way to travel around Japan. It is only provided to people visiting on tourist visas. It is cheap and very helpful for traveling across Japan.

We reached JR Matsue Station a little after noon. The weather was still depressing but the day had certainly brightened up a bit. Matsue city is a castle town. Most cities in Japan were originally constructed as castle towns (Jo-ka-Machi). Matsue was no different. The city and its surrounding areas are rich in cultural assets and historical sites. The castle is located about 2 kilometres northeast of the station and lies at the center of many of the city’s tourist attractions.

Near the shopping areas, you find numerous shops selling local products such as wagashi (Japanese sweets), Yakumo-nuri (lacquerware), local sake (spirits), and kamaboko (fish sausage). Most cities in Japan were originally constructed as castle towns (Jo-ka-Machi). Matsue was no different. The castle is located about 2 kilometers northeast of the station and is in the center of many of the city’s other tourist attractions.

From the station, it is best to catch the Gurutto Lakeline bus. With its distinctive retro looks, you will have no trouble finding the cute bus. It starts at the JR railway station from No. 7 stop. Please confirm the same before queuing up for the bus.

The bus painted in red and green, with wooden paneling inside, follows a convoluted loop around the city stopping at all the major tourist spots in the town. After leaving the station, it passes a couple of heritage places and then heads to Matsue Castle. A running commentary in Japanese and English announces the important landmarks as you pass them. Large screens, towards the front of the bus, display the upcoming stops. Just before the bus reaches your stop, press the button in front of your seat, to alert the driver that you wish to get off.

The bus runs every 20 minutes for most of the day. A single time fare costs ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children. An all-day pass is also available, allowing you to hop on and off as many times as you like for one day. It costs ¥500 for adults and ¥250 for children.

If you are carrying the “Perfect Ticket” you will not need to pay for your ride on the bus.

The bus dropped us off near the entrance of the Matsue Castle. The first thing you will see after getting down at the bus stop, is the wide moat surrounding the castle. From here you can also see two of the castle yaguras (watchtowers).

Yoshiharu Horio

As you move towards the entrance gate, a bronze statue of Horio Yoshiharu (1542 – 1611) stands there with his sword stretched towards the sky. Horio Yoshiharu was a brave and able fighter. He was said to have possessed the calmness of an enlightened spirit of the Buddha. Matsue Castle was his brainchild. The exploration of Matsue Castle would be incomplete without telling his story.

Yoshiharu’s father was a vassal of the Iwakura Oda clan during the Sengoku period. They had an ongoing feud with Oda Nobunaga, one of the foremost military leader of Japan. Their wars with Nobunaga eventually led Yoshiharu’s father to become a Ronin, a masterless samurai.

In the Sengoku, or Warring States period, every day was a life or death struggle. Yoshiharu was raised during these turbulent times. He eventually came into the employment of Nobunaga as a lowly foot soldier.

One day in Owari province (Aichi Prefecture), when Nobunaga was out hunting, a large wild boar suddenly appeared out of the woods and came charging at the hunting party. Yoshiharu, who was just a foot soldier, stood his ground and wrestled the beast with his bare hands. The bravery & calmness with which he faced the boar impressed Nobunaga, who promoted him. Yoshiharu’s bravery and calmness served him well over the following years, through a number of battles.

Towards the end of 1600, for his admirable leadership in the Battle of Sekigahara, the Horio clan were awarded land in Izumo Province and he was made the Daimyo of the region. Yoshiharu continued to live rest of his life here until he passed in 1611.

Just beyond his statue, you will find the remains of Otemon gate. You can still see the circular base for pillars of the wooden gate.

It would be easier if you looked at the layout of this area to understand the smart design of this section. This cornered space, even before you enter the castle grounds is called an Umadamari.

The Umadamari used to be a feature of most castles in the Edo period (1600 – 1867) to protect against enemy invasions. The walls would squeeze the enemy troops into a vulnerable area surrounded by all three sides. It also served a double purpose, which was a place where the troops defending the castle would prepare themselves. The small structure you see in front of the massive wall used to be a well.

Right after the gate, the path turns left to reach the castle, where a series of steps will lead you up to the castle. Once inside, you will realize that there are two levels to the stone walls. The ninomaru (second enclosure) descends from the honmaru at a lower level.

These stone walls were made in the span of over three years by a master of Ishigaki wall building style and is still the same as it was when it was built 400 years old.

Two techniques were used in laying of the stone wall of Matsue Castle. One technique used stones that had already been cut in order to make the rocks fit together easily. The other technique used natural stones whose shape was not altered. You can find many stones with a carved seal which dates back to the time when the castle was initially constructed.

Did you know: It was once a rule that girls were not allowed to dance in the streets of Matsue city. If they did, the base of the city’s symbol, Matsue Castle, would begin to shake, endangering the towering building.

The story goes that Matsue Castle’s Ishigaki stone walls contain a Hitobashira, a human sacrifice, entombed in the stonework to act like a guardian spirit of the castle. In this case, the Hitobashira was a young girl who loved to dance, and so to prevent the castle from ever falling, a law was passed preventing girls from dancing in the streets and ever upsetting the spirit within.

But before you go, you can also indulge yourself at the lovely park at the base of the castle grounds. The extensive grounds, now called Jozan Park is spread over a vast sixteen hectares wooded park. Many paths go around under the steep stone walls of the castle, the wooded hillsides, and along the moats, making for some quiet pleasant walks. This area is free to public and does not require any admission ticket.

The area is full of beautifully pruned Japanese matsu pine trees. These are still only very young trees in the Castle grounds. If you are lucky, you might also see a samurai armor wearing person, wandering around the park.

After a short climb, we reached the castle entrance. The castle appears behind this last fortification wall. On the left you will find the admission booth from where you can purchase the tickets. It cost us ¥560 per person to get inside.

A brief history of Matsue Castle

As already mentioned while talking about Horio Yoshiharu, that Tokugawa Ieyasu gave him 240,000 koku at Toda in Izumo Province as a reward for his achievements at the decisive “Battle of Sekigahara.” Matsue city didn’t exist then and Yoshiharu came to reside at the now-ruined Gassantoda Castle. Gassantoda Castle was located in Yasugi, tucked away deep in the mountains and Yoshiharu had higher aspirations.

In 1607, he began the construction of a new castle on Oshiroyama (Mt. Oshiro), which was then just an uninhabited small hill overlooking Lake Shinji, where he could take advantage of the transport possibilities offered by numerous waterways. Surrounded by wetlands and protected by the sea to the north and the lake to the west, the location was an excellent defensive base for his future fortress.

Yoshiharu was a smart man. The Renkaku-shiki layout of the castle, with its hilltop positioning, wide moats, and high Ishigaki provided an efficient defense to the castle. Construction of Matsue Castle was completed in 1611. Interestingly, it’s defenses were never put to test.

Among the 12 original castles, Matsue Castle has the second-largest donjon (keep), is the third tallest at 30m, and is the sixth oldest.

Unfortunately, the Horio clan came to an end in 1611 with the death of Yoshiharu. After Yoshiharu passed away, Kyogoku Tadataka was made Lord of Matsue for a brief period of time, followed by Matsudaira Naomasa, a grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose descendants ruled until 1871, after whom the castle was abandoned.

On entering the uppermost castle area, I was surprised to see some Momiji trees were still glowing brilliantly in the dull afternoon. We played around for a bit among the fallen red leaves.

This is a shot of my new Amazon camera backpack. I am not really thrilled with it. It’s comfy at the shoulder pads, but not very user-friendly. I am also not too happy with the single stitches, the tripod holder section is already bursting at the edges. My lower-pro backpack was amazing, unfortunately they stopped making that model.

Matsue Castle Architecture

Matsue Castle is classified as a hirayama-jiro, a castle built on a hill surrounded by flat land. The moats, stone walls, and levels of concentric embankments that encircled the castle compound, ascending in a staircase fashion from the sannomaru section at the base of the hill, up to the central keep, are all a classic example of flatland hill-castle defensive layout.

The present-day honmaru (the walled enclosure surrounding the keep) is now an expansive open space, but the keep (tenshūkaku) was once surrounded by six watchtowers (yagura) connected by roofed passageways known as watari-yagura.

The castle’s keep is a fine example of an early Edo period tenshu with five levels concealing six inner floors and an underground basement. Built in a borogata or watchtower style, and perched atop the 28-meter high hill, Matsue Castle keep has a commanding presence in the center of the city. It has an overall dark appearance, with wooden paneling covering a large part of the building.

The dark timber cladding is designed to protect the lower floors from rain. The exteriors of the lower sections are covered in black shitami-ita, to protect the mud walls beneath.

The tenshu features curving roofs that look like birds with their wings spread. For this reason, the castle is also known as Chidori-jō or Plover Castle, resembling plovers in flight.

Let’s look a bit closely at the various ingenious add-ons of Matsue Castle. The keep was designed as a defensive stronghold and was well-equipped with defensive design features, including numerous gaps for firing at invaders and ishiotoshi structures for dropping rocks on anyone attempting to scale its walls.

The shachi-hoko (mythical dolphins) on the roof of the keep are slightly over two metres tall (2.08 m). Carved in wood and covered with copper, these are the largest such pieces remaining among the 12 original castles in Japan.

Among the currently existing castles, Matsue Castle is the only castle that has inherited the “Irimoyahafu”, an architectural style from the late 1500’s. The Irimoyahafu is the triangular part on a four-sided hip and gabled roof.

Its south-facing tsukeyagura connecting tower serves as the entrance.

Matsue Castle Interiors

The interior of Matsue Castle is maintained in excellent condition and contains a fine collection of samurai helmets, armour, weapons and items of historical interest. You will have to leave your shoes near the gate at the entrance.

From its main entrance, visitors climb to the upper floor, with a halt at each floor to admire carefully staged reconstitution, of samurai armors especially, that help picture Japan’s feudal times.

Designed for warfare, you will be able to witness many defensive elements, like precarious stairways, a large turret affixed to the main building, arrow and gun holes, holes for dropping stones along with an underground well in case of siege.

Inside the castle, there is a large collection of historical artifacts. Each floor is dedicated to specific displays such as the armor, swords, and helmets of the samurai in the time of war, materials used to build the castle and a pictorial display of the castle’s history, photos of all the castles throughout Japan, and miniature replicas of the layout of Matsue as it has changed over time.

The first basement floor is known as the known as Shiogura or Salt Cellar. This section was built specifically for stockpiling food and drinking water in case the inhabitants could not leave the castle during a siege. You can find a huge 24 m deep well in a corner of the storehouse. I don’t think I have seen any other currently existing castle with a well inside. Along with the well, this salt was to be used in an emergency, showing how Matsue Castle was built with serious consideration to its utility in actual combat.

You can feel like you are back in the Edo Period. Many of the pillars and stairs of the castle and other materials that were used to make the castle are still here since the castle was first constructed. The original shachi (mythical sea creatures) of the castle’s roof is also located inside the castle.

Shachi or Shachihoko were frequently used as roof ornaments in the Edo period (1600-1868) and found atop castles, tower gates, and samurai homes. It represents an imaginary sea creature with the head of a tiger and body of a fish. These fish-shaped ornaments were placed at both ends of the main roof ridge, with the male Shachi, with thicker scales, placed on the left and the female Shachi on the right. These pieces, placed at each end of the ridge, had a duty to protect the building against fire and evil spirits.

From the basement, we moved up to the second floor. To prevent the load from being applied to the center of the building, several pillars were added here. The floor has six ishi-otoshi openings to throw stones out, and its outer wall is largely dark, thick wooden board siding with battens. Several wooden benches are spread in the center of the room for visitors to take a second to absorb the centuries-old smell.

On this floor, you can find several old exhibits from the original castle. Here we can see an onigawara, which is a roof tile made from baked clay into the shape of an ogre, a mythical creature in old tales passed down from long ago. The ends of the roof ridges of Matsue Castle were decorated with these onigawara tiles.

Not far from the ogre shaped roof tile, you can see one of the original pillars. As a general rule, Japanese castles are built around two huge wooden pillars (hashira) from foundations to the top. In Matsue Castle, for financial reasons, pillars were made of timber beams clipped together with staple-like hooks called Kasugai.

The internal staircases are all very narrow, to make it difficult for attacking enemies to secure the upper levels, and are made of paulownia, a very light and fire-resistant timber so they could be raised quickly before an enemy could use them. Stairs made of paulownia to prevent fire and decay are a distinct feature not seen in any other castle.

The third floor was mostly empty with a few scattered pieces of exhibits.

Here we see an idol of Matsudaira Naomasa, the grandchild of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He is remembered for his valor in the Battle of Osaka (1615) at the young age of 14. After Kyogoku Tadataka, the territorial authority was granted in 1638 to Matsudaira Naomasa who enjoyed favorable relations with the Tokugawa shoguns.

Rule by the Matsudaira Clan as a daimyo house continued unbroken for over 230 years, until Japan’s feudal domains were abolished and replaced with modern prefectures. For this reason, we see a deep relationship between the Matsudaira Clan and their subjects.

On the same floor, you can find the samurai armor of Goto Matabei, a much-respected professional warrior who often proudly boasted of the 53 scars on various parts of his body, trophies of the many wars in which he had participated. Goto Matabei was also recognized for his fierce bravery during the Battle of Sekigahara where Yoshiharu Horio fought along his side.

The fourth floor contains on its walls the photos of all the other original castles of japan. Made me realize, I still have a lot to cover.

On this floor we have a row of mural paintings depicting the main historical events of Matsue domain. Murals depicting the stories surrounding the construction of the castle are also easy to understand, so that the more you know the more interesting the tour becomes. They were created by Fuden Adachi, an artist from Matsue city about 300 years back.

The top floor was designed in Boro style to resemble an observation tower with a 360-degree view. The view from the large, open window spaces on the top floor offers a clear view of the town, rivers, and moats below, giving you the chance to experience the same extensive view of the city as the samurai and warlords had.

Ruin of Matsue Castle

Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, a large number of castles were demolished or auctioned off for their building materials. Matsue Castle’s age and size contributed to the considerable cost of upkeep, and former daimyō and new governor of Matsue, Matsudaira Sadayasu requested permission to tear it down in 1871.

Having been protected by three successive Edo Period (1603 – 1868) clans, the Horio, the Kyōgoku and the Matsudaira, Matsue Castle was slated for demolition through the Castle Dissolution Edict (Haijōrei) issued by the Meiji Government in 1873.

Matsue Castle fell under the jurisdiction of the military headquarters at Hiroshima, but the army was reluctant to pay for maintenance. In 1875, the army attempted to sell the Matsue tenshu and other buildings for scrap. The value of the castle materials was seriously compromised by the cost of dismantling and removing the structures, and the watchtowers, gates, and other outbuildings were sold off for a pittance and scrapped.

The tenshu was bought by Saitō Naotada, an officer from Kanazawa, for 180 yen, the equivalent of sixty bags of rice at the time.

However, local volunteers raised funds to save the castle keep, which now remains the only original castle keep in the whole of San’in Region.

Once we completed our exploration of the exhibits of the castle, we walked around the castle grounds, looking for other interesting places in this vast area. There are three shrines within the park, but the one worth seeking out is down a quiet lane to the rear of the castle. As we kept walking towards the north part of the castle, we stumbled onto the Inari shrine.

Matsue Inari Shrine

There are three shrines within the park, but the one worth seeking out is down a quiet lane to the rear of the castle. The Jozan Inari-jinja Shrine is a modest shrine tucked away in a quiet corner of the park. The usual torii gates guide you down the path towards some steep steps and at the top of them are two guardian foxes as is common at many shrines throughout the country. The shrine was established by Matsudaira Naomasa, who became the lord of Matsue domain in 1638.

the shrine—half-hidden amid the greenery and a bit difficult to find—contains thousands of representations of foxes, the messengers of the god (or goddess, depending on how the deity is represented) Inari, who determines the bounty of the rice harvest and, by extension, prosperity. Passing through a gate and along an avenue of sphinx-like foxes carved in stone, you reach the heart of the shrine, in a wooded glade crowded with more stone foxes, pitted by weather, covered with moss, crumbling with age—and accompanied by row after row of newer, bright, jaunty-looking white and gold ceramic foxes. Inari shrines, which have become increasingly popular in Japan, are thought by some to be haunted and best avoided after dark.

The shrine is the start and endpoint of the Horanenya Matsuri, a three-day festival involving decorated boats filled with musicians that is one of the three great boat festivals of Japan. Taking place only every 12 years, the next will be in 2021.

The shrine is often overlooked by all those visitors who seek out the castle and nothing more. You can find numerous small statues of kitsune, some covered in moss, the fox messengers of the deity Inari enshrined here. If you are a fan of numbers, there could be more than 2000 carved foxes surrounding the shrine.

Matsue Shrine

Going back towards the exit, we came by the Matsue Shrine, which is said to have been constructed at the same time as the castle itself. We had passed it while going up to the castle. Deified in the shrine are Horio Yoshiharu, the founder of Matsue City, and Matsudaira Naomasa, the first of the Matsudaira clan to rule the region among others.

Like most shrines there are two cute looking Shishi statues at the gate.

A smaller shrine stands nearby, separate from the main hall. I am not sure about the origins of that one.

After an overwhelming afternoon at the Matsue Castle, we gradually made our away towards the bus stop. The castle has 4 entrance/exit points. While leaving we took the Chidori bridge exit. The wind had picked up as we walked quickly towards the bus stop.

It was overall a good day. Even though it started with gross weather, it ended nicely. Matsue Castle is the symbol of the city of Matsue, and in 2015 it became the fifth Japanese castle to be designated a national treasure. I have to appreciate the craftsmanship that enabled the structure to be built without nails, assembled by artful joinery in what must be the supreme incarnation of tongue-and-groove construction.

I can only admire the burnished richness of the wooden siding; the art objects, samurai helmets, antique kimonos; the historical murals and architectural models in the castle museum; and the vertiginous view of the distant mountains from the open platform on the highest floor. Though centuries have gone by, the castle has been well maintained and preserved, allowing it to continue to project its strength and beauty to wide-eyed fanboys like us, in the same form as it was 400 years ago.

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow we leave for Kyoto. It has been a wonderful week exploring various areas of Shimane. I am certainly wiser when it comes to the mythological stories about this region. I hope to come back again to enhance my experience of this area, its cultures, and its traditions. Please leave me a comment if you liked my story or follow me on Instagram.


In the spring from March to April, there is the Camellia Festival where you can enjoy looking at the camellia, and a Castle Festival where the illumination of the castle and cherry blossom trees are magical.

A Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is held in October annually. It is an event where you can enjoy various kinds of tea and Japanese confectionery and feel the Japanese charm.

Most of Matsue’s attractions are in a compact area north of the main JR Station and can easily be enjoyed in a day or two of sightseeing. You can also enjoy a boat ride along the moat of the castle. The Horikawa Sightseeing boat tour takes you along the 400 years old moat where the boatmen will tell you about the local history and culture. The boats departing roughly every 15 minutes from three convenient locations surrounding the castle.

The 3.7 km Horikawa Passage for small boats which has surrounded the castle since the time of its construction to the present day can be enjoyed for its elegant townscape of samurai residences and the old pine trees of Shiomi Nawate.


10 minutes by bus from JR Matsue Station

Open Days

Open every day.

Admission Hours

08:30 – 18:30 (closes at 17:00 between October and March)

Admission Fees

Adults 560 yen, children 280 yen.

Castle type

Hirayama-jō (Flatland hill castle)

Built by

Horio Yoshiharu

Date of construction

1607 – 1611

Alternative name

Chidori-jō (Plover Castle)