Evolving Ritual and the Contemporary Izumo Taisha

Torii entrance at Izumo Taisha
Figure 1: Torii from Izumo Taisha, Shimane Prefecture, Japan.
Accessed: 5/5/20. Photograph: https://matcha-jp.com/en/3320

Izumo shrine complex roof that shows special woodwork
Figure 2: Part of Izumo Taisha’s Worship Hall Complex(II), Shimane Prefecture
Accessed: 5/6/20. Photograph: 663highland, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4528383.

Touted as Japan’s first shrine, the date of Izumo Taisha’s construction remains unknown. Located in Shimane Prefecture, Izumo is featured in the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. It is where Izanagi seals the entrance to Yomi (黄泉, the Underworld).[1] It is later the land of the banished Susano’o, brother of Amaterasu, whose sixth-generation grandchild and son-in-law is the earth-kami Okuninushi, who is now the primary kami of the shrine.[2]

White rabbit statues at Izumo Taisha
Figure 3: White Inaba Rabbit, Izumo Taisha, Shimane Prefecture, Japan
Accessed: 5/5/20. Photograph: https://matcha-jp.com/en/3320

The tale of the White Inaba Rabbit, found in the Kojiki, tells the story of Okuninushi’s conflict with his eighty brothers in courting a princess. Saving a White Rabbit, Okuninushi wins the heart of the woman. After being murdered by his brothers, Okuninushi marries Suseri, daughter of Susano’o, and recieves advice from the kami to build his palace in Izumo. The story of Okuninushi changes in the Nihon Shoki. The entire ordeal with the white rabbit is omitted, realigning Okuninushi with land consolidation, which is later forfeited to the Yamato people.

Nihon Shoki, Section 1[3]

The Nihon Shoki steps back from conflict over the land of Izumo and instead gives Okuninushi (“Oho-na-mochi”) a new role as a deity of well-being and community.

夫大己貴命與少彦名命。戮力一心。經營天下。復爲顯見蒼生。及畜産。則定其療病之方。又爲攘鳥獸昆蟲之災異。則定其禁厭之法。是以百姓至今咸蒙恩頼。

“Now Oho-na-mochi no Mikoto determined the method of healing diseases. They also, in order to do away with the calamities of birds, beasts, and creeping things, established means for their prevention and control. The people enjoy the protection of these universally until the present day.”

Okuninushi’s reforging as a deity of health and well-being disrupts previous narratives that placed him in direct competition with Amaterasu and the Imperial family. The Nihon Shoki’s retelling of Okuninushi dissolves political tension between the Izumo and Yamato and creates space for Izumo Taisha within the Imperial Cult’s framework.

Izumo Taisha’s current Main Worship Hall was built in 1744 and has been deemed by the Japanese government as a National Treasure. Its roof is made of a thick cypress bark, which is a rare feature among Shinto shrines.[4] Prayers made at the shrine revolve around personal fortune in marriage, relationships, success in business or farming, and recovery from illness.[5]

Izumo Taisha's purification well
Figure 4: Water Purification at Izumo Taisha
Accessed: 5/5/20. Photograph: https://matcha-jp.com/en/3320

Part of Izumo Taisha's worship hall complex
Figure 5 Part of Izumo Taisha’s Worship Hall Complex (I), Shimane Prefecture
Photograph: 5/5/20. Photograph: https://matcha-jp.com/en/3320

The Shimenawa of Izumo Taisha is the largest in Japan. It serves as a marker of a sacred place and may derive from the 81st verse of the Nihon Shoki after Okuninushi peacefully gives his land to Amaterasu’s messengers.

Wedding Ritual                        

A traditional style wedding located at Izumo Taisha
Figure 6: Izumo Wedding Ritual. Accessed: 5/7/20. Izumo Taisha, Shimane Prefecture
Photograph: https://japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp/hk/1605_izumo.html

Weddings are performed at the Izumo Taisha complex, modeled on the wedding of Emperor Taisho in 1900.[6] In 2014, Princess Noriko abdicated from the Royal family and was married at Izumo Taisha.

Figure 7: NHK English Explains the Izumo Taisha Shrine Accessed: 5/7/20.
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZNmIp6rupg

Shikinen Sengu 四季年遷宮// Sengu 遷宮: Ritual Renewal


[1] Basil Hall Chamberlain, The Kojiki, (Tuttle Publishing, 2005), Section 9.

[2] “Izumo Taisha Shrine and Oguni Ogami,” Izumo Oyashiro, accessed 5/11/20, http://www.izumooyashiro.or.jp/about/ookami

[3] “AGE OF THE GODS I” Interactive Searching of Japanese Classical Texts(Nihon Shoki), accessed 5/11/20, https://jhti.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/jhti/print.cgi

[4] “Izumo,” Japan Magazine, accessed 5/7/20, https://japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp/hk/1605_izumo.html

[5] Izumo Oyashiro, “Izumo Taisha Shrine and Oguni Ogami.”

[6] Cali and Dougill, “Izumo Taisha,” 238.