Off the Beaten Path: Okunitama Shrine

I got to explore some very historic, beautiful areas of Iwaki this spring, including the ancient Okunitama Shrine.

Okunitama Shrine

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Okunitama Shrine is the oldest Shrine in the whole of Iwaki City – which is seeing something, seeing as Iwaki is over 1200 km2 – and stands in an incredible historic part of Iwaki.

Upon arrival, the first thing that struck me was the huge cedar tree that towered next to the entrance to the shrine grounds.

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Walking past the cedar tree, you meet with a staircase which takes you to the main area of the shrine.

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Okunitama Shrine is known locally as a cherry blossom viewing spot, but I was a little surprised that there was only one tree in the centre of the shrine complex. That being said, it is an absolutely beautiful tree which was in full bloom during my visit. What this shrine lacks in quantity of cherry blossom, it makes up for in the wonderful blossom of the main tree, which falls picturesquely over the front of the shrine.

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I researched a little about the history of the shrine. Although it’s unclear how old the actual shrine is, the act of praying at Okunitama was carried out from over 1300 years ago, when the area had recently been defined as ‘Iwaki Province’. Japan was made up of 60 of these provinces, each of which was visited by members of the imperial court who prayed at each location for national peace and wealth.

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Lanterns designed with an older design of samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s family crest

From ancient times to the present day, the shrine is known as a place to pray to certain Shinto gods, including the following…

  • Onamuchi – Would be worshipped for their influence over the success of businesses and agricultural produce, including the possibility of a huge harvest.
  • Kotoshironu – Worshipped for influence over fishing and safety over sea
  • Sukunahikona – Worshipped for influence over medicine, sake production, with the ability to prevent dangerous situations.

You can see why the people of Iwaki, a rural area reliant on agriculture, which happens to be close to the sea, would find solace in the gods at Okunitama Shrine. It is an important part of the area’s history.

Even today, local folk stories are performed through dance at the shrine three times a year (in January, May and June) by residents dressed up in elaborate costumes. It’s good to know that this wonderful shrine still plays an important part in the lives of the local people!

Access

See the map below for the locations of the hanami spots that I visited in Iwaki! All are easiest visited by car.

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