Kanasana Shrine is a rare type of shrine that preserves koshinto, the old form of shinto worship. At Kanasana they venerate the entire mountain, Mt Mitake, as a God in the back of the worship hall. Supposedly there are only three shrines of this kind in all of Japan. Also, on the grounds is a pagoda that is a nationally designated important cultural property. Moreover, the Mitake no Kagami Iwa, a special natural monument of Japan, completes the trifecta of power on the grounds.
The shrine is one of Japan’s and Saitama’s oldest. Kamikawa shrine was founded in 100 AD by Japanese folk hero Takeru Yamato. The legendary figure also associated with the famous Yamato natural spring in Yorii. Kanasana means iron sand. It is believed that it is named for the precious metals that were once mined in the mountain and Kanna river. There is also a folk tale that Yamato buried a piece of metal at the shrine in commemoration of Susanoo and Amaterasu. Amaterasu and Susanoo are the main deities enshrined at the temple.
The three mountain worship shrines of Japan
Kanasana shrine is one of only three remaining primitive mountain worshipping shrines of koshinto in all of Japan. The other two are Omiwa Shrine in Nara and Suwa Taisha in Nagano. Unlike most other shrines throughout Japan there is no honden. The honden is where the shintai divine body, the kami, resides. But at Kanasana, Omiwa and Suwa Taisha there is only a haiden – a worship hall – and no honden. These three shrines are set up to pray directly to the mountain from the worship hall.
Pagoda of Kanasana Shrine
The 14 meter high pagoda at Kanasana shrine, “Taho Tower”, is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property of Japan. Zensho Abo built it in 1534 praying for his descendant’s happiness. It is one of Saitama’s prominent wooden structures. It is framed by maples leaves which turn a vibrant red in Autumn.
Mitake no Kagami Iwa
Just three hundred meters from the shrine, on the side of the mountain is the Mitake no Kagami Iwa. Which translates roughly into ‘the mirror rock of Mitake’. It is so named because the rare polished surface looks like a mirror. It is a slickenslide, formed over a 100 million years ago as the Hachioji tectonic line emerged. Furthermore, it is considered a valuable geographical specimen. Moreover, it was designated a special natural national monument in 1956. It is one of only a handful of special natural monuments in Saitama. Another is the Kabazakura cherry blossom tree, the only one in the world, in Kitamoto.
Hatsumode is one of my personal favorite shinto traditions. It is the practice of the first worship of the year at a shrine or a temple. Typically it is carried out between January 1st and January 3rd. Although not famous nationally as a Hatsumode spot, Kanasana Shrine is one of the most famous places within Saitama.
The shrine attracts more than a 100,000 visitors between January 1st and 3rd despite its rural location. On the 3rd, the nearby Daikofushoji Temple have a Daruma market. That temple is famous for preventing bad luck if you visit on New Year’s Day. So many people make the pilgrimage to Kamikawa to visit the shrine, pagoda and temple to wish for a healthy, safe and successful new year.
While staying in a cabin on Mt Jomine in early November, we took a tour of Kamikawa’s attractions. I knew little of the shrine before visiting to be honest. I had read about the Hatsumode at the shrine on the prefecture’s website in the past. But unfortunately with only four short sentences the article sold it quite short. It failed to communicate the charms or even mention the cultural properties of this impressive tourist attraction in Kamikawa.
Despite all the shrine has to offer, when we visited there was only one other family, a senior couple and a few hikers at the shrine. It was 7-5-3 season and the family were there, the only ones, to celebrate the occasion. After reading up on the shrine, I am quite surprised in hindsight that there were so few people there. Good for this pandemic era though, to avoid the “three C’s”. However, considering the crowds it attracts for Hatsumode, it maybe one to avoid New Year 2021.
Without knowing it was a “power spot”, or much about the shrine at all, it was quite apparent as soon as we arrived that there is spiritual energy. The air is different. You might not believe in that sort of stuff, I do more than I don’t. I am certainly no paranormal buff. But there was no denying the air is different at Kanasana shrine. In fact, there is a very different feel in much of Kamikawa. On our drive to the cabin there was a noticeable drop in temperature and an aura when we hit the main mountain road. All six of us in the car felt it. Its no surprise that the area attracts paranormal investigators and is shrouded in ancient myths as well as urban legends.
Regardless of your beliefs, the shrine is worth a visit to see the nationally designated treasures. The grounds are particularly beautiful in Autumn as there are some maple trees that turn scarlet red. And there is a beautiful red bridge on the grounds. The main torii is also quite picturesque. Seasonal flowers grow on the avenue behind it. Furthermore, the mountain itself, the 550 meter Mt Mitake affords an excellent view of Northern Kanto region. And if all that wasn’t enough, the area is the site of the Mitake Castle ruins. A half dozen reasons right there to pencil in a trip to Kanasana shrine in Kamikawa town in Northern Saitama.
|Address:||750 Ninomiya, Kamikawa, Kodama District, Saitama 367-0233|
|Hours:||9 am to 4 pm.|
New Year’s hours: January 1st – 8 am to 5 pm, 2nd – 8.30 am to 4 pm, 3rd – 6 am to 5 pm
|Cost:||Free to enter. A small contribution is expected (as little as 1 yen) to pray at the shrine. Amulets cost around 500 yen.|
Despite its rural location, Kanasana shrine is relatively easy to get to thanks to the infrastructure in the area. By car, the Kanetsu Expressway is only a 30 minute drive on route 462 from the Honjo Kodama Interchange. And that interchange is usually a lot less congested than Hanazono which is the main access point to Chichibu.
Also, and surprisingly, there is actually a train station in Kamikawa. The Tansho station on the JR Hachikou line. However, that station isn’t very well serviced. But the Honjo station on the JR Takasaki line is and it has a bus that goes close to the shrine. The Asahi Bus bound for “Kamiizumi Sogo Shisho-Mae” goes to Shinjuku bus stop from which it is a 20 minutes walk to the shrine.