There are more than 1,000 shrines on Iki Island and it is very hard to pick where to visit. People come here to see not only the famous Sumiyoshi Shrine but also other very small shrines. The best way to understand the aesthetic details, cultural values and historic happenings surrounding these shrines is to ask a guide. However, it is also very nice to visit them by yourself calmly. Here are some of the best shrines to see old sites of worship on Iki Island.
1. Sumiyoshi Shrine
Sumiyoshi Shrine is located in the center of Iki Island and is surrounded by sacred trees and cleaned everywhere. This is a place for Iki-gakura which is the old traditional and historic god-worshipping dance and it was recorded as a dedication in 1435. It is part of Japan’s nationally important intangible folk culture heritage.This dance is dedicated to god every December at the main shrine. The size of the main shrine is small, with 6-8 tatami mats, and only 15-20 people can enter the room to see the dance. The motion and musical scales were transmitted by word of mouth and only shinto priests can dance and play. 35 dance numbers were played only on two tatami mats for 7-8 hours.I didn’t have a chance to see Iki-kagura, but I could imagine the inside of the small main shrine would be heated by energetic dances in December.
2. Ondake Shrine
Ondake shrine worships Sarutahi Konomikoto who guided several gods to this sacred place. There are more than 200 stone monkeys and oxen to which people pray for the health of people and cattle.I visited here to see a huge stone of worship. When you walk behind the main shrine, you can see the worship stone symbolizing part of a male’s body. The shrine was surrounded with native forest and I could understand how people would pray for their health and prosperity while living under the threat of natural disaster and hardship.
3. Medake Shrine
Medake Shrine is located on a small hill next to Ondake Shrine. It took about 10 mins drive from Ondake Shrine to Medake Shrine.
Medake shrine enshrines Amanouzume goddess who danced well in front of the Sun goddess who hid behind a cave due to a sibling quarrel. Amanouzume got married to Sarutahiko.Sukuhi Stone, the enshrined stone, is faces toward Mendake Shrine. Sukuhi Stone was said to have once symbolized a part of the female body but it has been modified a little bit now due to a morality issue. Prosperity was a very common wish in those days and these shrines are still pilgrimage sites for people desiring to have children.
It was hard to find the enshrined stone due to the complicated route. The paved path was covered by some bushes, so it was impossible to find it by myself. If you follow the paved path you might find it, although some visitors got lost and had to call the Sightseeing Association. It is much safer to stay on the paved path as it seemed almost impossible to get rescued around here.
4. Kojima Shrine
Kojima Shrine is a small island shrine in Uchime Bay and can be compared to Mont-Saint-Michel in France as you can only walk to it during low tide. You can walk across the 150-meter path to the main shrine at low tide, so you need to research when the low tide occurs on that day. When you enter the area and walk halfway around you can see the main shrine.The small island is located in the inland sea so the surroundings are so calm. This is a holy place, so removing anything from the site is forbidden.
Harahogejizo Six Bodhisattva statues
Harahogejizo are 6 stone statues, with a hole in their bellies, located at Yahataura Port. They are believed to liberate all life forms from suffering and pain. Their origin was unknown but locals continuously enshrine and take good care of them. Low tide would be the best timing to see them, but high tide is also a good time for viewing.
5. Tsukiyomi Shrine
It is said that Tsukiyomi Shrine is the oldest shrine in Japan although there are several theories and it’s still under investigation. One thing for sure is that the rich natural circumstances induce peoples’ belief.Tsukiyomi shrine on Iki Island is the origin of Tsukiyomi Shrine in Kyoto, as a division of a shrine’s tutelary. It was said to be the place of Shinto origin.
6. Ryuja-jin Shrine
The Ryuja-jin Shrine is located in the edge of Shoni Park. This shrine has a spiritual reputation for tourists, but I felt calm and tranquil. There was something deeply touching about the discreet signs of the local people’s piety. Locals pray to the sea god for the safety of their parents, children, lovers and friends. The area seemed very special for locals.
7. Ryuko Ookami Shrine
Ryuko Ookami Shrine is located in the middle of Takenotsuji. It enshrined a dragon with 7 nails which deliver wishes to heaven. It seemed to be protected with deep care by locals who wiped and cleaned the shrine spontaneously.
8. Kunikatanushi Shrine
Kunikatanushi Shrine is located in the center of the Iki Island near Tsukiyomi Shrine. Three small different sized torii gates are located in the front of the main shrine. It is said that if you go through all three of them, your wishes will come true.The shrine was so clean and I was the only visitor at that moment. Of course, I tried to do it. When I tried to go through the smallest one, I had to shift at a slant. I didn’t want to be watched so I rushed and got stuck. It was a memorable experience.
Naval stone and goblin’s cave tumuli are located near Kunikatanushi shrine. It’s worth looking around on foot or by bicycle.