Small shrines
Historic site, Nagano

A Quick Guide to holy Suwa Shrines in Nagano

If you have interest in Japanese primitive architecture, please visit Suwa Shrines. Suwa Shrines in Suwa is one of the oldest shrines in Japan and consists of four separate complexes around Lake Suwa. The architecture by wood represents classical Japanese craftsmanship and you can spend hours marveling at the solemn shrines. Here is a summary of essential experiences and flavors that are a must experience on your visit to Japan. Suwa shrines consists of two main shrines with four shrines.

Kamisha Maemiya (上社前宮): Upper Shrine with former shrine

It is said that Kamisha Maemiya is the first place where gods started to live in the Suwa area. Suwa Shrines enshrine mountains and trees as objects of worship based on animism, and only Kamisha Maemiya has a main hall enshrining the object in which it is historically believed gods reside. The main hall is located in the middle of the hill after climbing 200-meter stairs from the torii gate. The main hall was constructed by old timbers from Ise Shrine in Shimane Prefecture in 1932.Kamisha MaemiyaIf you expect a huge shrine, you might be disappointed. Kamisha Maemiya is smaller than the other three shrines but this is the only shrine you can see all four sacred pillars at a glance and touch all of them.

I liked the small and simple atmosphere at Kamisha Maemiya. Each Suwa Shrine has a small stream near the site and here Kamisha Maemiya’s stream runs right next to the main hall as if protecting the holy space. The refreshing stream and a good amount of sunshine help to create a natural Japanese landscape. Each shrine has its own character, and Kamisha Maemiya has coziness and a sense of closeness.

How long to stay: 30 mins

Kamisha Maemiya is small, so it doesn’t take much to see around. If you want to relax while enjoying the landscape and take a rest near the clear stream, you would need more than one hour. Cafe Yamazato is located in the front of Kamisha Maemiya and offers nice coffee and a lovely view.

Kamisha Honmiya (上社本宮): Upper shrine with main shrine

What make Suwa shrines distinguishable from other historical sites is Suwa-zukuri style. This is my main reason to visit Suwa Shrine.Honmiya bridgeKamisha Honmiya doesn’t have a main hall (enshrining the object which is believed to house gods) and enshrines the  mountain located directly behind. There is Heihaiden hall (for both food and money offerings and praying) and Katahaiden hall (Shinto priest standing by) on both sides. This unique architecture is called Suwa-zukuri style. The building was constructed in the early 19th century. Chokuganden BuildingChokuganden BuildingI visited Kamisha Honmiya after visiting Kamisha Maemiya, so I felt Kamisha Honmiya was packed with a crowd of worshipers, but you can still enjoy a calm green site and wooden buildings.Haiden Worship HallBridgeIf you park near Kita-sando (maps), the  main north approach, you would see the first sacred tree pillar when entering the site. If you enter the site from the main approach (maps), you would see the second sacred tree pillar and a small gate to Nunobashi bridge (67m). The sacred tree pillars are also carried through this main approach.

How long to stay: 1 hour

Kamisha Honmiya is huge and if you want to examine the details of the buildings closely, it takes more than one hour.

Sample Itinerary

Get on the Super Azusa Express from Shinjuku to Chino. Next head to Kamisha Maemiya by taxi (10 mins) and Kamisha Honmiya (7 mins from Kamisha Maemiya). It’s a good idea to ask your taxi to wait during sightseeing. Next, go back to Chino Station and then to Shimo-Suwa Station by Chuo Line and then head to Shimosha Akimiya (15 mins) and Shimosha Harumiya (20 mins from Shimosha Akimiya)

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