Usa Jingu Shrine 「Usa Shrine, 宇佐神宮」 is the head shrine of about 40,000 Hachiman Shrines in Japan. Hachiman Shrines are literally all over Japan, all the way up to Hokkaido. These shrines are dedicated to the deity of archery and war, and became popular with samurai and peasants.
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The shrine is said to be the first shrine-temple ever, and is a mixture of Shintoism and Buddhism.
Usa Shrine is said to have been founded in 571 AD. Within the Shrine precints are ruins of the Miroku-ji Temple built in 738 AD which can still be seen today. The Hatsusawa Pond contains lotus which were originally planted about 2000 years ago. The Sannogoten Shrine was built in 823 AD. The Saidai-mon Gate near the main hall was constructed from 1592 to 1596.
The Shrine is set at the foot of the Omoto-san mountain, surrounded by a serene forest.
Explore Usa Jingu Shrine
Light rain falls on a mild early spring day in Usa (pronounced “ooh-sah“), 1 hour north of Oita City in Oita Prefecture, as we begin our leisurely stroll around the Shrine grounds.
After being greeted by our guide – a resident monk at the shrine – my first impression was how mystical this shrine felt being embedded in nature. The light rain didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for exploring the shrine.
Lotus on the Hatsusawa Pond blossom during the Japanese summer, looking their best over July and August. It is said that the lotus were original planted here 2000 years ago.
Taking a short break under cover to clean my camera gear… Found some old masks and woodblock paintings…
Shown by the monk how to properly use the temizu-sha (water purification pavilion), I was happy to officially be shown how to purify your hands and mouth before proceeding into the more sacred areas of the shrine.
The smaller shrines dotted around the grounds are hidden within the forest. The stone lantern here reminds me of the Ishi-Dōrō stone lantern at Koya-san in Wakayama Prefecture.
Kazaridaru are a common feature of large shrines in Japan. Just like the decorative sake barrels at the World Heritage Kamigamo-jinja Shrine in Kyoto, these purely decorative barrels are empty and represent local sake brewers who donate to the shrine. Sake is actually called nihonshu 「Japanese rice wine, 日本酒」 and is often used in Buddhist and Shinto ceremonies.
Approaching the main hall we walk through the Saidai-mon gate. Construction took 5 years between 1592 and 1596. The roof of the gate features intricately detailed carved scenes and is an icon of the shrine.
Passing through the gate, we are now in very sacred ground. There is even a sacred tree (called Yako-jinja… a tree shrine!).
The Nanchurou-mon gate is another iconic view of the shrine. It protects the most sacred area of Usa Jingu Shrine – the jyougu – containing 3 smaller but most important shrines:
- Ichinogoten Shrine: Hachiman Okami is the dedicated diety that is worshiped here. Hachiman Okami became a National God and is worshiped as god protector of misfortune and victory.
- Ninogoten Shrine: Hime Okami is worshiped here. Hime Okami is set to be the native god of Usa. The main shrine is known for the god of good harvest and thriving business.
- Sannogoten Shrine: Jingu Kogo is worshiped here. And it is said to be mother god of Hachiman Okami which is known as a god of easy birth and wellbeing of family. It was built in 823 at Sannogoten shrine (in another location, then moved here).
From the official Usa Jingu Shrine Information by Usa City Tourism Association
With all the history, stories of divinity and events, the thing that stuck with me the most about this shrine is how integrated with nature it is… Halls on ponds, paths winding through forest, shrines looking toward mountain deities, ponds with near ancient lotus. There is a beautiful contrast of vermilion red against the natural green of trees, plants, grass and shrubs.
There are many other sub-shrines, gates, paths and water features to explore.
I spent only an hour here, but could have spent half a day meandering around and taking photos…
How to get to Usa Jingu Shrine
7 minutes from JR Usa Station, the 4km trip will cost around ¥1400
50 minutes for a 4km walk
Use the bus that runs between Yokkaichi （四日市）and Bungo-takada （豊後高田）
From Usa Station to Usa Jingu Shrine
Take the bus for Yokkaichi （四日市）to go to Usa Shrine. It takes about 10 minutes and the bus fare is ¥240.
On weekdays (Monday to Friday), there is one bus service per hour: 7:15, 8:05, 8:40, 10:00, 10:25, 11:20, 12:20, 13:10, 14:00, 14:40, 15:30, 16:30, and 17:25.
On the weekends and on holidays, there are less services: 7:15, 8:40, 10:25, 11:40, 14:00, 15:15, 16:30, 17:25.
From Usa Jingu Shrine to Usa Station
Take the bus bound for Bungo-takada （豊後高田）
Opening hours and admission cost
Entry is free.
Gate opening hours:
- April – September: 5:30AM – 9PM
- October – March: 6AM – 9PM
The Treasure Hall entry is ¥300, open 9AM – 4PM, closed on Tuesdays.
Rent a car and see the rest of the area around Usa City. Car rental is available near JR Usa Station.
Contact the Usa City Tourism Association if you have more questions to plan your trip. I met a couple of representatives from the association who speak great English, are very helpful, and are keen to see more foreign tourists visit not only Usa Jingu Shrine, but the rest of the city.