Upon returning home to Tokyo from a recent trip to Yahiko
, a quiet village in Niigata Prefecture, I wrote a Japanese friend, recounting my travels. I told her of the open fields and blue skies of the Niigata
countryside, with views that go on for miles. I went on about sun-drenched streets winding through the charming village that sits at the foot of Mount Yahiko
. I didn’t miss the opportunity to rave about visiting Yahiko Jinja
, a 1300-year old Shinto shrine situated deep in an expansive ancient cedar forest.
“Yes, Yahiko Shrine is lovely! But did you feel anything while you were there?” asked my friend, emphasizing the word “feel”. Other than being deeply relaxed, recharged by the clean mountain air, I asked her what she meant.
“Did you feel any special energy there? The shrine is a well-known power spot
,” she explained. Intrigued, I began to look deeper into what she meant. I wondered: was this some New Age mysticism or a long-held belief from ancient times? The short answer – a little of both.
Power spots, or “pawaa supotto” (パワースポット) as the Japanese would say, are places around Japan super-charged with good, spiritual energy, where people go to heal the mind and body. Many also believe that one can improve their luck after soaking in all of these positive vibes. While “power spot” is a relatively new term coined in Japan, the concept of visiting spiritually charged places is an ancient concept that spans across cultures. Take Sedona in Arizona, for example, a world-renowned spiritual power center attracting millions annually searching for healing, self-exploration, and enlightenment.
What Makes a Power Spot?
In recent years, in the world of Japanese popular culture, the power spot phenomenon has boomed. Many books have been published, promulgating the top power spots in the country, and new spots seem to be discovered every year. These special places typically consist of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples where the spirits of the gods – and the people who visit them – run strong.
Mt. Yahiko behind the shrine – Photo by Nathan Hosken
Indeed, Yahiko Jinja is a revered sacred spot due to its status as the home of the region’s patron god. Legend has it that Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto, great-grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami
, the supreme deity in Shintoism, sailed across the Sea of Japan, landing on the coastal side of Mount Yahiko
. The deity taught the local people to make salt from seawater and to catch fish by using nets and hooks, along with cultivating the land to grow crops. After, several generations of the god’s offspring continued to contribute to shaping the local regional culture and prosperity. Yahiko Jinja enshrines Ame no Kagoyama no Mikoto, and many devoted modern-day pilgrims visit every year to pay their respects.
Energize at These 5 Areas Within Yahiko Shrine
While the entire grounds of the shrine are considered a collective power spot, a handful of sites there possess extra special energy according to locals:
1. Ichi no Torii (First Torii Gate)
Torii Gate at Yahiko Shrine – Photo by Simone Chen
Red wooden torii gates symbolize crossing into the spiritual world. This first torii, located at the westerly entrance, sits at the end of an old merchant street called Jinja-dori. Proper etiquette calls upon visitors to bow deeply at the gate, a sign of respect.
2. Chozuya (Wash Basin)
Chozuya at Yahiko Shrine – Photo by Simone Chen
Before approaching any Shinto shrine, common practice demands to purify oneself by washing one's hands and mouth. This ritual follows a specific procedure: First, take a ladle in your right hand, scoop water and pour it over your left hand. Shift the ladle to your left hand and rinse your right. Take the ladle again with your right, scoop water to pour it into the left palm. Take a small sip of water to rinse your mouth and spit out onto the rocks. Tip the ladle vertically to rinse the handle. Return the ladle face down to the washbasin.
3. Hinotama Ishi (Fire Stone)
Hinotama Ishi at Yahiko Shrine is considered a Power Spot – Photo by Simone Chen
Located across from the washbasin are two stone
s believed to have special fortune-telling properties. Some say that if you lift the stone
while making a wish, it will come true if the stone
feels light while lifting. But, if the stone
feels heavy, then your wish won’t be realized.
4. Sando (Path Leading to the Shrine)
Cedar lined path to the shrine – Photo by Simone Chen
The path that leads to the main shrine building is called sando. Tip: Avoid walking in the center of the sando. Called seichu, the center is a special place where the gods walk.
5. Haiden (Hall of Worship)
Haiden at Yahiko Shrine – Photo by Julie Fader
The altar is the main point of spiritual energy. Typically at shrines, the ritual is to bow twice, clap twice, say a prayer, and bow once more. At Yahiko Jinja, the practice is a bit different: two bows, four claps, and one bow.