Takachiho (Miyazaki, Kyushu)
Today I want to share yet another travel experience during my winter vacation in Kyushu!
It was the last day of the year and it was definitely one of my highlights of the trip!
I went to Takachiho (高千穂) which is a small city in Miyazaki Prefecture.
Takachiho can be accessed by bus from either Kumamoto or Miyazaki (via Nobeoka).
If you come from Miyazaki like me, you can take a train and then transfer to a bus at Nobeoka Station.
There used to be a train station in Takachiho, but it’s not in use anymore (but maybe worth a visit for train / station fans!?).
Takachiho is famous for a few things, but mainly for its Kagura dance (more about this later), so the characters that appear in the dances are displayed all over the place.
You’ll see it when you walk from the Takachiho Bus Center towards Takachiho Shrine.
Takachiho Shrine (高千穂神社) is rather small and hidden in a forest with some old cedar trees.
The atmosphere was quite nice with the sunlight shining through the old cedar trees.
They were already preparing for “Hatsumode” (the first shrine visit in early January).
Some really cute dragon arrows. Those arrows bought at the beginning of the new year in order to protect one’s house are called Hamaya (破魔矢).
The “ema” (絵馬 = wooden wish plates often found in temples and shrines) also featured the kagura characters.
This is because the Kagura dances are actually held at this very shrine! As they’re at night, we’re gonna hear more about that later!
Of course there are some dragon themed emas as well!
On my way back to the bus center I found even more random “Kagura” surreptitious advertising!
Back at the bus center, I took a short bus ride to get to “Amano Iwato Shrine” (天岩戸神社).
In order to understand the importance of the shrine, I have to give you some little bit of extra information first:
You know that there are mainly 2 religions that have mixed up quite a bit in Japan, right?
Buddhism and Shinto. The latter one being the original Japanese religion.
As every religion, Shinto also has its little story about their gods.
Some of you might have heard of “Amaterasu”, the Shinto sun goddess?
Well, Takachiho is actually the site of the most important legends in Japanese mythology concerning her!
In the story, Amaterasu hid herself in a cave because of some pranks of her brother, refusing to come out and depriving the world of her life-giving sunlight.
That was a very short version as you’ll read about the full story later in this post. This much is enough to understand the importance of the shrine.
At the entrance of the shrine. Scary!
It’s like: If you enter this shrine, I’m gonna kill ya!!!
The “ema” of Iwato Amano Shrine look a little bit scary, don’t they?
They’re all about the legend as well as you can see. It’s showing Amaterasu surrounded by the other gods.
You can take a short tour with a monk guiding you. Behind the shrine building there’s the cave in which Amaterasu hid herself according to the legend.
No photos were allowed as it’s a super holy place, of course!
I was the only foreigner in a group of roughly 20 people. The monk seemed to be worried if I was able to follow his explanations. *lol*
Note: You can NOT access the cave directly!! You’ll just be able to see it from far away!
A few minutes walk from the shrine is a well-known power spot in Japan: Amano Yasukawara (that’s also what the sign says).
There’s a very small shrine, but what is interesting are all the stone piles!!
Can you see them? There are millions of them!
You could walk around the shrine or the nearby river and go search for more and more!
People pile up stones in order to receive energy / power from there!
To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s more powerful the more stones you pile up. Anybody knows?
Some were amazingly high and looked like they would fall apart any minute, but most of them had been there forever!
A few people climbed over the big stones in the river to get to a spot where fewer people would come. Simply because people might trample over your pile of stones if you place it too close to the shrine! Not on purpose, but there’s not much space to walk!!
Wow! I’m sure there are people out there thinking about how much fun it would be to just make them fall over, right?
Well, yeah, of course!! I mean, what did you expect!!??
I still had a little bit of time until my bus came back, so I quickly rushed to the “Eastern Shrine” of Amano Iwato which is only a few minutes away from the “Western Shrine” (the main one).
And here we are. That statue scared the hell out of me! When I came back down from the shrine (which was small, so no photos) it had moved and showed me its back!!!
I thought I was going insane!! XD
That is “Ame-no-Uzume” by the way. You’ll learn about her later!
Back in the bus a Japanese girl my age turned over and started a conversation. She said she came with the same bus as I did and so she heard me speaking Japanese.
We basically just talked about our trips. As it was December 31st she was about to go back home to be with her family. Too bad, we could have traveled through Takachiho together!
Am I still amazed about the conversations I can have in Japanese?
Uh, no. It’s something completely normal for ME, but often not for the Japanese people around me, but that’s another story.
So, I was actually glad that I was treated normally by that Japanese girl!!
Back at the bus center I got ready to walk to another great spot of Takachiho, taking random manhole cover shots on my way.
Apart from “Amano Iwato Shrine” you can easily access the other attractions on foot! It’s a nice and pleasant walk.
From the bus center it’s about 10 min. to Takachiho Shrine (where I had already been in the morning) and from there another 20-30min. to ….
… the “Takachiho Gorge” (高千穂峡)！
When googling for Takachiho the gorge seems to be the first thing that pops up, possibly because it’s by far the most picturesque spot!!
And isn’t it really beautiful???!!!
You can rent a boat for 30 min. (1500yen!) to see the waterfall from close up!
First, I thought it’s not worth the money … and as I was alone it felt a little bit strange, but I swear it was totally worth it!!!!!
The only bad thing I can maybe say about it was that it was too crowded that day, so that most of the time I was just bumping into other people’s boats, apologizing. *g*
Actually being down there creates a really mystic atmosphere (despite all the people there)!
I imagine it to be even better on a not so busy day!
Once done with the boat ride you can walk around the gorge. It’s really huge and the landscape is very unique and interesting!
I liked the color of the water!
Simply beautiful! With fallen autumn leaves (at the end of December?!)!!
And then it was time to leave as it was slowly getting dark and thus cold!
On my way back I stopped by a few smaller shrines and temples. I really adore the benches they had everywhere showing you the way!! Awesome!
I went to my hotel, got ready, ate dinner until it was time to go to Takachiho Shrine a second time!
I already mentioned earlier that Takachiho is also famous for its “Kagura” (神楽) dances, right?
Actually they have a kagura dance every single night from 8-9pm at Takachiho Shrine!
Usually there’s only a few people every night. That’s what a coworker told me!
However, as it was December 31st I already expected it to get crowded, so I came there as early as possible (they told me admission would be from 7:30pm).
…. and it was SUPER crowded!! So much that some people had to stand!!!
Although I came so early I was only in the 3rd row and had a really tall guy in front of me (thus the stupid head in some of my photos and videos *sigh*)!!
Before we go into the dances, here some extra information:
“Yokagura” is a repertoire of 33 ancient dances which have been passed down from generation to generation. It is said to have originated in a dance of “Ame no Uzume“, the Shinto goddess of dawn, mirth and revelry.
As we learned earlier Amaterasu hid in a cave located close to Amano Iwato Shrine. She did that because she was so scared of her brother Susanoo, the Shinto god of the sea and storms who happens to be the husband of Ame-no-Uzume.
All the other gods tried to lure her out of the cave, but failed.
Ame-no-Uzume started a very ridiculous dance. The other gods couldn’t stop laughing.
Amaterasu became curious hearing all that ruckus outside and finally came out!
They closed the cave behind her to make sure she couldn’t go back.
And thus sunlight had returned to earth!
So, as for that night’s dances, there were 4!
Dance #1: “Dance of Tajikarao”:
Tajikarao was a god known for his great strength. When the sun goddess Amaterasu hid herself in the cave, Tajikarao went searching for her. Tajikarao suspected that Amaterasu hid in Amano-Iwato cave. This dance depicts Tajikarao listening for any sound that would prove that Amaterasu was actually in the cave.
Here’s a video of the dance:
Dance #2: “Dance of Ame-no-Uzume”
When the gods were sure that Amaterasu was hiding in Amano-Iwato cave, they gathered in front of the cave. Ame-no-Uzume then performed a very unusual dance which made the other gods laugh. The laughter made Amaterasu curious so she peeked out from the cave.
So this is one the origin of the “kagura” dances!!!!
Dance #3: “Totori Dance”
When Amaterasu peeked out from the cave, Tajikarao removed the stone door of the cave. This dance depicts Tajikarao gathering his strength and removing the stone door.
To me the dance seemed very aggressive, but also very appealing!
Dance #4: “Goshintai Dance” (*my personal favorite!)
This dance depicts Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess who created Japan, as they make and drink sake. These two gods are known for their long and loving marriage.
This dance is also known as “The creation of Japan” dance.
Watch part 1 of the video here and make sure to watch the other parts as well! I’ll put the parts into ONE video as soon as I have some time!
*Notes: Part 2: I really thought the guy is coming to me, I was so relieved when he picked the woman right behind me! That gave me the chance to take a video from SUPER CLOSE UP!!!!
Unfortunately first my battery died and then my memory card which is why there are 3 parts!
Part 3 is a little bit too shaky and blurred, but I hope you’ll enjoy it nevertheless as much as I did!!
After the 1h performance was over we all went back to our hotels.
It was a really nice way to finish 2011. Back at my warm hotel I ate some more delicious food and watched “Kohaku” and the Johnny’s Countdown. *g*
Entrance area of my hotel.
If you want to see the dances and you don’t have a car, then your best bet is to stay one night in Takachiho. The last bus leaves way before 8pm!! And Takachiho is only worth a visit if you can also enjoy the dances!
If you need hep finding a hotel, let me know!
Can you see why Takachiho was one of the highlights of my winter vacation??
Thanks for reading!~