The main shrine building is located on the prefectural border, between Nagano and Gunma. It is divided into two shrines: Kumanokotai Shrine (Nagano) and Kumano Shrine (Gunma).
On the Nagano side, there is a Japanese Linden tree, which is more than 850 years old. It is worshiped as a sacred tree. It is said, if you go around the tree clockwise, your wish will come true. The tree looked gentle but powerful. My family enjoyed walking and staying around the tree.
Inside the Kumanokotai Shrine, there were dog-shaped cutouts in place of katashiro. I wrote Tiffany’s name on one and stroked her with it and made her blow on it. (Actually, she sniffed and sighed.)
Katashiro is a slip of paper cut into the shape of a person. It represents a person who prays. In a Shinto ritual, priests make katashiro float in water, or burn it. The purpose is to purify the person from impurities, sins, and bad things that may happen. These may include illnesses and bad luck. This ritual has existed more than 1,400 years.
On the Gunma side, there are several important cultural artifacts. One is a hanging bell, which is Gunma’s oldest. It was dedicated to the shrine by samurai warriors in 1292.
The stone pagoda was built in 1354.
Also, the sculptures on the shrine were magnificent. They were carved in the early Edo period.
According to Nihon-shoki (the oldest chronicles of Japan), the foundation of the shrine dates back to 110 A.D. A Japanese legendary prince of the Yamato dynasty, Yamato Takerunomikoto, got lost in the mountains due to dense fog. Then he was guided by a three-legged crow and successfully reached the peak. He was grateful for the blessing and established a shrine there.
It is said that he longed for his deceased wife and cried, “Azuma haya (Alas, my wife),” while he was on the mountain pass facing the east. This is how eastern areas from the location (currently, the Kanto region) started to be called Azuma.
After leaving the historic shrine, we visited a restaurant across from it, which was also on the prefectural border. It has a history of more than 300 years. Our seats were on the Nagano side. Since the restaurant was on the mountain ridge, it commanded a magnificent view.
I ate soba (buckwheat noodles), topped with wild edible plants, and mochi (rice cake) for dessert. They were delicious!