Site: Kotohira-gu | Kotohira, Kagawa
Spirits in Shikoku.
Under the pleasant shade of innumerable trees, with slabs of stone forming the walkway to guide your path, there is silence. This is Kotohira-gu, one of the great shrines of Japan, in Kagawa Prefecture.
Kotohira-gu (known to locals as “Kompira san”) is a Shinto shrine dedicated to a seafaring spirit.
For at least a thousand years, Kotohira-gu was the reason Japanese throughout the country made the pilgrimage to Shikoku island. It wasn’t for the udon.
The shrines, large and small, of Kotohira-gu dot the 1368-step footpath. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, and throughout the New Year’s Day, locals ascend the mountain to pray for a good year in a ritual called hatsumode.
Kotohira-gu affords many panoramic views of Kagawa’s countryside. Sprawling, flat rice fields punctuated by mountains create a simultaneously serene and dramatic landscape. A stay in Kagawa should coincide with a visit to Kompiran san. A morning ascent is ideal to experience the splendor of the shrine.
One of the great distinguishing features of Kotohira-gu is the way it was constructed. The collection of shrines upon the mountain are outstanding tributes to miyadaiku, or the ancient Japanese technique of wood joinery specific to the construction of shrines and temples. Miyadaiku foregoes the use of nails, relying solely on natural wood for building. Over a century of sweeping modernization has nearly supplanted the contemporary practice of miyadaiku.
On any given day, one may encounter a host of festivities taking place at the main shrine (approximately 785 steps from the base). Weddings and holidays occur in the open for all to see, and the evening of October 10 is Kotohira-gu’s biggest event of the year. It marks the day the resident sea spirit enters the mortal realm.