Izumo Taisha (“The Grand Shrine”) at Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, is the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan, and the second-ranked shrine in the nation (beneath only the top-ranked Ise Jingu). It has yielded a great number of significant artifacts, including the oldest stone tools ever found in Japan. The discovery of these tools points to humans living on Honshu over 120,000 years ago—nearly 80,000 years earlier than previously believed. Izumo Taisha is a actually a complex of shrines and tombs, and home to the largest kofun (tumulus) in the entire region. The Grand Shrine’s exact origins are a mystery; while both the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki mention it extensively, neither speaks of its history or foundation.
A colossal torii (Shinto gate) visible from far and wide greets visitors to the shrines. Inside the gate, visitors can pray at the famous Kaguraden, a unique structure featuring the largest shimanewa (straw rope placed outside Shinto shrines) in the world. The rope is over 13.5 meters long and weighs more than 5 tons. Nearby is the Shoukokan, a structure that houses such relics as paintings and prints, weapons, jewels, and various other items of daily use from long ago.
Izumo Taisha hosts a variety of festivals year round. It is home to the Imperial Festival every May 14 – 15; the Omike Festival every January 1; the Fukumukae Festival every January 3, the Beginning Sermon Festival on January 5; the Kikoku Festival on February 17; the Kyoso Festival on April 1; the Suzumidono Festival on June 1; and the Izumo Oyashiro-kyo Religion Festival on August 6 – 9. A visit to The Grand Shrine is a must for travelers to the San’in Region, and a must for anyone with an interest in Japanese history and culture.
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