don’t miss my gate
good luck god

In ancient times, Shinto ceremonies were held outdoors at temporarily demarcated sites without buildings. Later, temporary structures were used which eventually got replaced by permanent shrine buildings housing the deity. Early shrine buildings predate the introduction of Buddhism and reflect native Japanese architecture styles.

Among the earliest shrine architecture styles are the Shinmei style as represented by the Ise Shrines whose halls resemble ancient storehouses, and the Taisha style as represented by the Izumo Shrine whose buildings resemble ancient residences. Furthermore, there is the Sumiyoshi style as represented by the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka which is also considered to be close to a natively Japanese shrine architecture style.

The arrival of Buddhism in the 6th century brought along strong architectural influences from the mainland. Kasuga Shrine and Usa Shrine are among two early shrine construction prototypes which already show more distinct foreign elements. Towards the Edo Period, shrines became increasingly ornate as exemplified by the most spectacular of them all, Nikko Toshogu Shrine, which was built in the 17th century.

Over the centuries, many shrine buildings were lost to fire or other disasters. Thus, even though many shrines may have been founded more than a millennium ago, the oldest extant shrine buildings are about a thousand years old, while the majority of them are just a few centuries old. Furthermore, several major shrines used to follow a unique custom of periodic rebuilding for symbolic purification. Today, the Ise Shrines still follow this custom every twenty years, while some other major shrines undergo periodic renovations instead.

Shimenawas, as seen above, point out sacred areas, and also function as a means of discouraging wicked spirits and sending them away. These ropes are occasionally even seen decorating farms and private residences, notably during the New Year at the beginning of January, Japan’s biggest holiday. The shimenawas are used on the holiday as a symbol of purity, and also to protect the structure for the upcoming fresh year.

These divine ropes are made from twisting rice straw. Their coloration is usually muted. They vary greatly in size. Some of them are paper-light, while others exceed 3,000 pounds. Japan’s biggest shimenawa can be seen in front of Oracle Hall at the ancient Izumo-taisha, which is a shrine in Shimane prefecture in southwestern Japan. Izumo-taisha is frequently regarded as the nation’s oldest shrine, and is a massive complex that houses worship halls, sanctuaries and even art displays that depict the shrine’s extensive history. The grand rope dangles over the front entry point to the structure. It measures 42 feet in length. Paper tassels that represent rice straw roots are often seen attached to these ropes. These tassels are called shide, and are specially folded to be shaped similarly to lightning bolts.

Shimenawas are also frequently seen amid natural landscapes that are considered to be stunning and majestic, commonly trees, rocks and waterfalls, for example. If a tree is unusually large, you might spot a shimenawa somewhere on it. Nachi Falls in Wakayama prefecture is home to its own shimenawa. The waterfalls are considered to be a site for displaying reverence to Shinto gods. Water is associated with purity in the Shinto faith, and Shintoists believe that Nachi Falls is a hub for kami. Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine is not far from the waterfalls, and was constructed specifically to honor the kami of the waterfalls. Shimenawas are also commonly seen around shinbokus, which are sacred trees where Shinto gods are thought to reside. Shines have immense appreciation for these trees, and as a result abstain from ever chopping them down.