Nakagawa Shrine

Birthplace of the Three Goddesses of the Kiso River

During the Edo period, the Naegi Shogun prohibited Buddhism as it was not a “Japanese” religion and enforced the practice of Shintoism. While in many parts of Japan births and weddings are Shinto, and funerals are Buddhist, in Nakatsugawa proper, Shintoism remains dominate.

Nakagawa Shrine is one of the largest and most important shrines in Nakatsugawa. There are many shrines in this area all dedicated to fertility. It is said it was at the base of Mt Ena that Amaterasu’s (goddess of sun and universe) placenta was formed to allow the birth of the three sister goddesses of the Kiso River; Kukurihime, Izasatsumei, Konohanasakuyabime. Because of its link to fertility, Nakagawa shrine is the primary location in the area for receiving a blessing for a safe birth and for the new born baby.

Located only 20 minutes from Nakatsugawa station on the side of a hill, it was easy to reach and a wonderfully peaceful place to escape. A few steps from the main torii gate and I was in a large space with places to hang enma or wishes. Two large stone guardians greeted me as I proceeded up another set of stairs to the main shrine, a reconstruction of the original which had been built in 1677, and the only one of three large shrines to survive the warring states period in Nakatsugawa.

A large canopy of trees cut off the sound of the JR line and surround roads making it an island of solitude. Having made my initial prayer I followed some signs that lead to a path which climbed a hill behind the main shrine. The light gently shimmered through the Japanese Cypress and bamboo, down to the bamboo leaf covered ground. At the top was a very small shrine. With no signs, I was unsure what it was dedicated to, but I could understand why it was there—the simple natural surroundings with the sun shining through made it a perfect place for worship. Through the trees I could see Mt. Ena to the southeast and the Kiso River to the Northwest. 

Despite living in Nakatsugawa for 12 years, I had never visited Nakagawa Shrine. My friends had told me of its strange natural power and now I understood what they meant.

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