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Kashima Shrine is the oldest Shinto shrine in the Kanto region. Located in Ibaraki Prefecture, this shrine was said to be established in 600 BCE; the same year Emperor Jimmu ascended the throne. Kashima Shrine is one of the three shrines in Japan to be designated as ‘Jingu’ — a high imperial Shinto status. The only other two given this honor are the Ise Grand Shrine and Katori Shrine.
The shrine is dedicated to Takemikazuchi, the Shinto god of thunder and war. As Takemikazuchi is the patron deity of martial arts, Kashima Shrine continues to have a strong relationship with the combat sport.
Now, the shrine is the 2nd most visited in Ibaraki during the New Year. An estimated 600,000 visitors come to Kashima Shrine during the annual New Year Festival. On regular days, the massive 740,000 square meter shrine grounds are calm and tranquil. Located amongst a hilltop forest, these sacred grounds make for a peaceful escape from the city.
The Mitarashi Ike, or Holy Washing Pond, is a natural pond fed by underground spring water. In the past, worshippers would purify themselves in the pond before entering the shrine. Now, the shrine entrance has been moved and visitors use regular water to cleanse themselves. The Mitarashi Ike is now home to the shrine’s Koi fish, its crystal clear waters enabling visitors to see through to the bottom.
Further into the shrine grounds, visitors can get up close and personal with the shrine’s deer. More of an enclosure than a park, visitors can feed the deer by buying carrots for 100 yen. Deer are said to be messengers of the gods, explaining their prevalence among shrines and temples in Japan. It is said that the famous deer in Nara were once from Kashima Shrine.
The Romon Gate in Kashima Shrine is designated as an Important Cultural Property. Only three Romon Gates (Tower Gates) exist in the country, with the one at Kashima Shrine being 13-meters high. It was constructed in 1634 by Yorifusa Tokugawa; the first lord of the Mito Clan.
A 10-minute walk from Kashima-Jingu station. 2-hour bus ride from Tokyo Station Yaesu exit to Kashima Shrine via Keisei Bus.