The Site of a Fantastical Myth
Japan boasts many fantastical myths and Takachiho is the site of one of the most famous. The legend tells of Ameratsu, the Shinto sun goddess, hiding inside a cave after being furiously outraged by her brother’s cruel pranks and thus shrouding the world in darkness. The other gods and goddesses then met inside another cave, the Amanoto, to discuss a strategy, to lure the sun goddess from her hiding place. They tried everything they could think of without success, until one goddess danced outrageously and that caused the other gods to roar with laughter. Curiosity forced Amaterasu to leave the cave and in doing so she returned her light to the world.
The Amano Iwato Shrine
The sites behind this legend can be visited in and around Takachiho. The Amano Iwato Shrine is located opposite of the cave where Ameratsu hid herself and while this cave can be seen from the shrine, it cannot be explored. However the otherworldly Amano Yasukawara cave, where the other gods held their meeting can be discovered and has become a sought-after sight to travellers visiting the breath-taking Takachiho Gorge.
Lunch at a Riverside Cafe
The Amano Yasukawara cave lies in a secluded spot on the riverbed above Amano Iwato Shrine. After our visit to Takachiho Gorge we drove towards Iwato village and enjoyed a light lunch on the balcony of あまてらすの隠れカフェ Café with picturesque views of the Iwato River below. A paved path from the café led us to the otherworldly Amano Yasukawara cave. After a short, downhill stroll through the leafy forest we arrived at a large opening in the rocky riverside.
Entering the Amano Yasukawara Cave
Despite having seen photos of the Amano Yasukawara cave’s stone before, we were amazed to find thousands of precisely piled, tiny stone stacks covering every free spot on the ground. Delving deeper into the dark opening we were completely surrounded by the stone men. These stone stacks are traditionally left behind by previous visitor’s to mark their pilgrimage to the mysterious cave. Jerome immediately started stacking his own “men” while Chris and I walked towards the simple, wooden tori gate, marking the Amano Yasukawara shrine.
A Truly Magnificent Sight
The stone stacks were a truly magnificent sight, making us wonder how many people must have visited to create the countless stacks of stones. Thinking back, we were sad to consider the destroying impact the typhoon may have had after our visit. Our mama-san at our overnight stay suggested that a team of locals volunteer to re-stack the stone piles after the cave floods from torrential rain or when there are earth tremours – I am sure it is a tremendous but fun effort. During our visit it was also soul destroying to see a woman just aimlessly plough through the neat stone stacks, rather than following the designated path in the Amano Yasukawara cave, just to achieve a selfie in a good spot. Some tourists need to learn some respect.
An Afternoon Off the Trodden Tourist Trails
After building some stone stacks ourselves and paying respect to the gods we left the Amano Yasukawara cave and strolled back up through the sun drenched woodland to the road. Jerome was not in the mood to visit the nearby main Amano Iwato Shrine so we set out on a drive, deeper into the mountainous hills surrounding the Iwato River. Along the way we gazed at verdant, rice fields, fruit and vegetable orchards and hidden waterfalls, making an enjoyable afternoon, away from the trodden tourist trails of Takachiho and the otherworldly Amano Yasukawara cave shrine .
Where we stayed in Japan:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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