Discover the Hidden Gems of the Archipelago
Japan boasts countless temples and shrines and so visitors can easily overdose by visiting too many becoming “templed out”. Numerous famous shrines lead the top of must see lists, but sometimes it is the hidden gems that keep “wowing” the more seasoned travelers to the archipelago. We have been lucky to stumble onto a few of these gems on our travels, place like Kosanji on Setoda-jima and Ungnzenji are fond memories. En route to Kumamoto Airport from Takachiho Gorge we stopped at another secret shrine, the secluded Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine上色見熊野座神社 in the hills surrounding the majestic Aso-san.
Access to the Shrine
This hidden shrine can be easily missed, the entrance can be found opposite a small village post office and from the passing road it does not look like anything special. Our arrival that morning was shrouded in thick clouds, remnants of a typhoon that had blasted through Kyushu overnight. Nevertheless, this did not impact our anticipated visit and it possibly had the advantage that many tourists rescheduled their visit to Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine and the area that day.
In fact the moody grey wet skies only added to the enigmatic atmosphere of the shrine. Although, undoubtedly it is a dramatic sight any time of year and weather the constant shower of rain drops from the towering pine trees and the hazy mist that followed us on our climb to the heart of the Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine made for a dreamy and picturesque view.
Stairway to Heaven
The well-trodden stone steps leading from the entrance were flanked by ancient “toro” lanterns all thickly covered in blankets of vibrant moss. After turning a corner, a tall tori gate with a “shimenawa”, sacred rope, framed the view of the remaining stairs and the buildings of the shrine perfectly. The way up was surprisingly long, the steps and lanterns seemingly ascending into the heavens, and on that day the surrounding mist and damp added to an other worldly feel to the place.
The Heart of the Shrine
Upon reaching the secluded shrine’s platform at the top of the steps we found the main hall was completely shut due to the typhoon, but luckily the “haiden”, worship and offering hall was open to the elements and appeared rather weather beaten. After donating a few coins to the saisen-bako, we rang the bell and each sent our wishes to the kami.
An Unexpected Sight
Peeking around the side of the Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine hall buildings, we noticed further up through the forest, a large opening in the rocky mountaintop, it appeared to be a large natural archway. A set of ancient, barely used stone steps behind the hall probably leads up to the arch, but sadly we did not have the time to explore the unexpected sight, due to our impeding return flights to Tokyo. We would have loved to explored further.
Last Stop of Our Tour Through Kyushu
We enjoyed our little detour en route to Kumamoto to the secluded Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine and hope other visitors will be equally delighted by its enigmatic atmosphere. The shrine was the last stop of our extensive tour through the varied and vibrant rural landscapes of Kyushu and we were looking forward to the madness of urban Tokyo.
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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