A shrine that worships the water god, deeply connected to the lives of the Japanese people.
In Shinto, there are gods in mountains, gods in the sea, gods in your kitchen, and even gods in each grain of rice. With the words “multitudinous gods”, the people of Japan have long believed that gods reside in every part of nature. Especially, the god of water is an important god that is directly involved in daily life. In Japan, where society was mostly centered on agriculture and rice production , rain was believed to be a gift from the gods, as evidenced in the saying, “blessed rain”.
Ryuketsu Jinja, located in the mountains in the east of Nara, is a shrine dedicated to rain related matters. The shrine was established in ancient times, at some point during the Nara period (from 710 to 794), and it was tasked with praying for rain and sun under orders from the imperial court.
Experience the ultimate stage of meditation
Rather than those hoping to be blessed with a sunny weekend, visitors to the shrine in recent years are attracted by the special power of the sanctuary itself. Despite the lack of mentions in guide books, there is no end to the procession of visitors who come after hearing about it through word of mouth.
The first thing that impresses visitors after passing through the torii gate is the massive cedar tree that exceeds the gate in height by many times. The majesty of the tree is impressive not only for the many centuries this growth must have taken, but for the impression that perhaps some special power of the gods helped it along.
From here, visitors pass through a seemingly altered reality, where the air is oddly richer than before, to reach the front shrine. They pray at the front shrine in the traditional Shinto fashion of bowing twice, clapping twice, and bowing once again. Then, they go beyond the main shrine and repeat it .
If one imagines that the massive tree at the entrance is a warrior tasked with protecting the shrine, then perhaps the groves of trees around the main hall are the warrior’s ladies in waiting. The red painted shrine, surrounded by the cedar grove, captivates the eye.
While a shrine surrounded by forest is a common layout in Japan for such places said to be visited by the gods, it is rare for a shrine to blend into the surrounded nature to the extent of this particular shrine. Simply stand here and quiet the mind, observing the sparkling sunlight through the trees and listening to the rustling of the tree branches in the wind and the babbling of flowing water in the nearby stream. Finally, inhale the damp air redolent of pine: you will find it to be the ultimate place to meditate, a place that calls all five senses back to the moment.
Come to the auxiliary shrine where it is said the dragon god lives
After paying your respects at Ryuketsu Jinja, you should keep going until you reach the Kisshou-Ryuketsu shrine where it is said that a dragon god resides. Located in a valley just 15 minutes by car from Ryuketsu Jinja, Kisshou-Ryuketsu is considered its auxiliary shrine. The massive indentation in the large rock here has long been worshipped as a place where the gods descended on earth.
The hole in the rock is found by descending a stairway from the road towards the river flowing below. This is written Ryu-no-ana, or “the dragon hole”, and is considered a holy place where the dragon god resides. There is a small shrine adjacent to the river, and you can pray to the dragon god by placing your hands together as you face the rock.
Incidentally, there are two similar sites nearby, which together with this one are collectively called “San Ryuketsu” or “three dragon holes”. It is said that rain will fall and the harvest will be great if lighting is emitted from the three Ryuketsu to cause fog to descend. Surprisingly, the Murou region that contains Ryuketsu Jinja has legends describing no less than six rocks, five-deep pools, and three lakes considered holy, of which the San Ryuketsu are a part. This region thus richly demonstrates the original spirit of Japan, in which it is believed that gods reside in all of nature.
One of these locations worth visiting, on the road to Kisshou-Ryuketsu, features a shrine with a massive rock and Ama-no-iwato Jinja, where it is said that Amaterasu Omikami, the greatest of all Japan’s gods and goddesses, had confined herself.
The holy region that is home to the dragon god, a place enriched in quietude and pristine air, is sure to refresh the bodies and minds of all visitors .