Have you ever heard the word “Power spot”? Could it be some kind of charging station for electronics? It would be a fair guess since Japan is known as a high-tech country with hotels operated by robotic staff and toilets that have more functions than my smartphone. But the word power spot actually has a completely different meaning in Japan.
To many peoples’ great surprise, Japan is a very spiritual country where things as spirits, ghosts, and mystical energies are seen as fairly normal and most people accept them as real.
The word power spot refers to places where you can feel such unexplainable energy and are often found in areas of great nature where you can feel connected to the universe. Many Japanese people look for these kinds of places while traveling, both to recharge their own energy, but also to gain favor and bless for future challenges.
This time we will have a look at a few of the most famous power spots in Aso and delve deeper into the Japanese world of mysteries and legends!
What needs to be mentioned before we go into the specifics is that the Aso area, host to the largest active volcano in Japan which have shaped the landscapes of large parts of southern Japan, is considered by many as one giant place of power.
With that said, let’s have a look at 4 power spots that are worth a visit whether you are a believer or not!
Let me start with two shrines that I will introduce as a set this time!
Aso Shrine & Aso Kokuzo Shrine
The reason I will start with these two shrines is because of their location and strong connection with the volcanic crater. Which in a way can be said to be the source of the power that overflows in the Aso area. So what is this connection? Have a look here.
As you can see, Aso Shrine, Aso Kokuzo Shrine, and the active crater, Nakadake are connected by a straight line. If you are a very attentive person you might stop me now and say that the red line is slightly off and points to the right of Nakadake. This is true, but the active crater is believed to have been located further to the right in the past which might be the explanation. And even if that wasn’t the case, The two shrines are almost 2000 years old (current buildings are newer though!) so I think we can forgive a slight miscalculation. So why is this relevant? Isn’t it just a simple coincidence? Let’s have a quick look at Aso Shrine!
Aso Shrine is a place to mainly worship the pioneer god of Aso, Takeiwatatsu-no-Mikoto. But let’s forget that name and call him the pioneer god of Aso. He is said to have drained the water that once filled Aso’s huge volcanic caldera by kicking down part of the caldera wall. The two-story gate in the picture above collapsed during the huge earthquake in 2016 and is currently under reconstruction. So let’s go back to our question about the straight line from the picture above!
All Japanese shrines have a “Sando” which is the road that leads to the hall of worship and the main shrine buildings where the gods are enshrined. Aso Shrine is one of the rare shrines in Japan that has a horizontal sando that stretches alongside the shrine rather than towards it. The reason for this is the belief that the volcano is the most powerful of gods. This is where Japanese myths start to get confusing because both the god of the volcano and the pioneer god of Aso are often called by the same name. So, let’s not get bogged down in complicated details. In other words, the line connecting the volcano and Aso Shrine in the picture above is merely an extension of this sando/pathway above. And on the other end of the line is…
Aso Kokuzo Shrine!
So, apart from being believed to be the oldest shrine in Kumamoto with a 2000 year long history, what makes this shrine so special that it needs to be connected with both the volcano and Aso Shrine?
This is actually where the son of the pioneer god of Aso, the god of agriculture who cultivated Aso, is enshrined. So, regardless of whether the god of the volcano and the pioneer god of Aso is the same, this sando connects the three most powerful mystical forces in Aso and brings them all together at Aso Shrine.
Let me tell you about a more recent testament to the hidden powers that reside in Aso Shrine. During the big earthquake in Kumamoto 2016, there were no deaths in the area around Aso Shrine. But as you can see in the picture above, the building of worship and the main gate completely collapsed while the rest of the shrine buildings were more or less unharmed. The people of Aso believe that the god of Aso sacrificed the two buildings to protect the people.
Personally, I think that Aso Kokuzo Shrine is where I can feel some mystical power or at least a strong connection with nature. The location is quiet and closer to the mountains, you can hear the constant murmuring of streaming water as you walk through this atmospheric little shrine. On the shrine grounds, you can find this 2000-year old huge cedar trunk that is said to be planted by the god of agriculture himself. It was blown down in a typhoon in 1991 but its remains are still protected within the shrine. Definitely one of my favorite shrines in Aso city!
Open hours: 06:00 – 18:00
Aso Kokuzo Shrine
Next, we will head slightly to the north to take a look at another famous power spot.
Oshitoishi no Oka
Oshitoishi no oka is located in Minamioguni and consists of a mystical stone formation located on top of a hill. To reach the top of the hill you will walk for about 10 minutes. Once you reach the top you will be surrounded by a breathtaking view that truly shows the splendor of Aso’s unique nature. And, of course, you will also find the huge boulder which this place is named after. Oshitoishi is a 5,5-meter-high boulder with a circumference of 15,3 meters.
Upon this hill, you will find around 300 boulders of different sizes that create a mystical feeling in contrast to the grasslands that stretch out all around you.
The main reason why the hill of Oshitoishi is known as a power spot is because of the “Path of God” that can be seen here once a year. The huge altar stone, Oshitoishi, actually connects in a straight line to four major places of worship in Fukuoka (Munakata Shrine), Oita (Tokami-dake), Miyazaki (Takachiho Shrine), and of course here in Aso (Aso volcano). But what makes this even more mysterious is that on the summer solstice, when the sun rises, it creates a path of sunlight between two of the boulders that cross the straight line at 90 degrees and connects to a similar stone formation (Kanayamakyosekigun) located far away in Gifu prefecture. This is the so-called “Path of God”.
There is one more reason! At the reception, you will be handed a compass, when you move this around many of the boulders, the directions will change and the needle will start acting weird! Spooky!
A mystical stone formation, summer solstice phenomenons, ancient scripture on the stones, compasses that go wild, there are many factors that make Oshitoishi no Oka into a mysterious place worthy of being called a power spot.
But in all honesty, even if those things don’t excite you, please go for a visit if only for the superb view! This view is not only beautiful, but it’s also a perfect example of the unique landscapes that have been shaped by the culture in Aso.
Oshitoishi no Oka
Telephone: 0967-42-1444 (Minamioguni tourist information)
Next, we will go to the neighboring town of Oguni.
Triple shrine pilgrimage for good luck and fortune!
Surprisingly, many people in Japan go for pilgrimages. This often implies long challenging walks on treacherous roads. But in Oguni, you can do a mini-pilgrimage that is said to bring good luck and fortune!
The origin of this custom is believed to relate back to the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Oguni Ryo Shrine lent money from the offering box to help out poor farmers who couldn’t pay the annual rice tribute. These coins that once had been offerings to the gods became known as fukusen, lucky coins. Merchants started to borrow these coins as well and mix them with their original funds because this was said to give you your money back 10,000 times over. So let’s introduce our three spots that will bless us with the power hidden away in Oguni.
The water god of Keyaki river source (Keyaki Suigen no Suijin-sama).
Oguni Ryo Shrine.
Ebisu of the Kagami lake (Kagami-ike no Ebisu-sama)
The person who visits all the tree gods and prays at each of their altars will be able to borrow one of the legendary lucky coins, fukusen.
Start by visiting Kodama Liquor Store (Kodama Shuten). Here you will get your “Fukusen Koukan-ken”, visit all the shrines and collect all the necessary stamps from the three spots. When you have your stamps, go back to Kodama Shuten and trade them for the Fukusen.
When you have asked for fortune and good luck with your lucky coin, return it here!
This is a casual and fun way to explore Oguni town! And who knows, if you’re lucky you might hit the jackpot on the lottery the next day!
Kodama Liquor Store
Lastly, we will visit what I believe is the most powerful spot among power spots.
Kamishikimi Kumano Imasu Shrine
This shrine that is believed to have roots more than 1500 years back in time is best described as otherworldly. The long winding staircase (sando) of over 200 steps, lined by over 100 stone lanterns lures you deeper and deeper into a thick moss-covered forest.
Regardless of what time or season you come, Kamishikimi is sure to be breathtaking and fascinating. It’s almost slightly spooky how the forest suddenly cuts out all surrounding sounds as you venture further and further into the unknown.
When you reach the main building, don’t make the mistake of heading back, the true power of this place lies further beyond.
Beyond the main shrine building, there is a pathway. Keep trekking for just a little bit longer and you will come upon the reason why the people of the past could feel the presence of godly powers here.
This is Ugetoiwa.
Ugetoiwa is a humongous rock with a large wind hole that sits on the top of the mountain. According to the legend, the pioneer god of Aso, yes the one we spoke of earlier, was practicing his bow skills and forced his servant to fetch each arrow, one at the time. Understandably, the servant grew tired of this endless running back and forth and in frustration, he gripped the arrow he was supposed to fetch between his toes and threw it back. The pioneer god of Aso became so infuriated at this that he started to use his servant as a new practice target. The scared servant ran for his life but soon arrived at the still intact Ugetoiwa. In sheer desperation, he kicked the large boulder with all his might and to his surprise, he managed to kick a big hole in the boulder through where he could escape.
Through this legend, this place is also known to help people as they face great challenges.
In my opinion, this is without a doubt one of the top 3 shrines that you must visit! And I lived for two years in Kyoto so I’ve seen my fair share of shrines. Kamishikimi Kumano Imasu Shrine is definitely one of a kind!
Kamishikimi Kumano Imasu Shrine
Call it superstition, call it fate, but for me, I love the spiritual side of Japanese culture and society. Even if you don’t believe in power spots, these places reflect a deep respect and virtue for nature that has been central in the Japanese values since ancient times. Many people might hear “power spots” or “some stones on a hill” and disregard them, but many of these places are true hidden gems and often feature some astonishing natural phenomenon that is sure to blow you away.
This is a part of Japanese culture that you shouldn’t be afraid to dip your toes in! And why not start right here in Aso?