Shinto shrines are undoubtedly a unique part of Japanese culture. They have played an important role in Japanese society since the beginning, and today some of Japan’s most popular attractions are its Shinto shrines.
Of course, one of the original purposes of shrines is to pray to the shrine’s kami (god) for good fortune. And though you can pray for your wishes at any shrine, shrines are dedicated to specific deities that are often considered to specialize in granting certain wishes.
So if you have a particular desire you would like to pray for, why not check out a shrine that is designated to grant your particular wish? Here are five popular shrines to consider based on your desires.
1. Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
If you are hoping for good luck on exams or good fortune in your educational pursuits, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is your place. Located south of Fukuoka City, this shrine is dedicated to Heian-era scholar and politician Sugawara Michizane. Michizane’s great learning caused him to become associated with Tenjin, a Shinto god of education. Today his shrine is popular with students and sells many good luck charms related to education and passing exams.
In his life, Michizane’s power and success as a politician in Kyoto threatened the influence of the powerful Fujiwara clan, and he was ultimately forced into exile in Dazaifu. After his death in 903, the area experienced numerous natural disasters. People came to believe that his spirit was still angry over the injustice of his exile, so offerings were made to him and the Tenmangu shrine was built at the site of his grave.
If you cannot get to Fukuoka, you can visit one of the many other Tenmangu shrines in Japan, including the other most important one in Kyoto.
2. Izumo Taisha
The second most important shrine in Japan, and often considered Japan’s oldest shrine, attracts visitors with every kind of wish. But Izumo Taisha is a particularly special place for couples or those wishing for love. This is because of the very important deity enshrined at Izumo. This deity is Okuninushi no Okami, who according to the creation myths was the creator of Japan and the ruler of Izumo.
More importantly, Okuninushi has come to be known as the god of good relationships and marriage. For this reason, visitors to the shrine should clap their hands not two times as usual but four times: two claps for themselves and two claps for their partners, actual or desired.
3. Zeniarai Benten Shrine
This shrine in Kamakura is known as the shrine where people come to wash their money. Zeniarai means “coin washing.” The reason for this is that according to legend, the money washed in the shrine’s spring will double. So if you’re down on your luck and wishing for some extra cash, a visit to Zeniarai Benten may turn your fortune around.
Zeniarai Benten Shrine dates to the Kamakura period when Minamoto Yorimoto, the founder of the Kamakura government, ordered the construction of the shrine. Yorimoto had had a dream in which a god appeared and told him that he could bring peace to the country if he built the shrine.
Today, besides washing your money, visitors can also admire the shrine as an excellent example of the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism.
4. Yasaka Shrine
Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine, which is also sometimes called Gion Shrine, is best known for its summer festival, the Gion Matsuri. However, not as many may know about its connection to health and beauty. In fact, the first Gion Matsuri about 1,200 years ago was held to appease a plague deity after a plague affected Kyoto. A smaller shrine inside the grounds of Yasaka Shrine is Eki-jinja, or plague shrine, which is meant to bless people with recovery from illness and protection from disease.
Another smaller shrine within Yasaka Shrine is Utsukushi Gozen-sha, which enshrines three goddesses with astonishing beauty. People visit this shrine to pray for beauty, whether internal or external.
If you dab your face with the water at this shrine, it is said to purify your heart and body, making you beautiful.
5. Sumiyoshi Taisha
There are more than two thousand Sumiyoshi shrines throughout Japan. These shrines are dedicated to deities who protect travelers, sailors and fishermen. For this reason, these shrines tend to be found close to harbors. So if you have a trip coming up and are worried about your travels, visiting one of these shrines may set your mind at ease.
Though there are plenty of Sumiyoshi Shrines to choose from, the head of all of the Sumiyoshi Shrines, and thus the most important is located in Osaka. This original Sumiyoshi Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest shrines. It also has its own unique architecture called Sumiyoshi-zukuri, which is free of influence from the rest of Asia.