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Takachiho, the Cradle of Myth
Deep in the sacred mountains, a spiritual place full of atmosphere, is the birthplace of Japanese mythology. A visit to the Takachiho region takes you to the places where the gods first alighted on Earth, hid in caves, and created the first water spring.
These days, one of the biggest booms in the domestic Japanese travel market is the draw of spiritual places and power spots. More than one million Japanese visit Takachiho every year, yet few foreigners are aware of this fascinating and important region of the country. Be one of the first to get in on the trend. A visit to Takachiho takes you to a magical and mysterious region that is still intact, not unlike how it was generations ago. There you can find the spots where, according to the myths, the gods, who are still worshipped as a part of everyday Japanese life, first came to Earth. There you can see the wonderful Kagura dances to the gods that have been performed since ancient times. Talk a walk in the mountains, imbibe the sacred waters of mountain springs, and find your own path.
Dancing to the Gods
Kagura is an ancient ritual dance to give thanks to the gods that has been performed since ancient times. It is performed throughout the night in homes between December and January. Visitors are welcome for a small fee. A shortened, but excellent, tourist version can be seen every night from 8 pm at Kagura Hozonkan, in the grounds of Takachiho Shrine. Make sure not to miss it.
Both Takachiho and Takachiho-no-Mine claim to be the places where Amaterasu's grandson descended to Earth to establish the Japanese Imperial Family. Many years ago officials from both towns went to court, but the judge deferred, ruling that each town had the right to believe it was the actual place where the gods descended to Earth. Both places are very spiritual and worthy of a visit.
The best way to spend time in Takachiho is to visit some of the more-remote places you can't visit on a half-day trip. This will take you out into the mountains and steep valleys and enable you to marvel at how the people of ancient times in these parts could create such marvelous myths perfectly matching their environment. You'll marvel even more at the sense that these myths are still a part of everyday life in this region. There are dozens of places to visit. Here are just a few of the main attractions.
What to See
Make sure to get a guidebook and even a guide from the excellent local Takachiho Tourist Office, which can connect you with an English-speaking guide. But go to some places by yourself to enjoy the atmosphere. 0982/73-1213. takachiho-kanko.info.
Ama-no-Iwato Shrine This shrine contains the cave where the sun goddess Amaterasu hid until Ame-no-Uzume managed to lure her out. If you apply at the entrance, a Shinto priest will take you into the sacred precinct and across the valley so you can see the actual cave. 1073-1 Iwato, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, 882-1621. Free. Dawn-dusk.
Ama-no-Yasugawara A dark but deeply spiritual place, this huge, dark cave faces onto a small river. According to the myth, the gods gathered here to figure out how to get Amaterasu out of her cave. Visitors pile stones on top of each other to leave their wishes, and the place is filled with little stone piles creating an otherworldly atmosphere. Iwato, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, 882-1621. Free. Dawn-dusk.
Takachiho Gorge. This is an impressive ravine of the Gokase River with many waterfalls cascading into it. You can walk along a hiking path at the edge or see it by renting a boat from the booth on the river below the parking lot (¥1,500/30 minutes for up to three people), though boats are not always available. Mitai, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, 882-1101. Gorge free, boat rental¥1,500. Sept.-July 19, daily 8:30-5, July 20-Aug., daily 7:30-6.
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