Iwashimizu-Hachimangu Shrine Map

Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine & Mt. Otokoyama
Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine
(Aerial View)
Main Shrine

The history of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine spans nearly 1,200 years, and it has long been ranked among the most important Shinto shrines in Japan. Emperors, shoguns, nobles, warriors, merchants, and commoners have all paid their respects here over the centuries. Because Hachiman was worshipped as a guardian of Kyoto and the imperial family, people would visit the shrine to pray for protection against misfortune, and that tradition continues to this day.

The monk Gyokyo founded Iwashimizu Hachimangu in 859. It is said that he visited Usa Jingu Shrine in Kyushu and received a revelation from the deity Hachiman, who declared, “I shall go to the peak of Mt. Otokoyama near the capital and protect the nation!” Following this command, Hachiman was ceremonially transferred to the mountain, and the construction of a sanctuary ordered by the imperial court was completed in 860.

Iwashimizu Hachimangu received support from many prominent figures throughout its history, including the imperial family, legendary warriors from the Minamoto clan, powerful shoguns, and rich lords. The complex steadily grew, and from the fourteenth century to mid-nineteenth century it practically covered Mt. Otokoyama with a large main shrine, subsidiary shrines, and numerous temples. At the base of the mountain, a thriving town catered to pilgrims, merchants traveling between Osaka and Kyoto, and the many priests and monks of Iwashimizu Hachimangu.

For many centuries, Iwashimizu Hachimangu was a shrine-temple complex that combined both Shinto and Buddhist religious elements. Worship of Shinto deities (kami) and Buddhist deities (Buddhas and bodhisattvas) in the same place and as syncretic entities originally arose in some regions of Japan after the introduction of Buddhism in the sixth century. Since faith in Hachiman was particularly strong, the influential position of Iwashimizu Hachimangu played a big part in the development and spread of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism and Hachiman worship across the country. This mixture of Shinto and Buddhist practice lasted more than a thousand years until the Meiji government issued an order to separate the religions in 1868. After that, Buddhist elements were removed from the precincts.

Iwashimizu Hachimangu remains one of the more prominent shrines in the country. Along with its long history and syncretic religious traditions, it is also recognized for its notable architecture. Several structures, including the main sanctuary, were designated National Treasures in 2016. The richly decorated main shrine on top of Mt. Otokoyama dates back to the seventeenth century and is one of the few remaining examples of the hachiman-zukuri style of architecture. The grounds also contain numerous smaller shrines, torii gates, lantern-lined paths, bamboo groves, a sacred well, and historical remains scattered across the mountain.

Deities and History of Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine
(Departing Procession)
(Kinuyaden Hall Rituals)
(Offerings from the Imperial Messenger)
Iwashimizu-sai (Hojo Ritual)

Iwashimizu Hachimangu enshrines Hachiman, protector of Japan and the imperial family. Hachiman is the deified form of Emperor Ojin, the legendary 15th emperor of Japan, and is worshipped as one entity with his mother, Empress Jingu, and Hime Okami, a trio of goddesses associated with the sea.

Hachiman was ceremonially transferred to Mt. Otokoyama from Usa Jingu Shrine in Kyushu by the monk Gyokyo in 859 and was officially enshrined in a newly constructed sanctuary in 860. Hachiman is considered a sacred ancestor of the imperial family and has been worshipped by both ruling and retired emperors, who have made more than 240 grand pilgrimages to Iwashimizu Hachimangu over the centuries. The Minamoto, a powerful warrior clan, also regarded Hachiman as their patron deity. With their support, Hachiman shrines spread throughout the country.

Shinto and Buddhism were practiced together in syncretic form for centuries, and Hachiman was a widely worshipped deity with both Shinto and Buddhist aspects during this time. The two religions were separated by government decree in the nineteenth century, and Iwashimizu Hachimangu has been worshipping Hachiman as the Shinto deity Hachiman Okami since then.

The most important ritual at Iwashimizu Hachimangu is the Iwashimizu-sai, held annually on September 15th. It has a long history as a chokusai, a ceremony held by imperial order to present offerings and prayers at designated shrines on behalf of the emperor. During this ritual, the deities are transferred to three portable shrines and carried down to the base of Mt. Otokoyama, where an imperial messenger conducts prayers for peace and protection of the nation. The public festivities include traditional music and court dance performances, as well as a ceremonial release of captive birds and fish, originally a Buddhist ritual that reflects the syncretic roots of Iwashimizu Hachimangu.