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Ikku Shrine

The heart and soul of Niihama

Niihama is what it is; a country city on the remotest of the main islands of Japan. Despite that fact, Niihama is also one of the largest cities in the prefecture. Because of this, it retains its own unique heritage in Ikku Shrine, surrounded as it is by big buildings and malls. Niihama is not famous for very much. Perhaps Zuio-ji Temple and Besshi copper mine are the only sights to be seen, but if anyone has heard of Niihama, they have certainly heard of the Taiko Matsuri.

Manly, competitive, and at times brutally violent, the Niihama Taiko Matsuri (festival) is the city's pride and joy. Although different districts have their own parade grounds, the central and thus main festivities occur within and around Ikku Jinja. Ikku is the heart of the matsuri, furiously pumping with rhythm as the neighborhood taiko teams move in and out of its grounds. The floats compete, with 100-man teams, all along 'the approach' of the shrine complex. The din, the excitement, and all of the boisterous spirit of the celebrating people permeate the towering camphor trees and the usually still homes of the gods. Not a person in town is ignorant of the clamor and excitement of Ikku every autumn.

On other days, barring all of the smaller flashes of matsuri and community events that occur throughout the year, the grounds are quite different. The shrine is old, with various dates given for its different parts, which date back more than 800 years. In modern times, the city center developed around the shrine and thus coastal Route 13 now cuts directly through the old approach, which has in part been turned into a parking area. Still, once within the grounds, the wide central area gives ample time to separate yourself from the mundane world before you reach the main shrines. In the shady recesses of the corners of the shrine stand smaller, dusty shrines. Around the biggest of camphor trees of impossible age are wrapped sacred hemp cords, and within the recesses of its roots and knots are small shrines of every size and manufacture. Ikku grants a fathomless sense of time, stretching as it has through the centuries in this small peaceful corner of countryside.

In the summer the towering trees give cool shade from the sun and shelter during rain. The vegetation is a bulwark against wind and deadens the sound of the city. It isn't unusual to see people sleeping in the spacious gazebo or taking repose and repast en route to their destinations throughout the city. At night, at noon, at dusk, Ikku is a beautiful and intimate point of connection between man and nature and also between the community and the individual.

As a staffed shrine, you can find all the charms, protections, purifications, and rituals you could require, and you can of course bring the gods of Ikku to your house shrine. There are New Years festivities as well, and you can expect Ikku to be thronged with people throughout the New Year holidays.

Ikku can be found easily in the center of the city. Within a minute's walking distance are all of the offices of city government, within a couple minutes is the police headquarters, and in the same vicinity can be found the various welfare and community centers of the city. Not half a kilometer distant lies the sprawling Aeon Mall, with the only movie theater in the Toyo area and most of the shopping that is to be found in the city. It's also the same distance from the shopping arcade, Showa street, and the bar street Shikishima. Despite its central location, you can always expect to find peace and tranquility within its bounds, except of course during the Taiko Matsuri.

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