By Cathy Cawood
As soon as I walked through the big torii gate at the entrance I knew Haruna Shrine was something special. A stone paved path stretched before me between soaring ancient cedar trees, with a small red bridge in the distance. Fragrant lilies nodded their heads beside the path. I passed small shrines, marker stones, and a red torii gate. Lush green moss covered rocks and roots, climbing stone walls and tree trunks. Statues of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune smiled at me.
And so far I'm only talking about the approach to the shrine. The main shrine buildings were 20 minutes walk from the gate. Richly carved with birds and flowers and especially dragons, the style of the buildings is similar to those at Nikko's Toshogu Shrine, but here the paint is faded and weathered. Also, tourists don't seem to have found this place, or perhaps it is more difficult to get to. So there was no standing in line for the best photo angles here.
Haruna Shrine dates back to 586 AD, and the oldest cedar here is thought to be 1200 years old. The shrine is considered a power spot, and it felt mysterious and spiritually powerful to me, although I'm no expert in such matters. I think visiting a place like Haruna Shrine feeds your soul in a way that will remain with you even once you are back amid the traffic and concrete of the city.
If you are driving, the shrine is about 50 minutes by car from Takasaki IC of Kan-Etsu Expressway, and there is free parking nearby. If you are traveling by train you should take the Shinkansen to Takasaki Station (about 50 minutes) . From there a bus leaves for Lake Haruna (Haruna-ko) about once an hour. The bus trip takes about 50 minutes and you should get off at the stop named Haruna Jinja.
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I came to Japan in 2003 to teach English. I lived in Shiga prefecture for one year, and it still holds a special place in my heart. I lived in Kyoto for nine years, then moved to Machida, Tokyo in 2014 after meeting my Japanese partner. I love to take photos, and my Japan in Pictures Facebook page has some 40,000 followers. I have been the Regional Partner for Yamanashi Prefecture since 2014. I am enjoying exploring the prefectures around Tokyo (I like to get off the beaten track), and I hope the photos and stories I share will encourage more people to discover this wonderful country.