Kompirasan, also known as Kotohiragu is the main shrine dedicated to sailors and sea-fairing. There are other Kompira shrines in Japan but the shrine in Kotohira, Kagawa is the principal shrine. Historically, it has been a place of worship as both a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple. It was officially declared a shrine at the beginning of the Meiji period when the Meiji government separated the two religions. Kompirasan shrine still has elements of both Shinto and Buddhist influences. The shrine appears as a Shinto structure but there will be a Buddhist priest residing there.
The shrine is located on the slopes of Mount Zozu and is a daunting climb of 1,368 stone steps. The climb starts in the heart of the touristy part of Kotohira with a mixture of souvenir shops and Sanuki udon restaurants. From there it is a about a 45 minute climb walking past other shrines and museums on the way up.
At the main shrine, there is a viewpoint overlooking Kotohira. Next to the shrine is Ema Hall which displays plates and pictures of ships, battleships and even space rockets whose crews have sought the protection of the shrine. There is also a real mini-sub on display.
To understand why there would be a shrine for sea-faring and sailors on top of a mountain makes a person realize that the depths of the ocean can only be compared to the height of a mountain. To those who have lost their lives at sea, you have to be on top of a mountain to imagine the same distance but only under the sea and not on top of a mountain.
Many famous Samurai have visited this shrine and have left their weapons in tribute to those who lost their lives at sea. Japan is a sea-faring nation. Many school children will visit this shrine so they can understand that those who have lost their lives at sea are remembered and prayed for.
On the way up to the shrine, I was passed by numerous school children, laughing and carrying their back-packs. The higher up we went, the slower the running children got. At the top, they sat on the steps of the stairs and waved and smiled to the visitors they passed on the way up. The view above and the poignancy of the shrine are well worth the walk up.
Name in Japanese
金刀比羅宮 — kotohira-gu — Kotohira-gu, or Konpira-san