Japan is certainly one nation that is not lacking in holy, religious, and spiritual sites. From the Great Statue of Buddha in Todaiji hall and the legendary Grand Ise Shrine down to the smallest roadside statue, this is truly the land of the gods. If you find yourself traveling in Tohoku, why don’t you check out the region’s three holiest places? Possibly the easiest to access for those outside of Tohoku is Kinkasan in Miyagi prefecture.
Along with a Buddhist Hell and three sacred mountain peaks, each of the three holy destination offers something completely unique. The first relates to Buddhism, the second with a mountain religion, and Kinkasan connects with Japan’s native religion of Shinto. In my opinion, Kinkasan is easiest to access because of its proximity to Tohoku’s capital of Sendai. Still you will need trains, a bus or car, and finally a boat trip to this island of fortune located in Ishinomaki City. But it is very much worth the trip.
After a bumpy speed boat ride you arrive at Kinkasan’s dock. Most of the dock is still under construction, or rather reconstruction since the March 2011 tsunami. Kinkasan was one of the closest islands to the epicenter of the quake. As the island is mountainous with its highest point over 400 meters, the majority of its human and animal inhabitants escaped harm. In reality, the ground shaking from the same earthquake and a massive typhoon that came the same year did the real damage. Today, you can see traces of the disasters, but now the island and shrine services continue more or less without any issues. The just twenty or so people living on the island (most connected with the shrine) take pride that annual festivals are able to continue even after such hardship. For the visitor that does not come on a festival day, what makes this island so great?
First is the history. A fifteen minute walk up a paved path from the dock leads you to a smorgasbord of small shrines. Torii gates act as portals to the sacred world of the gods. Prayer rooms, bells to ring to summon the gods for your wishes, and much historical statuary are located here, there, everywhere. It is really fun walking around to see the different architecture and layout of the ancient artifacts. Then you see the towering staircase and begin your climb. You reach the top and are rewarded by a beautiful building hidden in the trees. This is Koganeyama Shrine. It has enshrined the god of good fortune in its inner chambers since its foundation in the Eighth Century. This is also a primary reason why people come to the island. It is said that if you come to Kinkasan and visit this shrine once every year for three consecutive years, you will be wealthy for the rest of your life.
Behind the shrine is the start of some fantastic hiking trails. There is a trail around the island, another to the top of the island with views of the Pacific Ocean, and several smaller paths crisscrossing through Kinkasan. It might be worth considering spending the night at the lodging connected to the main shrine to really do the island justice over an extended amount of time. Already on your journey up to Koganeyama Shrine you can see the scenic coastline, grassy hillside fields studded with trees, and deer! The island has a large number of friendly deer that call this place home. There is also said to be about 250 monkeys living on the island, though they are much more elusive and you will have to travel deep into the mountainous forest for a glimpse of them. Remember no matter how friendly the animals may appear, they are still wild and have been known to attack visitors when provoked or for no reason at all.
This is truly a magical place. Great for families, couples, friends, or solo exploring, everyone could enjoy something from this holy island. Perfect if you want something different and a chance to enjoy nature, history, and to strike it rich at Kinkasan.