By Rory Jackson
On Nishinoshima's highest mountain, Mt Takuhi, sits the island's oldest shrine, the Takuhi-Jinja. It's a 15 minute walk up the mountain through wet forest. Along the way you'll see a few side-paths, one of which leads to the summit of the mountain, and minor shrines. If you're keen for a hike this is a great place to head on Nishinoshima, after the Kuniga coastline hike. This is the easier and shorter of the two hikes, though it lacks the ocean breeze and epic views. Instead you're treated to the lush and unique forest of Oki, untouched and host to a Shimane nature preservation area.
The shrine's Honden (god's sanctuary) building was built into the mountain rock, according to legend the cave came about from the fire of one of the gods. It's dedicated to the god who protects seamen and used to function as a lighthouse for ships traveling to Oki. It also used to be a combined shrine and temple, but during the Meiji period when temples were outlawed the Takuhi shrine temple converted to a shrine. At over a thousand years old it's quite a venerable shrine with a respected history.
To get to the Takuhi shrine take a turn left (across the road from the Roza Ju resort) on the way to Hashi, drive up and take the turn right to go east. A 2km drive along this road gets you to the starting point for the walk - it's signed (including a colorful information board) and heads up to the left of the road. If you contact the Nishinoshima tourist agency (TEL 08514-7-8888) they can help you meet up with the caretaker of the shrine at the head of the trail. You need to drive to the start of the trail (20 min from Beppu), although you can ride on a bike (ideally electrically assisted) if you're feeling energetic.
The caretaker is a calm and friendly man with stories to tell and plenty of knowledge about the local area and the shrine's history. His English is capable, as he practices with many foreign tourists. When I visited we spent some time chatting over tea, enjoying the view out at the ocean through the forest and mist. Along the walk there are a few scenic points, observed through gaps in the shields of verdant green. Lookouts yield views of distant boats trailing along the horizon and mist that flows down past you into the valleys, occasionally obscuring the world in a gauze of white.
The hike to the shrine is really quite lovely, and the shrine is a curious and historical piece. Being able to chat to the caretaker made the experience really unique and enjoyable and I definitely recommend trying to spend some time with him if you visit the shrine. If you want to spend some more time on the mountain take the short walk up to the summit (452 meters elevation) once you've visited the shrine.
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