For some reason, whenever I get overwhelmed by the challenges of life, I always find myself heading down to Chiba Prefecture’s bucolic Boso Peninsula. Last time this happened, I made a much-needed escape to Katsuura. Recently though, life dealt me another critical blow and I knew I needed to withdraw from the insanity for a minute to put my life back together. Following tradition, I again fled down to the southern tip of the Boso Peninsula to recover. While down there, I managed to cross Awa Shrine off of my bucket list, a hidden gem in southern Chiba Prefecture that has long been luring my attention.
Alas, you, dear readers, are not here to listen to me bemoan my trials and tribulations. Instead, you’re here to learn about off of the beaten path destinations in Japan! Luckily, Awa Shrine is just such a place. According to shrine tradition, it was one of two Shinto sanctuaries in Awa Province that held the title of ichinomiya (meaning head shrine of the region). Little is known about Awa Shrine’s foundation though. The records that we do have allege that it was established as far back as 2,670 years ago by the forefathers of the Imbe clan, an influential family that were the precursors to the mighty Fujiwara family that eventually ruled Japan as regents.
The centuries have not been kind to Awa Shrine’s infrastructure. While whatever happened to the sanctuary during its early years is lost to history, we do know that the compound was completely leveled during a massive earthquake in 1499. Due to the ongoing civil war in Japan during the time, Awa Shrine was not actually rebuilt until 1593 when unification was mostly a done deal. Thereafter, it received a stipend from the shogunate and eventually became an imperial shrine of the first rank once Japan entered the modern era. The current shrine buildings date from 1875 making them well over a century old.
Now, I would not go as far as saying that Awa Shrine is a “must visit” by any stretch of the imagination (there are many similar places with better access). Still, should you somehow find yourself all the way down at the tip of the Boso Peninsula and want to see a shrine that few visitors to Japan ever do, definitely consider stopping by. Note that Awa Shrine’s main festival is held annually on August 10th. Seeing as the summers can be oppressive here in Japan during this time of year, you might want to escape the heat and abscond down to the southernmost parts of Chiba Prefecture!
How to Get There
Let’s take a quick break to cover some key logistics. Unfortunately, getting down to the southern sections of Chiba Prefecture isn’t easy. In fact, the time commitment to reach this rural part of Japan is one of the reasons that it is my go-to place when I need a break from the insanity of life back in Tokyo. How you get to the city of Tateyama where Awa Shrine is located is largely a function of where you are coming from so be sure to rely on a service like Jorudan to do the heavy lifting with train schedules. In my case, I took the Sobu Line to Kimitsu Station and then transferred to the Uchibo Line bound for Tateyama and Awa-Kamogawa.
As is the case when visiting Nokogiriyama, one alternative way of reaching the Boso Peninsula is to take the ferry across Tokyo Bay. This is a great alternative for anyone who is beginning their journey in Kanagawa Prefecture. Should you so desire, you could explore popular locations there like Yokohama and Kamakura then hop across the bay via the ferry. This type of travel is especially appealing for those of you who have rental cars as you can take them onboard (for an additional fee), thereby having a set of wheels at the ready upon arrival.
Speaking of rental cars, access to and from Awa Shrine isn’t exactly what I’d call convenient. While you can get there via a local bus, it is a cumbersome means of getting around. What’s more, the bus also locks you into a set schedule and route. Since there’s a fair bit of additional allures to explore once you’ve finished, this is a bit of a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned. Thus, I suggest that you either rent a bicycle after arriving at Tateyama Station or get yourself an automobile. Either of these will greatly increase the quality of your trip.
Should you take the bus, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for the Awa Jinja Mae (安房 神社 前) bus stop. While I made my way over via rental bicycle, the official website says that the correct bus is the one bound for Shirahama via Kanbe. Should you get lost, just show the aforementioned Kanji characters to someone at the bus center and they should sort you out. That said, you’re going to be on your own when it comes to getting back to civilization though…
More on Awa Shrine
OK, let’s finally get back to talking about Awa Shrine itself. Located around a dozen kilometers or so to the south of central Tateyama, this ancient sepulcher is usually quite unassuming during most times of the year. While the space is indeed quite tranquil, it feels similar to many other shrines elsewhere in Japan. Come late March and early April though, Awa Shrine bursts into colorful hues of pink thanks to the hundreds of cherry trees that call the grounds home. As can be seen above, it’s a springtime spectacle that feels as if it was ripped from the pages of a fairy tale.
Unlike a lot of other shrines, Awa Shrine boasts a pair of main halls. Called the Upper and Lower Shrines, these dual sanctoriums enshrine the kami Amenofutodama-no-Mikoto and Amenohiritome-no-Mikoto (no, they won’t be on the test). The entire compound was originally founded by their descendant, Amenotomi-no-Mikoto. According to the legend, this deity was the primogenitor of the Inbe clan. Should all of this Japanese mythohistory be hurting your head, just know that a shrine in an extremely rural region was founded by a demigod that went on to father a family that would eventually become the shadow rulers of what is now Kyoto.
Anyway, in addition to being one of two shrines claiming to be the Ichinomiya of Awa Province, one of the mysteries surrounding Awa Shrine is that no one knows its actual origin. Local legends say that in the reign of Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu, a deity came from the west to the tip of Chiba by boat nearly three millennia ago. Thereafter, this divine being went on to found both Awa Shrine and the Imbe clan. Seeing as the family was an ancient ancestor of the Fujiwara family that ruled Japan as regents for centuries, this is a historical rabbit hole that has some serious potential.
While the origins of Awa Shrine are indeed unknown, we do know that the area has long been inhabited. During a series of archaeological investigations in 1931 , scholars uncovered numerous Japanese clay vessels, bronze mirrors, etc. as well as two dozen skeletons. Carbon dating purports that these artifacts hail from both the Jomon and Kofun periods meaning that they are at least sixteen centuries old. As you explore the shrine’s gorgeous grounds, consider contemplating what might be lost to the pages of Japanese history!
Other Nearby Attractions
Before my tired brain continues to ramble on about the ancient roots of a countryside shrine (that few people will ever actually see), allow me to state for the record that you should by no means JUST visit Awa Shrine. In fact, you’d be silly to just come down for it alone. Instead, consider staying overnight in one of the area’s seaside hotels and spend some time making the rounds to the following allures.
- Shiroyama Park
Located on top of a bluff in the center of Tateyama City, this public space is home to the reconstructed Tateyama Castle. Like with Awa Shrine, it is at its best during the springtime when the entire mountaintop stronghold’s grounds blossom into a pink wonderland. Should you be in town for cherry blossom season, this spot is a must!
- Aloha Garden Tateyama
Found not too far from Awa Shrine, Aloha Garden Tateyama is both a roadside service station as well as a botanical garden. Supposedly, it’s one of if not the largest of its kind in all of the prefecture. Visitors can enjoy the large scale greenhouses with their rare plants, a zoo with capybaras and other cute critters as well as weekend Hula and Tahitian shows!
- Sunosaki Shrine
The “other” ichinomiya of Awa Province, Sunosaki Shrine can be found on Cape Sunosaki (the landmass from where it gets its name). The locale has been worshiped by fishermen and seafaring people for centuries and enshrines noth the god of fishery and the god of sailing. Considered to be a guardian of Tokyo Bay, Sunosaki Shrine shares a close sibling-like relationship with another shrine over on the Miura Peninsula.
- Nagisa-no-Eki Tateyama
But a mere few minutes walk from Tateyama Station, this beachside compound has an aquarium that exhibits some expansive tanks of local fish and an observation deck that provides a splendid view of Tateyama Bay. There’s also a posh cafe here too should you want to grab a quick bite to eat.
- Daifuku-ji Kannon-do
Build directly into the rockface, Daifuku-ji Kannon-do is affectionately known by the locals as the “Cliff Temple.” Allegedly dating all the way back to the 700s, this peculiar structure was founded by the famed monk Gyoki. Should you make your way here, be sure to check out the killer view from the temple building’s veranda.
- Oyama Terraced Rice Paddies
Due to it being found faraway from the rest of the above course, I actually didn’t get a chance to swing by the Oyama Terraced Rice Paddies. From what I read though, the 375 terraced rice paddies attract photographers from all over the country. Should you be a shutterbug, definitely consider making a detour to see this spot1
Finally, in addition to the options mentioned above in Tateyama, know that this part of the prefecture is also home to Nokogiriyama (lit. “Sawtooth Mountain). Rather than tack another page of text onto the end of this article though, I’ll just direct you to my previous work on the oddly shaped mountain. Should you combine a trip to Awa Shrine with Nokogiriyama, do be sure to do yourself a favor and take the ferry back across Tokyo Bay. If you’re lucky, you can catch some majestic views of Mt. Fuji!
Until next time travelers…