Ibaraki’s Oiwa Shrine | A Hidden Gem Up in Hitachi City

A very popular power spot in Japan, Oiwa Shrine in Hitachi is secluded in a cedar-tree forest and is a good shrine to visit if you want to see what nature worship looks like in Shinto.

Welcome back to another off-of-the-beaten-path adventure in Japan. This time, we’ll be taking a look at Oiwa Shrine. Located up in northernmost part of Ibaraki Prefecture, this sanctum has existed deep in the mountains of the Hitachi Alps since ancient times. Considered to be one of Japan’s so-called “power spots,” Oiwa Shrine is a sacred site that is perfect for those of you who love exploring hidden gems and enjoying nature. While certainly not something that I’d recommend to first time visitors, Oiwa Shrine is exactly the type of attraction that I envision when speaking of a different side of Japan.

Historically, no one really knows when Oiwa Shrine was first created. The earliest written records that we have date from over 1,300 years ago. Alas, this is also around the time that written language entered Japan along with Buddhism. Thus, we really don’t have much to go on before that. According to archeological evidence, it seems that Oiwa Shrine has been an important religious center for the people of Hitachi Province since as far back as the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE). Blessed by some truly beautiful nature, it’s easy to feel the legacy of the ages in the air as you meander about.

All in all, Oiwa Shrine is definitely great add on should you be in the nearby area. Moreover, it is just another reason on an already lengthy list why Ibaraki is a prefecture with a lot on offer. At the same time, Oiwa Shrine is almost assuredly something that only appeals to those of you who are looking to go deeper on your return trips to Japan. Should this be you though, read on as I can’t more highly recommend this one for people with similar interests to mine.

How to Get There

Taking the Hitachi limited express train and then transferring to a bus to the parking lot at the entrance to Mount Oiwa is the most sure-fire way to reach the popular power spot.

Let’s take a quick breather to cover some key logistics. Despite being secluded in the mountains of the Hitachi Alps, Oiwa Shrine is actually not all too difficult to reach (at least for the readers of this blog). To get to the famous power spot, you’ll want to take one of the Hitachi limited express trains that are bound for Iwaki Station. These depart every hour or so and will carry you all the way up to Hitachi Station in a little over an hour and a half. Alternatively, you can also take the slower local trains if you’re trying to cut costs or coming from somewhere closer.

Once you arrive at the station, you’ll thereafter need to either take a bus or a taxi up to Oiwa Shrine in the highlands of Mt. Oiwa. While the bus will of course work out to be the cheaper of the two options, their frequency is extremely limited. Thus, you’ll want to do a bit of research in a service like Jorudan to best time your trip. From what I can tell, it seems that there is only around one bus every few hours or so meaning that you’re going to be stuck waiting around for some time if you’re not really on point with your connections.

While you’re waiting, I do suggest that you explore a bit of Hitachi Station. Though there isn’t anything to do per se, the building has been hailed as one of the most beautiful stations in all of Japan. Made almost entirely of glass, Hitachi Station offers amazing views of the ocean. Especially in the early morning, the view of the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean will leave you breathless. Consider killing some time gazing out the window from the stations cafe while you wait out the buses.

For those of you with international drivers licenses, a rental car is by far the best and most convenient way to reach Oiwa Shrine. At the same time though, it would be overly cumbersome to rent one just to visit this mysterious hidden gem. Thus, unless you plan to explore a little more in this neck of the proverbial woods, I can’t really recommend a rental car for most travelers. That said, it is by far the easiest option should you elect to stay in town for a while and see some other sites. I’ll cover some solid add-ons at the end of this article…

The Oiwa Shrine Grounds

Just beyond the white torii of Oiwa Shrine, a popular power spot in town Hitachi you’ll soon come an ancient cedar tree with three branches at the entrance to Mount Oiwa.

In just a little over half an hour or so, the bus will take you all the way to the Oiwa-jinja stop. This is located right by the parking lot for Oiwa Shrine so those coming via rental car will also be able to follow the same set of directions below. The entrance to the shrine grounds can be found a few minutes away from the parking lot. I’ll leave a Google Map here for you just in case but it should be sufficient enough to simply follow the other people walking towards Oiwa Shrine. During my visit, every single soul on the same bus as me got off at the Oiwa-jinja stop so you shouldn’t be alone.

As with many other shrines in Japan, the first thing you’ll see on your initial approach will be the alabaster torii pictured above. After passing under it, you’ll find yourself on a long corridor that is surrounded on all sides by cedar trees. When paired with the austere shrine infrastructure, these towering timbers create a spiritual vibe that is very akin to that of Mt. Haguro further up north in Yamagata. As you meander about, it’s easy to see why Oiwa Shrine is considered to be such a famous power spot in Japan. The word “tranquil” just doesn’t do it justice.

Soon after passing under the torii, you’ll come across a two-storied gate. As longtime readers of this blog will know, whenever you see such a structure on shrine grounds, it means that you are looking at evidence of Shinbutsu Shugo — the former syncretic union of Shinto and Buddhism. While the two religions have officially been separated since the end of the Edo period (1603–1868), you can still find all sorts of hints of their intertwined history all over Japan if you know where to look.

Before you continue on though, be sure to take a peek at the Sanbon-sugi. This ginormous cedar tree is made up of three branches that all share an interconnected set of roots. According to the plaque at its base, the Sanbon-sugi is considered to be one of a hundred famous trees in Japan. Like with ancient trees at many other shrines elsewhere in the country, the Sanbon-sugi is an object of worship unto itself and you’ll often see many people praying to the god of this tree before continuing up the trail.

Found at the base of Mount Oiwa, this two-story gate represents the entrance to the sacred parts of Oiwa Shrine and is protected by the four deva kings. It sits right next to an ancient cedar tree with three branches.

After walking under the gate, the path will soon take you to the shrine’s inner areas. Here, the trail towards the main shrine passes by a number of ancillary buildings as well as many, many trees. Additionally, there is also a surprising number of Buddhist statues scattered about this part of the shrine grounds. Normally, you’d expect these to be found only at temples as the remnants of a shrines’ syncretic history is usually not so apparent. So, I was a bit surprised to see how integrated everything still was at a sanctuary that was, at least on paper, Shinto.

Anyway, eventually you’ll find yourself in front of the main shrine after a little hike along Oiwa Shrine’s rock-covered promenade (don’t worry, there’s no way to get lost). From what I’ve read online after my visit, Oiwa Shrine apparently enshrines as many as 188 deities. Though it’s a pretty common tradition for other shrines to often have more than one god, it’s extremely rare for any one establishment to have this many. Likely, there is some hidden history here so if anyone knows more do let me know!

Behind the main shrine, you’ll also find a number of small sub shrines as well as a pair of paths that lead deeper into the mountains. While you don’t need to go all the way up to the summit of Mt. Oiwa, the original birthplace of this consecrated ground, you should spend some time wandering about during your visit. Especially if you’ve come via the bus, you’re going to be abandoned here for a few hours anway; you might as well take your sweet time enjoying nature and marveling at the mighty cedar trees on the Oiwa Shrine grounds.

A Hike for the Nature Lovers

As you climb the hill behind the the main hall of the power spot that is Oiwa Shrine, you’ll encounter a cedar tree-lined trail that leads up to the mountain top birthplace of this famous place of worship for Hitachi.

Calling all nature lovers and mountaineering types! Know that the proper way to pay your respects to the multiple-god pantheon at Oiwa Shrine is to make a pilgrimage ascent to the top of Mt. Oiwa. The two trails that lead to the summit can be found directly behind the principal shrine building. As you make your way up, you’ll pass a number of various Shinto sub sanctuaries such as Satsuto Shrine Nakamiya. The climb isn’t all too difficult and people of most fitness levels should be able to make it up and back to the parking lot in under two hours.

Now, I won’t spoil the hike for you but there are a few things to keep in mind when scaling Mt. Oiwa. Much like with Nara’s Omiwa Shrine, the mountain is considered to be hallowed ground. Thus, you need to mind your manners while wandering your way up to the summit. The following are the set of rules that you need to adhere to while on the cedar tree-covered slopes of Mt. Oiwa…

  • Be sure to always stay on the hiking trails
  • Do not attempt a climb during rain or snow
  • Do not damage any of the flora or wildlife
  • Refrain from smoking or using open flames
  • Avoid starting an attempt after 3 PM
  • Wear proper shoes and not sandals
  • Take all of your trash back with you

Finally, be sure to bring some water with you and also be careful of any fallen trees should you be visiting after a vicious storm. From what I could see from my visit, the shrine staff simply opt to close off the mountain when the conditions are treacherous but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. After all, you don’t want your trip to Japan to be destroyed by an unexpected visit to the hospital.

Back to Hitachi Station

Unless you have a runner bring your rental car up to the entrance of Oiwa Shrine in Hitachi, you’re going to want to make sure that you’re down from the mountain top and on the bus back out of the beautiful nature on the mountain to civilization.

As noted in the “How to Get There” section, the buses to and from Oiwa Shrine are incredibly infrequent. What’s more, unless you have a strong Japanese speaker in your group, you’re going to struggle to call a taxi company to come and get you. In contrast to a place that is popular with tourists like Kyoto, there’s almost assuredly no one who can speak English on the job (especially later in the day). Thus, you really do need to be mindful of the time. Otherwise, you’ll risk being abandoned on the mountain after the sun goes down.

Seeing as the return trip has a relatively early cut off, you’ll want to be sure to head up to Hitachi City earlier in the day if possible. This way, you can make your way up to Oiwa Shrine with plenty of time to explore. Note that this advice applies doubly to anyone looking to get in that little hike mentioned above. Should you plan to do any mountain climbing to see the innermost shrines at the summit of Mt. Oiwa, you’ll want to plan on being back down at the parking lot by no later than around 5 PM.

Other Nearby Attractions

Rather than rush to Kyoto to see Fushimi Momoyama Castle, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Onin war relics, etc., why not skip being crushed to death by legions of tourists and instead check out one of Hitachi’s other popular power spots like the torii of Oarai Isosaki Shrine.

Due to where Oiwa Shrine is located, there are a lot of options that you could elect to add on. In fact, you’re basically surrounded by other hidden gems that are all worth checking out (if you don’t already have a date with Kyoto and Japan’s other mainstream allures). If you need some inspiration, my ultimate guide to the entirety of Ibaraki Prefecture is a good starting point. For example, you could head down to Mito’s Kairaku-en and the torii at Oarai Isosaki Shrine (seen above) then continue on to Kashima Jingu on the southern border of Ibaraki.

If you’re not hankering to visit another good shrine or two just yet, you could also head over to Hitachi Seaside Park. Though most famous for its azure nemophila, the space is beautiful all throughout the year so see which type of flowers are in bloom. Alternatively, you can also continue north to the town of Iwaki in Fukushima. Though a lot of its attractions were destroyed during the 2011 triple disaster, Iwaki has covered a lot of ground on the road to recovery and things are largely back to normal.

While there are indeed a host of activities to do in Iwaki, the city is most famous for Spa Resort Hawaiians. This large water park resort comes fully equipped with a troupe of Hula girl dancers and is considered the first theme park to be built in Japan. Over the years, Spa Resort Hawaiians has regularly been updated and is a good way to get a taste of Hawaii from the comfort of ummm… Fukushima? Hey, just go with it—I’m sure you’ll have a good time!

Until next time travelers…

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Donny Kimball
Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media.

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