Oarai Isosaki Shrine

On the Oarai coast stands a beautiful shrine steeped in history. According to the Montoku Jitsuroku (one of the six classical Japanese history texts), Onamuchi no Mikoto and Sukunabikona no Mikoto, the deities enshrined in Isosaki, descended to the area in 856. One of the local people became the voice of the gods, and said ‘We are Onamuchi and Sukunabikona. When we finished making this country, we went to Tokai. Now we have returned to help the people of this land.’ As a result, Oarai Isosaki Shrine was built there. In August the following year, it became a kansha, a shrine that receives offerings from the Imperial Court.

rsz_dsc_0031rsz_dsc_0005The main building was once completely destroyed in a war during the Eiroku Period, but Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the second feudal lord of the Mito Domain (better known as Mito Komon) was saddened by the destruction of such a historically rich shrine, and he ordered the reconstruction of the building in 1690. Oarai Isosaki Shrine’s main building is an example of the architectural style of the early Edo period and has been designated as a cultural asset by Ibaraki Prefecture.

rsz_dsc_0043 rsz_1dsc_0030Heading down the steep steps of the shrine toward the beach, you will see a torii on the rocks among the crashing waves. This torii marks the spot where the Onamuchi no Mikoto and Sukunabikona no Mikoto descended, which is known as Kamiiso (the beach of the gods). Tokugawa Mitsukuni, struck by its beauty, composed a poem about it. On New Year’s Day, the priests and priestesses of Oarai Isosaki Shrine go down to the torii to watch the first sunrise of the year. There are also two other larger torii marking entrances to the shrine.

rsz_dsc_0011 rsz_dsc_0019Next to the main building, there are some stands set up for people to hang ema (small wooden plaques with wishes written on them) from. This is fairly standard for a Shinto shrine, but on closer inspection you will discover something rather unique about these particular ema. The majority of them are covered in drawings of the characters of Girls und Panzer, a popular anime series set in Oarai. You can also collect a special stamp featuring one of the characters upon visiting the shrine. It is definitely worth checking out if you are a Girls und Panzer fan.

rsz_dsc_0036 rsz_dsc_0035People visit Oarai Isosaki Shrine to pray for a number of things, including good health, happiness, marriage, wisdom, and virtue. You can also pray for safety at sea and for a big catch when fishing. Omamori (good luck charms) are on sale within the grounds, and there are a number of festivals and events held at the shrine throughout the year. Whatever your interest, this picturesque location is definitely worth travelling for.

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Art Tower Mito Starlight Fantasy

Dates: December 1st (Sunday) – January 13th (Monday/Holiday)

Illumination Time: 5:00pm – 9:00pm

Locations: Art Tower Mito, Mito Station North Exit Square

Art Tower Mito Starlight Fantasy is a local residents’ handmade fantasy that started from the hope “to give children a dream once a year”.

Art Tower Mito, its surrounding buildings and trees, as well as Mito Station North Exit’s clock tower and surroundings trees will be decorated with a countless amount of illumination lights. There will also be various fun events throughout the Fantasy!

【Events】

■  Christmas Concert

Date: December 14th (Saturday)
Location: Art Tower Mito Concert Hall

Enjoy an energetic performance and chorus put on by elementary school students.

■  Countdown & Happy New Year

Dates: December 31st (Tuesday) – January 1st (Wednesday) 9:00pm ~

Location: Art Tower Mito

Welcome the New Year with everyone while enjoying music and live performances!

■  Starlight Children’s Drawing Exhibit

Dates: February 18th (Tuesday) – February 28th (Friday)

Location: Art Tower Mito Entrance Hall

Akutai Festival

When: December 15 2:30 – 5pm
Where: Iitsuna Shrine (the north side of Atago Shrine), Kasama City
Access: By car: 15 minutes by local road from the Joban Expressway Iwama IC
By train: Get off at Iwama station and walk to the top of Mt. Atago (50 minutes)

If you want something a little different from the usual festival fare, the Akutai Festival is the place to get it. The word akutai means to abuse or swear at someone. There are several accounts of the origin of the Akutai Festival – one account states that akutai was originally written with the characters for ‘evil’ and ‘exorcise’ (still being pronounced akutai) and that it was a festival to ward off illness and evil spirits. Another version has it that the purpose of the festival was for the feudal lord to discern the grievances and dissatisfaction of the people from their shouted abuse.

The Akutai Festival is celebrated by the people of the Izumi area at the foot of Mt. Atago on November 14 of the lunisolar calendar (December 15 by today’s calendar) around the thirteen tengu (mythical bird-like creatures with long noses), Atago Shrine, and Iitsuna Shrine. Atago Shrine is one of the three main shrines dedicated to Atago Gongen, a deity worshipped as a protector against fire.

During this unusual festival, thirteen people will don white clothing to become tengu, and make offerings at the shrine of the thirteen tengu. The people visiting the shrine for the festival will shout obscenities at them, get in their way, and try to steal the offerings. Those who succeed in nabbing an offering and take it home with them will have good health and a plentiful harvest.