The stage-like main shrine with its beautiful rich lacquer
Considered to be one of the three major Inari shrines in the country alongside Fushimi Inari Taisha and Toyokawa Inari, Yūtoku Inari Shrine is enthusiastically worshiped as the guardian god for food, shelter and clothing and is visited annually by 3 million people who pray for success in business and agriculture. About 300 years ago, Manko Hime, who had married the 3rd feudal lord of Kashima, came over from her home in Kyoto to have the Inari shrine built. The elegant and majestic appearance of the beautiful rich lacquer has given the shrine the nickname of the Nikko of the Kyushu area, and the main shrine is known for its stage-like construction. The current main shrine was designed by the then-bureau chief responsible for the buildings at Ise Jingu Shrine, Takashi Sunami and rebuilt in 1957. It is the 3rd version of the honden.
Highlights of the large shrine grounds
The main shrine, the kagura performance hall and the tower gate are all located on the west side of the shrine grounds by the Kinpa River. From the tower gate to the north, there is the sanshuden, or assembly hall, and a Japanese garden where you can appreciate the plants and flowers there all throughout the seasons. Within Yūtoku Inari Shrine, there are 5 subsidiary shrines: Sekiheki-sha, Myobu-sha, Iwamoto-sha, Iwasaki-sha and Wakamiya-sha. Sekiheki-sha has an endless line of worshipers since the founder Manko Hime is enshrined there. And from the inner shrine on top of the mountain, you can enjoy a spectacular view which stretches from the city of Kashima to the Ariake Sea. In the adjoining Yūtoku Museum, there are exhibits including the treasures of Yūtoku Inari Shrine displayed along with examples of Kashima Nishiki brocading, the armor of generations of Kashima feudal lords, swords and art works. At the shopping street by the gate located at the sando path going toward the shrine, there are more than 30 shops from souvenir stores to restaurants where you can dine on local cuisine.
The 350-year-old O-Hitaki, an autumn event
Annually on December 8th, the 350-year-old O-Hitaki is held as an autumnal Shinto ritual to give thanks to a bountiful harvest and prosperity. A large pyre within the grounds is lit at 8pm with a column of fire rising as high as 20m. Worshipers then put their hands together in front of the sacred fire to pray and it is said that any embers which alight on them will protect them from disease.