The Beautiful Futarasan jinja and Sacred Bridge

The Japanese legend of the Sacred Bridge tells us that in 766 BC, a priest named Shōdō, along with his followers, climbed Mt. Nantai to pray. In order to get to the mountain, Shōdō and his followers had to cross the perilous Daiya River. As the priest prayed to the gods to keep them safe, a 10-ft-tall god named Jinja-Daiou appeared with two snakes twisted around his arm, one red and one blue. The god released  the snakes and they transformed into a rainbow-like bridge covered with grassy plants with triangular stems and flowers. This enabled Shōdō and his followers to cross the river safely.

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The Sacred Bridge is in the Nikkō Futarasan Shrine, also called Futarasan jinja (二荒山神社), in the city of Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture. Futarasan jinja enshrines the Shinto kamis Ōkuninushi (Great Land Master, the originally the ruler of Izumo Province), Tagorihime (one of the three goddesses of Munakata), and Ajisukitakahikone (god of thunder). The shrine got its name from Mount Nantai, also called Futarasan. Mount Nantai (man’s body) provides water for the rice paddies in low lying areas, and it is also in the shape of phallic stone rods making it an important example in the ancient mountain cult. It was designated as the chief Shinto shrine of the former Shimotsuke province during the Heian period.  In the Meiji-Showa periods from 1871 through 1946, it was ranked as one of the nationally significant shrines of Japan.

Futarasan jinja. | Chris Brown

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The Sacred Bridge (shinkyō) is a beautiful vermilion colored lacquer bridge that was registered as  a World Heritage in December 1999 in Japan. It stands along the entrance to Futarasan Shrine. The bridge measures 28 meters long, 7.4 meters wide, and stands 10.6 meters above the river. It has been rebuilt many times but its design and pattern has remained unchanged since 1636. It is considered one of the three finest bridges in all of Japan along with Saruhashi bridge and Iwakuni bridge, both in Yamanashi Prefecture. Sacred Bridge was considered  sacred during the time of Empress Meishō (1624 –1696). Only the Empress, a few generals, and Imperial messengers were allowed to use it. Ordinary Japanese citizens could only look at the bridge and use other means to cross the Daiya River. It was only in 1973 that the Shinkyo was opened to the public.

Sacred Bridge. | Sjors Provoost