Izumo Taisha information
Lonely Planet review
Perhaps the oldest Shintō shrine of all, Izumo is second in importance only to Ise-jingū, the home of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The shrine is as old as Japanese recorded history – there are references to Izumo in the Kojiki, Japan's oldest book – and its origins stretch back into the age of the gods. Impressive as the structure is today, it was once even bigger. Records dating from AD 970 describe the shrine as the tallest building in the country; there is evidence that the shrine towered as high as 48m above the ground during the Heian period. It may well have been too high for its own good – the structure collapsed five times between 1061 and 1225, and the roofs today are a more modest 24m.
The current appearance of the main shrine dates from 1744. The main hall has recently undergone one of its periodic rebuildings, ending in May 2013, to be done again in another 60 years.
The shrine is dedicated to Ōkuninushi, who, according to tradition, ceded control over Izumo to the sun goddess' line – he did this on the condition that a huge temple would be built in his honour, one that would reach as high as the heavens. Long revered as a bringer of good fortune, Ōkuninushi is worshipped as the god of marriage, and visitors to the shrine summon the deity by clapping four times rather than the usual two.
Huge shimenawa (twisted straw ropes) hang over the entry to the main buildings. Those who can toss and lodge a coin in them are said to be blessed with good fortune. Visitors are not allowed inside the main shrine precinct, most of which is hidden behind huge wooden fences. Ranged along the sides of the compound are the jūku-sha, which are long shelters where Japan's myriad deities stay when they come for their annual conference.