Lonely Planet Writer

Architect builds portable wooden shrine in Japan’s Kochi Mountains

Japanese architect Kikuma Watanabe has designed a portable Shinto shrine that’s nestled deep in the Japanese countryside. The project came about after the previous building was damaged by bad weather, leaving the residents of Nakagonyu without a place of worship. However, as Kikuma came to discover, building a new version wasn’t without its challenges.

Portable wooden shrine
Main wooden shrine set in the rear. Image by: Kikuma Watanbe

“This self-built, portable shrine is in a depopulated village in the mountain region of Kochi”, says Kikuma. “In 2015, the pre-existing shrine, called Kanamine-jinja, was deeply injured by a heavy typhoon that hit the village.”

“Kanamine-jinja had its architectural axis geared towards Mount Gozaisyo-yama — a sacred mountain located 10km away. Its site had partly collapsed, which resulted in a building that could no longer be maintained anymore.”

A rear view of the wooden Shinto shrine
Back side view of the shrine. Image by: Kikuma Watanbe

Kikuma and his team decided to use part of the old shrine to make the new one. “As a solution,” he explains, “we decided to divide the building into two smaller parts: the frontal area is a housing area for inhabitants and worshipers, while the rear is set in front of the original shrine in the forest. Before demolition of the original, the main part set in the original was transferred into the rear shrine.”

Main shrine roof view
Roof view of the main shrine. Image by: Kikuma Watanbe

There’s a significance to the shrine’s location, which also played into its design, as Kikuma explains; “Both front and rear shrines have to be set on the axis toward Mount Gozaisyo-yama, according to the layout of the original building. However, the rear shrine was set in the too narrow and limited site in front of the original shrine, so it could not be set on the axis toward the sacred mountain.”

“After clearance of the broken original shrine though, we transferred the rear into the site and set it on the axis toward the mountain. So now, the rear end features eight wheels attached to the bottom of the structure, rendering it portable.”