An ancient forest housing the local deity, mentioned in the Manyoshu
Iyahiko onore kamu sabi aogumo no tanabiku hi sura kosame sobo furu
The mountain of Yahiko is so divine, that even on such a fine day as this, it bestows a light rain from the floating clouds
This ancient, sacred forest is described in these words in the Manyoshu, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, which is believed to have been compiled around AD 759. Yahiko Shrine sits at the base of Mt. Yahiko, which rises majestically from the vast expanses of the Echigo Plain. Since ancient times, it has been known affectionately as “Oyahiko-sama.”
The grounds are luxuriantly covered in foliage, with lofty old cedars and ancient Japanese Zelkova trees standing with strikingly gelato. As the sake brewery that serves Yahiko Shrine, Yahiko Shuzo continues to safeguard sake that is as pure as snow and as precious as spring water.
On all manner of occasions, the master brewer calls on Oyahiko-sama to pray and reflect on his sake-making.
As you pass under the vermillion torii gate, a striking sight against the green surrounds, and look down, you will see the babbling flow of the Mitarashi River that flows down from Mt. Yahiko. Cross the sacred bridge, Tamanohashi, over the Mitarashi River and follow the cobblestone path, absorbing the solemn atmosphere, until you come to a corridor of ancient trees. On the right side of the shrine approach, many oriental cherry trees are intermingled with the giant trees. If you visit in spring, you will be greeted by a delightful display of blossoms.
The deity enshrined at Oyahiko-sama is Ameno-Kagoyama-no-mikoto, who is the great-grandson of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess who is the most important deity of the Shinto religion. Ameno-Kagoyama descended from the heavens with the other gods and lived in Kishu Kumano (in present-day Wakayama). When Emperor Jimmu (711-585 BC) embarked on his Eastern expedition, Ameno-Kagoyama offered up the sword of Futsu-no-mitama and was bestowed with great honor. Four years after Emperor Jimmu united the nation and acceded to the throne at Kashihara Shrine in Yamato (present-day Nara), Ameno-Kagoyama was ordered to administer the building of the province of Echigo. Crossing the raging seas of the Sea of Japan by boat, he landed at Nozumi Beach, in the far-off land of Koshinokuni.
He immediately set about teaching the local fisherman how to boil sea water to make salt and how to catch fish with nets and fishing hooks. He established Yahiko as the site of a shrine, conquered the barbarian tribes, and taught the locals how to grow rice and make sake. For six generations, his descendants carried on his work, which formed the foundations of the industrial culture of the Echigo region. He is indeed the founding god of Echigo Province and of its culture and industry.
It is not certain when Ameno-Kagoyama-no-mikoto was elevated to the status of the deity of the pioneering of Echigo and Yahiko Shrine was founded to honor him, but given how long ago the Manyoshu was compiled, it is believed to be at least 1300 years ago.