100-year-old shrine offers peace and prayers in heart of Honolulu

Ke Lu Zhang
Honolulu CC Journalism 204 student

There is a holy place in the heart of downtown Honolulu: Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii.

First established in 1906 and built under priest Katsuyoshi Miyao in 1907, the Shrine, known by many people as Izumo Taisha, has been servicing the community for over a century.

Besides its daily operation, which opens Sunday to Monday between 8:30 am to 4:45 pm, Izumo Taisha provides various services each year. Some of the services are the religious services such as the New Year’s blessing (Hatsumoude), annual Autumn Thanksgiving festival (Omatsuri), monthly worship service, and other services such as weddings, funerals and memorial services, baby’s first blessings, and ground-breaking blessings.

(See https://www.izumotaishahawaii.com/events and https://www.izumotaishahawaii.com/services for details of the services provided by the shrine.)

Of all the events through the year, the New Year’s celebration and blessing, called Hatsumoude (初詣), is one of the biggest.

“I will recommend that people come to the New Year’s celebration and blessing,” said Jun Miyasaka, the reverend of Izumo Taisha, “It is the biggest upcoming event and a good time to experience traditional Japanese celebration. We usually get over 10,000 people joining on the first day of the new year and it is one of the most special time for the shrine to bring blessings to all the people participating.”

The shrine’s visitors are mostly Japanese, but it welcomes people from all nations, cultural backgrounds and all works of life. It’s a place for anyone who wants to know more about the Japanese culture and religious tradition, or simply to pray and get the blessings.

Izumo Taisha has the typical look of a Japanese shrine with an A-frame structure and sacred straw ropes at the entrance of the main shrine.

If one is to visit Izumo Taisha, the first thing he/she will see is a large bell on the left of the shrine’s entrance. It is called “Hiroshima Peace Bell,” a gift from Hiroshima City to Honolulu in 1985. Although it was not part of the shrine, it was placed by the gate of the shrine in 1990, showing the peaceful relationship between the Japanese city and the City and County of Honolulu.

A pair of Chinese lion statues stand on the left and right of the entrance gate, symbolizing them as the guardians of the shrine.

Passing the main gate and looking right, a small structure appears. The basin with clean water is a symbolic preparation for the physical and the spiritual cleansing and purification of one’s body. At the foot of the shrine, there is a brass bell that can be pulled to ring and catch the attention to the enshrined Kami (“god”). Walking to the end of the white concrete stairs and looking up, there are some huge binding rice straw ropes and some white lanterns writing “御神燈”.   The straw ropes are said to have been woven by the people of Shimane prefecture in Japan and were donated to the shrine after being displayed at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 1994. They are the divides between the sacred and secular area and signifies blessings to unite the prayers with the Kami.

Following a few more stairs up, there is the offering box in the middle. Worshippers can choose to finish the worship at the offering box or walk into the service room full of chairs for visitors. To show respect, the visitors are asked to remove their shoes before entering the shrine’s service room. Inside of the service room, there are also decorations and tributes on a high platform for Kami and the priests. The center of the platform is a word “太”, meaning Taisha.

The shrine has undergone a number of changes over the last 100 years. The current structure was built by a Japanese master builder in 1922 and was taken under the City and County of Honolulu’s wings when Bishop Miyao’s family was in U.S mainland during World War II. The shrine property was returned to the Hawaii Izumo Taisha in 1962 and was moved to its current location at 215 North Kukui Street in Honolulu with full renovation in 1968.

Izumo Taisha is one of the oldest active Shinto shrines outside of Japan and one of the three shrines that still open to the public in Oahu, the other two shrines being Dazaifu Tenmangu Shine and Daijingu Temple of Hawaii. After so many years of servicing and providing blessings to the local community and visitors, it has become one of the symbols in the island of Oahu.

Most of the people come to the shrine to pray for themselves and their families. The Shinto shrine has its own process of praying to follow. The prayer should first wash their hands at the basin to purify the inner selves, walk up the stairs to ring the bell, make an offering in the wooden offering box, bow twice and pray in front of the offering box, clap hands for four times and again bow once before finishing the rite.   They can also purchase a variety of amulets in the shrine office, for safety travel, happiness, love, good fortune and business, etc. The staff in the office are friendly and can help with any purchases and questions.

Because of the amount of people visiting Izumo Taisha each year, especially during the new years’ time and around thanksgiving, the shrine is in need of volunteers, especially around the year end. One who is interested to help may contact to get informed of the latest volunteer opportunities and be involved.

I personally participated in making the Osenmai, the blessed rice, at my first volunteer event and enjoyed the environment and people. There are clear instructions on how to fold a stamped paper for the rice blessed at the shrine and they are not difficult to follow. Overall, it is the heart and the experience that are important and really counts.

“I used to come at new year and celebrate with everyone. I have always been coming to Izumo Taisha with my family,” said Eugene Mukai, a long-time volunteer at Izumo Taisha, “I think Izumo almost always have the most participation in terms of people among Hawaii’s Japanese shrines.”


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