Japan is the home of the religion known as Shinto. In this polytheistic religion, deities are worshipped at shrines, and well-known shrines attract many people, both from Japan and abroad, as tourist attractions. There are plenty of famous shrines in Kumamoto, but Aso Shrine is one of the most important for its scenic and historical value. Aso Shrine has long been a much-loved place of faith for the people, but it suffered tragedy when its main buildings were damaged and collapsed during the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. In the eight years since then, Aso Shrine has undergone extensive restoration and has regained its original appearance. In this article, we will look at the appealing charm of Aso Shrine and the progress of its restoration, and encourage you to visit.

Located in Aso, the Aso Shrine is one of the most prestigious shrines in all of Kumamoto, dedicated to the gods who pioneered the Aso region in Japanese mythology. The shrine is said to have been established in 282 B.C., making it an ancient shrine with a history of more than 2,000 years. The shrine incorporates aspects of volcano worship, which considers the crater of Mount Aso sacred, and has been the cradle of faith in the Aso region since ancient times. The shrine’s present appearance dates from the first half of the 19th century, when it was rebuilt. Three shrine houses and three gates built at that time have been designated as Important Cultural Properties. Aso Shrine is especially famous for its spectacular two-story romon tower gate, which is loved by people in and outside Kumamoto as one of Japan’s three most famous romon tower gates.

All six of these Important Cultural Properties were severely damaged by the major earthquakes that hit Kumamoto in April 2016. Although it took about three years after the earthquakes to complete restoration of the other Important Cultural Properties, restoring the romon tower gate would require another four years and eight months. In light of the historical value of the romon tower gate, it was hoped that wherever possible, parts of the collapsed original tower gate would be used for restoration. With about 11,000 parts recovered from the tower gate, restoration was carried out based on the premise of reusing, repairing, and replacing original parts wherever possible.Ultimately, about 72% of the parts were able to be reused. After such exhaustive efforts, the restoration of the romon tower gate was finally completed in December 2023. Although it took many years, the majestic rise of the shrine from an unprecedented disaster was truly symbolic for those who had suffered through the earthquakes.

Now that the wonderful sight of the romon tower gate has been restored, a visit to Aso Shrine is well worth your while. So, to conclude, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of Aso Shrine.

After passing through the torii gate (the entrance to the shrine), visitors are greeted by three gates that have taken years to restore. One of the gates is the romon tower gate, described in detail above, which has a majestic atmosphere and overwhelming presence. In front of the gate, there is a place to wash your hands (to purify yourself before encountering the gods) called the chozuya. Also called the “divine spring,” it is said to bring blessings of longevity and immortality. The area around the Aso Shrine is also blessed with springs of high-quality underground water, and water fountains called mizuki are located throughout the town. Visitors are encouraged to try the gentle taste of the local spring waters.

Passing through the romon tower gate, you will see a brand-new worship hall right in front of you. This is where visitors to the shrine pray to the Shinto gods. It was rebuilt after it collapsed during the earthquake. Although a little less visible, three shrine houses designated as Important Cultural Properties are located behind the worship hall. After visiting the worship hall and the shrine houses, take a look around the shrine grounds. You will notice a large pine tree standing in the grounds. Said to be 1,000 years old, the pine tree is famous for bringing good fortune in finding marriage. It is said that if women walk around the pine tree twice clockwise, or men twice counterclockwise, they will be blessed with a good match. You will also find a sacred stone called Gankake-ishi, which is said to grant a wish if you touch it three times and recite your wish.

So, what do you think? Aso Shrine has recently overcome great hardship, and thus offers more to us today than just ancient beliefs and tremendous historical value. When you next visit Kumamoto, I hope you will enjoy Aso Shrine.