All About Japan

Tiny Island Proves Japan is Full of Surprises

Shrines Shinto Coast Beaches Temples & Shrines Iwate Tohoku

On a recent trip through Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, the folks over at SoraNews24 found themselves driving through the town of Otsuchi, in Iwate Prefecture. As they pulled over near the city’s waterfront to step out of the car and stretch their legs, their eyes settled on a picturesque island poking out from the waters of the bay.

The more they looked at the inviting trees and colorful structures sticking out from the rocky terrain, the more they felt the island calling. As they were traveling by car, not boat, they thought they couldn't get to the island, but it turns out that you can walk to it!

There’s a long breakwater connecting the island, called Horaijima, with the mainland. So they decided to extend their rest stop by strolling out along the narrow walkway, with the warm sun shining down on them and a gentle sea breeze blowing through their hair.

Once they made it across to the island, they could see that one of the splashes of bright red they'd seen from across the bay was actually a torii gate, marking the entrance to a Shinto shrine.

While no one lives on the Horaijima, Shinto’s belief about the divinity of nature means that sometimes shrines are set up even in places that don’t see many worshipers passing by. Beyond the gate stands a green building that at first looks like a compact house, but is really a shrine dedicate to the goddess Benten.

Benten is best known as the deity of music, but also holds divinity over water. Because of that, you’ll often find Benten shrines, like this one, built on islands. Sure enough, there’s a statue of Benten enshrined at Horaijima’s shrine, placed there in hopes that she’ll bestow her protection upon local fisherman while they’re on the sea.

Meanwhile, the island also has a more secular means of keeping ships safe, as next to the torii stands a bright red lighthouse.

Aside from the natural fauna, the torii, shrine and lighthouse are all you’ll find on Horaijima. But even though it only takes about 10 minutes to see them all and snap some photos, they couldn’t help but want to linger just a little longer.

Japan is filled with famous, attention-grabbing tourism destinations like Tokyo Skytree or Kyoto’s Kinakuji Golden Pavilion. Those marquee attractions are definitely worth checking out, but the other thing that makes Japan such a wonderful place to travel is the opportunity to find those little packets of beautiful, natural scenery, and simple yet deeply meaningful ways tradition is woven into modern life. It might take a little searching, but just about every corner of Japan has its own version of Otsuchi’s Horaijima, and we all sincerely hope that you get the chance to find some of your own.

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