Japan · Life in Japan

Tsuwano: Church, Chapel, and Shrine

On the first day of my visit to the small samurai town of Tsuwano, I explored the main street, Tonomachi, in the old part of town. On the second day, my aim was to visit the famous Catholic church and chapel, as well as walk up to the inari shrine that overlooks the town.

Tsuwano Catholic Church

Tsuwano Catholic Church, Shimane
The Catholic church is located on the main road in Tsuwano.

Built in the late 1800s, this church can be found in the main street  the same area where the carp swim in the waterways by the side of the road. When I visited it was empty, and after taking my shoes off at the entrance (as required) I walked inside to find that the pews had been replaced with tatami mats! It was such a unique sight, and along with the stained-glass windows and paintings, the church was incredibly beautiful and peaceful.

Tsuwano Catholic Church, Shimane
The entrance into the church.
Such a beautiful church.

After spending some time here I eventually left to find another religious site in Tsuwano, the Maria Chapel.

The Otome Toge Maria Chapel (乙女峠マリア聖堂)

A bit of history…

Practising Christianity in Japan was prohibited during the Edo Period (1603-1868), though a few Japanese Christians continued in secret. At the beginning of the Meiji Restoration (1868), some revealed their religious beliefs and as a result were persecuted and relocated to various areas in Japan. Around 150 Christians were relocated to Tsuwano. Attempts were made to persuade the Christians to abandon their religion, and when that failed they tortured them. (source)

It was only in 1871, after the Meiji Restoration that the freedom to practice religion was allowed. (source)

The Maria chapel was built in 1951 and is located in the same area where the Christians lived. Today, this sign stands at the entrance.

Trekking to the chapel…

Locating the chapel is not the simplest of things, especially when it is raining and you convince yourself that you have gone the wrong way after not having seen a single living soul for the past half hour (thank goodness for maps!).

The chapel was built in the woods west of Tsuwano train station. Before even arriving at the chapel there is a bit of an ascent through the forest. This should be an easy walk on a bright, sunny day, but in my case it was raining and made the walk up a bit hazardous.

Saint Maria Chapel, Tsuwano, Japan
The entrance to the walk up to the chapel.
Maria Chapel, Tsuwano
A somewhat slippery – yet beautiful – walk up to the chapel.

Because the ground was incredibly slippery due to the rain, it took me about 15 minutes to slowly make my way up the steep path. While dodging spiders on the railings (which I had to hold on to or else I would slip) and their webs (naturally), I found myself stopping every now and again to take in the peace and quiet of the woods. In retrospect it was actually an amazing walk up and I loved the fact that I was the only person around  good for the soul. 🙂

Eventually I found what I was looking for and came upon the chapel. Dotted around the area were exhibits describing the events that took place back in 1868.

Saint Maria Chapel, Tsuwano, Japan
The chapel is the first thing you see as you enter the grounds.
The grounds where the Christians were once kept.
Inside the chapel. I had to use a flash because it was too dark without one.
Saint Maria Chapel, Tsuwano, Japan
There are stories of what happened to the Christians while in Tsuwano, one of them, as shown here, was about a man who refused to give up his religion, despite being kept in a small cage out in the cold. He remained strongly devoted to his faith and claimed that he was visited by the Virgin Mary every night.
The Otome Toge Maria Chapel.

The Taikodani Inari Shrine

After spending about 30 minutes wandering the grounds of the chapel (with absolutely no one else in sight), I decided to head back down (and finally came across life in the form of a Japanese couple heading up) and made my way to the famous inari shrine, one of the five most important shrines in Japan.

The shrine is located on Mount Shirayama, just northeast of Tsuwano Castle. You can either drive or walk up, though I highly recommend walking up as you get to experience climbing up stairs that run through a tunnel made up of over a thousand red torii gates.

Tsuwano, Japan
On the way to the entrance to the torii gate walk (I took this picture on day one while I was exploring the town).
It takes about 15 minutes to walk up. Though it took me a bit longer because I kept stopping to take pictures of the awesome view.
The awesome view.
Fox statues in all shapes and sizes are always present at inari shrines as they are regarded as messengers.
The shrine!
The view from the shrine, overlooking the parking lot. Apparently you can get your car blessed by the priests here.

And with that my time in Tsuwano was up. Spending two days here was the perfect amount of time to visit the main highlights the town has to offer. Plus getting the opportunity to travel there and back on a steam train was quite exciting!

I’ll finish this post by sharing a picture I took of a crab up in the woods. This little guy was munching on the moss growing on the rock, pretty much ignoring me while I tried snap his pic without getting my camera wet in the rain. 🙂



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