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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂