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Gods who inhabit the natural world: A journey around the World Heritage sites that tell of Japan's yaoyorozu no kami ("eight million gods")

Since ancient times, the Japanese have sensed the presence of gods in all kinds of things and places, such as trees and rocks and mountains As nature itself is perceived as sacred, gods are celebrated in temples and shrines that stand in natural settings. Here we present the nation's World Heritage sites that should be visited to understand the spirit of the Japanese people, who have always communed closely with nature.

Think of Japan, and you think of Mount Fuji

Japan's highest peak, Mount Fuji, is a relatively new World Heritage site, named in 2014. However, it has been a place of religious significance since ancient times, known as "the mountain of the gods." On clear days, the outline of the mountain can be seen from downtown Tokyo, but a visit to the locality gives a better appreciation of its majestic scale and its sanctity.

Itsukushima-jinja Shrine: The shrine in the sea

Itsukushima-jinja Shrine, famous for its red torii* that stands amid the waters, is a shrine located on the island of Miyajima in Hiroshima Prefecture. With its long history stretching back 1,400 years, it attracts numerous tourists annually as a place where the human and the divine coexist. Its scenic beauty, unparalleled in Japan, is sure to enchant with its powerful sense of the sacred.

*Torii: A kind of gate that stands at the entrance to a shrine.

Shirakami-Sanchi: A preserve of pristine nature

Shirakami-Sanchi, an area that extends from southwestern Aomori, Honshu's northernmost prefecture, into northwestern Akita Prefecture, is one of the world's largest tracts of original beech forest. Protected from human impact, the area's preserved ecosystem is home to some 4,000 animal and plant species. Not all parts are accessible by road, and some areas require special permission to enter, but there are also visitor-friendly hiking paths and other facilities. As the area is closed to visitors in winter, it is important to time your visit carefully.

Visit historic shrines on the Seibu Railway

For visitors unable to travel too far, but who still wish to see Japanese temples and shrines in harmonious natural settings, there are many different shrines that can be visited on a daytrip from Tokyo. Chichibu-jinja Shrine, 15 minutes’ walk from Seibu Chichibu Station on the Seibu Railway, is an ancient shrine with a history dating back some 2,000 years. Its greatest attractions are the carvings that adorn the shrine buildings. Together with the rich natural environment of the surroundings, it is a highly recommended daytrip destination.

Come and visit Japan's many different historic sites, where you will gain a deeper understanding of the country by encountering its unique religious spirit.

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