Exploring Japan: Feel the 'power' at these spots

Exploring Japan: Feel the 'power' at these spots

by Story and photo by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Japan

Everyone is looking for an edge. In Japan, folks depend on “Power Spots” that are believed to cleanse, refresh and rejuvenate one’s mind and soul. Simply, they give you an edge. Luck, if you will.

Do you think I am delusional to believe in luck in this digital age where an algorithm seems to predict everything from what we buy and how we vote, to what kind of pop songs the population likes. And then you have computers “outsmarting” chess experts, game after game.

No, I don’t go to a Power Spot or pull out a lucky charm every time I have to complete a task. But, I admit when I’m in a tight competition or facing an uphill battle, I will pray or “ask for some luck” to snatch a narrow victory or to shift the tide for a comeback.

In this ever competitive and changing world, it’s not just people with betting tickets in their hands who care about and wish for luck.  In Japan, zodiac fortune telling (your horoscope) is a very common segment of morning shows. If you tune in to a TV show early in the morning, you will likely see the daily horoscope being reviewed. I am not sure how many Japanese people actually believe in this, but I’m sure most wouldn’t want to see that those with their sign are predicted to have a bad day.  Some may even take advice from the TV show concerning lucky color, lucky items, lucky food and lucky spots.

“Power Spot” is a term which, I think, reflects such Japanese obsession with luck. According to a dictionary, the term came to be used in the mid-1990s to refer to “locations filled with psychic power.”

In those days, TV shows about ghosts and supernatural power were very popular. Being associated with the “supernatural” culture, the term survived the test of time while the popularity of supernatural took different names such as “spiritual” or “paranormal.”

Recently, Power Spot found its way back under the spotlight. On channel 7 in Tokyo, which is famous for specializing in travel and gourmet information, there are many shows where celebrities who are in need of a little luck when it comes to wealth, health and love, visit Power Spots across the country, encouraging viewers to do the same. Or, if you look at travel magazines, you’ll find features on Power Spots.

If you are one of those luck-conscious people who just can’t get enough of watching such TV shows, but can’t stand seeing celebrities hogging all the luck to themselves, it’s time to hit the road and pick up some luck.

Sacred site, unique landscape

If you live in mainland Japan, you might want to check out the World Heritage List. In fact, prominent temples, shrines and natural landscapes such as mountains and rivers are routinely featured in Power Spot publications.

Here in Okinawa, visits to Power Spots will likely be explorations into sanctuaries with unique natural landscape, like Daisekirinzan, a rocky mountain at the north end of Okinawa’s main island.  This mountain, which was formed more than 200 million years ago as a result of crustal change, is quite a spectacle to see.

When I visited the mountain in early April, I saw many tourists who came to enjoy the unusual look of the mountain, take a hike on a road surrounded by banyan trees and be surprised by the beautiful view of Cape Hedo from the top of the mountain.

But I also saw some local folks who came to the location to look for spiritual power.

“I am from the neighboring area of this mountain.  I have been coming to this place since I was a kid. Touching stones and trees here gives me power,” said Sue Shinzato, an elderly lady who came all the way from Naha City with her two sisters.

Once called Ashimui, which means “the forest of the oldest,” this mountain is mentioned in the myths of Ryukyu as a location where the history of the country started.  Beginning 500 to 600 years ago, Daisekirinzan has been a place where people come to seek spiritual power and luck for health, navigation safety, bloodline, art, land transactions and development, according to Tamotsu Hiura, a tour guide who escorted me during my visit.  As he showed me around unique rocks and trees, Hiura explained that the mountain still brings about miracles with its “power.”

“We had a visitor who could not walk without a cane. But once he seated himself on ‘Kotsubanseki (pelvis rock),’ one of the power spots on the mountain, he started walking with no problem and went back home, leaving behind his cane,” Hiura said. “Many people come to the mountain, desperately looking for some luck for health, love and having a baby. Some come here after being summoned in a dream.”

As if to bless people who come to this sacred mountain for all kinds of reasons, there are sacred sites (power spots) with unique names and power; “Kotsubanseki (pelvis rock)” for health and easy delivery, “Umarekawarino Ishi (reincarnation rock)” for another chance with a clean slate, and “Jinaganasi (Sir/Madam. Money)” for financial success, just to name a few.

Since there are many power spots on Okinawa and across all of Japan, you might need to find out which one is good for you.

“It depends upon individuals which power spot works best,” Hiura explained. “If you are looking for specific kind of luck, I can recommend power spots for that.”

You might end up finding your own power spot because it is up to how you feel. But whichever spot you choose, don’t forget that it is a sacred site.

“Sanctuaries in Okinawa such as Daisekirinzan can be interpreted as the prototype of shrines or temples in mainland Japan even though they may not have gate or main halls,” Hiura said.  “In fact, locations on the mainland where you now see shrines and temples, are the ones where people used to feel special power long time ago.”

Since the special “power” belongs to nature, many power spots and sanctuaries welcome everybody. It doesn’t matter where you are from or which religion you follow. As long as you pay respect to the sacred site by following rules, such as not touching certain stones or trees.  

On Okinawa



Hours: April - September, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. (Ticket counter closes at 5 p.m.) October – March,

9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Ticket counter closes at 4 p.m.)

Location: 1241 Ginama Kunigami village, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa Prefecture (140-minute drive from Camp Foster)

Form: mountain

What makes it a Power Spot: Huge rocks and banyan trees with unique shapes. Some sacred sites require an escort by tour guide. Tours are offered in Japanese only.

Admission: 820 yen for adults, 520 yen for children

URL: http://www.sekirinzan.com/

Tel: 0980-41-8117


Gangala no Tani

(Gangala Valley)

Hours: Tours are offered at following hours; 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. 

You can make reservation through website or by phone call between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

(Reservation needs to be made by 5 p.m. on the previous day of your tour.)

Location: 202 Maekawa, Tamagusuku, Nanjo city, Okinawa prefecture (About 40 minute drive from Camp Foster)

Form: Valley and cave

What makes it a Power Spot:  This valley is believed to be a place where human beings lived about 18,000 years ago.  (Excavation is going on at the site). You may feel the healing mood of the valley which protected human being from wild nature long time ago.  This is also a sacred site where people come to make a wish for having a baby.

Admission: 2,200 yen for adult, 1,700 yen for student (15 years of age or older)

URL: http://www.gangala.com/lang/

Tel: 098-948-4192

This valley is believed to be a habitat of the Minatogawajin, human beings of 18,000 years ago. Two years ago, human bones that belong to the Old Stone Age were found. According to Ms. Asato, a tour guide, this valley used to be the bottom part of large caves. Some caves are still left with tis top part intact.

Ikigado, which means male cave, is one of them. What is unique about the cave is that there are big stalactites that look like male genitals. As the form suggests, people have been coming to this cave to wish good luck with having a baby. And there is even a cave with rocks that look like female body parts.  Although visitors cannot go inside, Inagudo, which means female cave, is known for having rocks that look like a female bosom and buttock. For local folks, this is a place to make a wish for a smooth pregnancy, healthy baby and strong marriage.  Yuta ladies, who are local spiritual media, are also familiar visitors to the caves. These two caves have been sites for praying for several hundred years.

What you see after the caves is a large banyan tree called Ufushu Gajumaru. This large tree, which is about 150 years old, presents a quite a view with its long and thick roots stretching to the bottom of the valley.  With the roots so thick, it almost looks like the tree grows upward from the bottom, like a normal tree. But it is actually the other way around. In fact, it was given the nickname “walking tree” because it continues spreading roots from the top part of the valley to look for ground rich in nutrition. 

According to Asato, people who are sensitive to spiritual power feel some sort of energy in this valley. Some say the atmosphere of the valley makes them feel comfortable. Once you take a walk there, you may feel the special power that has attracted and healed human beings for thousands of years.  You can only imagine what the life was like 18,000 years ago as you look at the foggy forest from inside the caves, just like people would have done back in ancient times. 


Sefa Utaki

(Supreme Sacred Site)

Hours: March- October, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. (Ticket counter closes at 5:15 p.m.) November – February, 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Ticket counter closes at 4:45 p.m.)

Location: Kudeken, Chinen, Nanjo City, Okinawa (About 50-minute drive from Camp Foster)

Form: Sacred site on a hill

What makes it a Power Spot: The utmost sacred site thought to be built by deity Amamikyo. During the time of Ryukyu Kingdom, this was the most important sacred site in the country. 

Admission: 300 yen for adults (High school student and above), 150 yen for children (Elementary and middle school)

URL: http://okinawa-nanjo.jp/sefa/en/

Tel: 098-949-1899

There are four sacred spots at this site which are currently open to visitors; Yuinchi, Ufuguui, Shikiyodayuru to Amadayuru no Tsubo, and Sanguui.  Among them, Sanguui is the most famous. This triangle tunnel formed by two massive rocks, is a spot where national ceremonies were held during the Ryukyu Kingdom. Once you go through the tunnel, you can see Kudakajiama, an island of god, on your left. Sefa Utaki was registered as a World Heritage in December of 2000.


On Mainland

Japanese mainlanders associate Power Spots with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, along with large mountains, islands and lakes, such as Mount Fuji and Lake Biwa. In fact, there are about 165,000 shrines and temples, more than three times the number of convenience stores (50,000) within the nation, according to Government of Japan data.

Among tens of thousands of Power Spots, the following are extremely popular and widely worshiped. Visit one or all and you are sure to feel refreshed and to even find your wish realized in their mysterious atmosphere.



Hours: May - October, 6 a.m.-6 p.m. (closed November-April)

Location: 3-2 Tanabu Usoriyama, Mutsu City, Aomori Prefecture (150-minute drive from Misawa AB)

Form: Mountain

What makes it a Power Spot: Celestial and hell-like views, bodhisattva statues and pinwheels to console deceased infants, and necromancers who can mediate with the dead.

Admission: 500 yen

URL: www.mutsu-kanko.jp/guide/miru_01.html

Tel: 0175-22-3825

Since Buddhist monk Jikakutaishi built Bodaiji Temple on the mountain in 862, Osorezan (literally, mount fear) has been known as one of the three most hallowed sites in Japan, alongside Hieizan (Shiga Prefecture) and Koyasan (Nara Prefecture). 

You can reach the site by crossing a wooden bridge over Sanzu River, which Buddhists believe deceased souls cross on the way to another world.

At the site, you can see celestial Usori Lake’s white beaches and azure blue water, volcanic valleys where sulfur fumes rise from numerous pits, along with traditional Buddhist temple buildings.

Countless piles of stones, Jizo statues (bodhisattva of hell and guardian of children) and pinwheels can be found throughout the site. Local people believe that the spirits of deceased children have piled the stones. Those who lost children still come to the site today and offer the pinwheels as toys for deceased children. Jizo statues are places to protect the souls of children from evil.  

There are several hot-spring shacks at the site where you can enjoy a free soak to purify yourself.

Blind female necromancers, called Itako, conduct a ritual in which they call a divine spirit and claim to summon the souls of the dead and to deliver messages in their voices. The ritual takes place during the Itako Taisai Festival, July 20-24, and the Autumn Festival, which is held in early October. 


Hakone Shrine

Location: 80-1 Motohakone, Hakkone Machi, Kanagawa Prefecture (60- to 80-minute drive from Camp Zama, NAF Atsugi and Yokota AB)

Form: Shinto shrine 

What makes it a Power Spot: Devine favor for victory in battles and success in business

Attractions: Main Shrine, Torii gate, stone-paved path

URL: hakonejinja.or.jp/

Tel: 0460-83-7123

Large red torii gates on Lake Ashi and a stone-paved stairway lead up the hill to Hakone Shrine, surrounded by numerous cedars.

The shrine is known as one of the most important Shinto shrines in the Kanto region, and is widely considered a Power Spot for luck and success in battles, business and competitions.

Since its foundation in 757, samurai warriors visited the shrine to wish for their luck on the battlefield throughout the feudal era, according shrine documentation. Although the original shrine was burned down during the Battle of Odawara in 1589, Tokugawa Shogun reconstructed a new building and continued supporting the shrine during the Edo era (1603-1867).


Miyajima Island

Location: Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture (40-minute drive from MCAS Iwakuni)

Form: Island

What makes it a Power Spot: Legend of the Island of God

Attractions: Itsukushima Shrine, O-Torii, Daishoin Temple, Mount Misen

Website: www.miyajima.or.jp/english/index.html

Tel: 0829-44-2011 (Miyajima Tourist Association)


Itsukushima Shrine

Hours: Daily, 6:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Address: Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Admission: Adults, 300 yen ($2.50); high school students, 200 yen; elementary and middle school students, 100 yen.

Website: www.miyajima.or.jp/english/index.html

Tel: 0829-44-2020


Daishoin Temple

Hours: Daily, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Address: 210 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Admission: Free

Website: www.galilei.ne.jp/daishoin/

Tel: 0829-44-0111

Because Miyajima Island had been worshiped as a god for centuries, according to local legend, there are no cemeteries on the island, as no one is allowed to die there. Nor are folks allowed to be born there. When either time comes, it must be done on the mainland.

If you are stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni or happen to be visiting, you will definitely want to check out Miyajima Island, a little piece of paradise and must-see attraction.

Known as one of Japan’s three most scenic attractions (Matsushima Islands in Miyagi and the Ama-no-Hashidate sandbar in Kyoto are the others), this small island just off the coast of Hiroshima Prefecture attracts more than four million tourists per year, according to Hatsukaichi City.

Itsukushima Shrine sits majestically on a wooden structure protruding from the water. Since the island is considered a god, the shrine could not be erected on the island, according to shrine legend.

Itsukushima Shrine was originally built and dedicated to the Shinto gods in 593. The structure has repeatedly been repaired and rebuilt. The current structure was built in the 16th century.

Erected in 1875, the O-Torii (Grand Torii Gate) is the most well-known structure of the Itsukushima Shrine. The main pillars are approximately 43 feet tall and 33 feet in circumference with a crossbeam that is approximately 77 feet long. It is really amazing that such a gigantic gate stands firmly by its own weight with four supporting pillars.

Besides the shrine, Miyajima has a temple.

Founded by Kukai in 806, Daishoin Temple is one of the most prestigious temples in the western part of Japan. Since the 12th century, when Emperor Toba established his prayer hall within the temple, it has been closely connected with Japan’s imperial family.


Dazaifu Tenmangu

Hours: March 23-Sept. 21, 6 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sept. 22-March 22, 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

Location: 4-7-1 Saifu, Dazaifu City, Fukuoka Prefecture (90-minute drive from Sasebo Naval Base)

Form: Shrine

What makes it a Power Spot: Devine favor for luck in examination and progress in studies and arts

Attractions: Main Shrine, plum blossoms of 6,000 trees, Taiko-bridge and Shinji-pond and Shrine Museum

URL: www.dazaifutenmangu.or.jp/en

Tel: 092-922-8225

Dazaifu Tenmangu is known as the Shinto shrine of academia, since it is dedicated to the spirit of Sugawara Michizane, a gifted scholar and politician of the Heian Era (794-1192). The shrine was built on the site of Sugawara’s grave in 919. 

The shrine enjoys great popularity among students, especially during the entrance exam season. You may see bunch of small wooden plaques with drawings of horses and Japanese characters written on them hanging in the garden. These ema (literally, horse icons) are used as prayers or wishes for good luck in certain endeavors. Locals believe that their wishes and prayers will come true if they write them on these plaques and hang them as offerings to the god. Many students who are taking entrance exams visit this Shrine and offer their ema for success.

As Michizane was fond of plums, there are 6,000 plum trees in the garden, and their blossoms start blooming early January every year. The blossoms can be enjoyed until middle of March.

If you are planning to take an exam or apply for a higher rank, you may want to visit this Power Spot to offer your ema and make a wish for luck and success.

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