Suwa Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest sanctuaries. Nobody knows exactly how old it is, but it was first mentioned in Japanese literature in the 7th century.
It is made up of four complexes, the two upper shrines of Maemiya and Honmiya on the Southern side of Lake Suwa, and the two lower shrines of Akimiya and Harumiya on the Northern side.
Maemiya is considered to be the oldest among Suwa Taisha shrines and it shows in the unorthodox layout of the buildings which form the shrine’s precincts. Unlike more recent sanctuaries, Maemiya merges with the surrounding nature and it is virtually impossible to tell where the shrine begins and where it ends.
The premises of the hall of worship, like all Suwa Taisha shrines, are marked by four gigantic pillars. These are erected once every 7 years during the primeval festival of Onbashira, when the locals drag big trees down the Yatsugatake Mountains by manpower alone and ride them in a ritual performance where many put their lives on the line. Maemiya is the only complex where you can approach all four pillars.
Before leaving the hall of worship, don’t forget to turn around and get a good look at the beautiful scenery of the Yatsugatake Mountains.
The best way to reach Maemiya is from JR Chino station. You can take a taxi (10min), walk (40min) or rent a bike (15min) and explore the surroundings.
Honmiya is just 15min away on foot and on the way there you can stop by Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum.