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Kuki Jinja “Air Shrine”

A shrine without a building dedicated to the air

Location: Asahi Town, Yamagata Prefecture

Hours: 24 Hours (closed in winter)

Kuki Jinja “Air Shrine”

(空気神社)

Kuki Jinja Air Shrine, a shrine without a building that enshrines the air in Asahi, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan

Tucked away in a beautiful forest in the heart of Yamagata Prefecture's Asahi Town, quietly sits Kuki Jinja (Air Shrine). As visitors make their way along the path leading up to the shrine, they are greeted by a series of monuments each representing the five elements that make-up the universe: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Upon arrival, they will immediately notice that Kuki Jinka is unlike all other shrines; it has no building. Instead, the deification of the air as a god is embodied through a square stainless steel mirrored plate, measuring 5 meters in length. The mirror plate reflects the surrounding light of the forest's glistening beech trees, symbolically expressing the townspeople's deep appreciation and gratitude to the air.

Although Kuki Jinja is listed as an official shrine, it is a relatively young one, having only been established in 1990. The shrine was reportedly created following the realization by the townspeople about there being no shrine celebrating the air, despite it being such a crucial element for life. Today, Kuki Jinja is a beloved part of the town and has become deep-rooted into its culture. To date, the shrine has hosted the weddings of 3 couples, which have come to be known as "Air Shrine Weddings," and also hosts the town's Air Festival, held every year at the beginning of June.

Enshrining the Air Through "Light" and "Sound"

In enshrining the air and conveying its presence, Kuki Jinja is configured around two fundamental elements: light and sound.

The first element, "sound," is located deep underground, 3 meters below the mirror plate. Here lies the interior of the main shrine, which is generally unaccessible to the public. The underground shrine houses 12 vases which cause the air enclosed within the main shrine to resonate as "sound".

The second element, located above ground this time, is "light," and is represented through the reflections of light on the mirrored plate's large surface.

The Air Festival

Ever since the first edition of the festival in 1990, Kuki Jinja's Air Festival is held on the closest Saturday or Sunday to June 5th, World Environment Day —or as it is known in the Asahi Town, "Air Day". If June 5th falls on a Sunday, then the festival is held on both Saturday and Sunday.

During the mystical event, the normally inaccessible inner shrine becomes open to visitors. Above ground, the mirrored plate becomes the centre stage on which shrine maidens, who also happen to be local elementary school students, perform the "Miko no Mai" (also known as "Toyosaka no Mai") dance dedicated to the air. The spectacular performance is further complemented by the beautiful glistening greenery reflected in the mirror, making for a truly breathtaking event. As new young leaves that sprout during the beginning of summer gleam in the mirrors reflection, viewers are reminded of the approaching summer and the excitement of finally enjoying the fresh summer air.

Elementary School Aged Shrine Maidens performing the "Miko no Mai" Shinto dance dedicated to the air on a mirrored stage.

Other events that take place during the Air Festival include "Ukishima Gagaku" performances a Japanese ancient court musicas well as sales of sake and Asahimachi specialty products that were dedicated to the Air Shrine during the past year.

In recent years, Kuki Jinja has attracted visitors from Yamagata Prefecture and beyond with its reputation as a "power spot," where visitors can purify their minds and bodies in the midst of rich natural surroundings and pure air.

This unique shrine is a must-see for both nature lovers and shrine-visiting enthusiasts. As there are very few shrines of this kind in Japan, paying it a visit is a remarkable, rare and refreshing experience.

Details

Official Page: asahimachi-kanko.jp

Hours: 24 Hours (closed in winter)

Fee: Free Entry

Location: Asahi Town, Yamagata

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