The oldest of Japan's Shinto shrines, Izumo Taisha has been of tremendous cultural significance—second only to the great shrine at Ise Jingu—since the 6th century. The main building was last rebuilt in 1744. In ancient days it was the largest wooden building in the country, but since the 13th century, each time it was rebuilt, it was scaled to half its former size, and it is now only 78 feet tall.
Nature has arrayed a shrine of its own to compliment the ornate but somehow subdued structures: a lofty ridge of forested peaks rises behind, a boulevard of fragrant ancient pines lines the approach, and lush green lawns flank both sides. Pilgrims come here primarily to pray for success in courtship and marriage.
The hon-den (main building) dates from 1744 and most of the other were buildings from 1688 onward. The architectural style, with its saddled crests and ornamental roof fixtures resembling crossed swords, is said to be unique to the Izumo region, but
some similarities with the main Shinto shrine on the Kii Peninsula can be noted. The taisha is dedicated to a male god, Okuninushi, the creator of the land and god of marriage and fortune. Instead of clapping twice, as at other shrines, you should clap four times—twice for yourself, and twice for your current or future partner. According to folklore, if you successfully throw a ¥5 coin so that it sticks up into the sacred hanging strands of the enormously thick 5-ton, 25 foot-long twisted straw rope, or shimenawa, suspended above the entrance to the main building, you will be doubly assured of good luck in marriage. It is almost impossible to do without some kind of cheating—which may say something about the difficulties of marriage.
Two rectangular buildings on either side of the compound are believed to house the visiting millions of Shinto gods during the 10th lunar month of each year. In the rest of Japan the lunar October is referred to as Kannazuki, "month without gods," while in Izumo, October is called Kamiarizuki, "month with gods." The shrine is a five-minute walk north, to the right along the main street, from Izumo Taisha-mae Station.