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Udo Shrine on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu features an ornate building inside a cavern decorated with carvings of mythical creatures.
Udo Shrine on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu features an ornate building inside a cavern decorated with carvings of mythical creatures. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Huge waves crash onto jagged rocks below Udo Shrine, the mythical birthplace of the father of Japan’s first emperor, on the east coast of the country’s southern island of Kyushu.

Legend has it that Emperor Jimmu, a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the storm god Susanoo, founded Japan in 660 B.C. His accession is marked each year as National Foundation Day on Feb. 11.

Udo Shrine, near Nichinan City, is supposed to be where the sea goddess Toyotama-hime gave birth to Jimmu’s father, Ugayafukiaezu, in a birth-hut made of the feathers of a cormorant.

The shrine is popular with young couples hoping for easy childbirth and a happy marriage.

Getting to the shrine involves a hike over several hundred yards from a parking lot through a pedestrian tunnel and down stone steps. There are a few coffee and souvenir shops along the way if you want to rest.

Visitors enter the shrine through an impressive red gateway that sits high above a rocky shoreline.

A cliffside path is decorated with rabbit statues. The creatures are messengers of the gods, according to a local Shinto priest.

A Shinto priest speaks at Udo Shrine, the mythical birthplace of the father of Japan’s first emperor, on the east coast of the country’s southern island of Kyushu.
A Shinto priest speaks at Udo Shrine, the mythical birthplace of the father of Japan’s first emperor, on the east coast of the country’s southern island of Kyushu. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

A wooden bridge along the path is said to lead into the spirit world. Those who have done evil deeds cannot cross, according to the priest.

From there it’s a steep descent down more stone steps to a bluff overlooking the surf. Visitors can purchase clay balls and attempt to toss them into a rope circle on top of a rock below for good luck.

At Udo Shrine in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan, visitors can purchase clay balls and attempt to toss them into a rope circle on top of a rock below.
At Udo Shrine in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan, visitors can purchase clay balls and attempt to toss them into a rope circle on top of a rock below. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Nearby, you may enter the main shrine, built inside a cavern.

The shrine includes a Chinese-style building decorated with mythical animals such as the Kirin, a deer-like creature supposed to only appear during times of world peace, and which features on a popular beer brand.

A Kirin, a mythical creature said to appear only during times of world peace, decorates a building at Udo Shrine in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan.
A Kirin, a mythical creature said to appear only during times of world peace, decorates a building at Udo Shrine in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

At the back of the cave water drips from the ochichi iwa, or "breast stone," that is supposed to have fed Emperor Jimmu’s father when his grandmother returned to the sea.

A gift shop at the cave entrance sells a variety of souvenirs including plenty of pendants with images of rabbits.

Udo Shrine is the mythical birthplace of the father of Japan’s first emperor, on the east coast of the country’s southern island of Kyushu.
Udo Shrine is the mythical birthplace of the father of Japan’s first emperor, on the east coast of the country’s southern island of Kyushu. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

ON THE QT

Directions: 3232 Miyaura, Nichinan City, Miyazaki Prefecture. The shrine is about a 25-mile drive from Miyazaki City. From the parking lot it’s about a 10-minute walk to the shrine entrance.

Times: Open daily, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Costs: Entry is free.

Food: Several coffee bars near the shrine.

Information: 0987-29-1001; udojingu.com

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