Great Shrines for Hatsumode in Kumamoto

ByJustin Hanus
Dec 27, 2022

Great Shrines for Hatsumode in Kumamoto

The turn of the year is holiday time in Japan when people are off work to celebrate the New Year with parties, family gatherings, culinary feasts, and hatsumode. Hatsumode is the year’s first visit to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. It is traditionally made between the 1st to 3rd of January when visitors queue up to make wishes and leave charms at the shrine. Millions across Japan do this each year; the most popular shrines can have queues of thousands deep.

Here are some of the best shrines in Kumamoto for hatsumode.

Kato Shrine

This shrine is located within the grounds of Kumamoto Castle and honors Kato Kiyomasa, a 16th-century samurai lord and civil engineer who was awarded the castle. First built in 1871 and rebuilt a number of times after being destroyed, it’s one of the most popular hatsumode shrines in Kumamoto, attracting around 400,000 visitors across the three days who come to pray at the shrine for good luck, overcoming illnesses, and passing difficult exams. There is a small stone bridge at the shrine that Kato acquired from Korea. People cross this as part of their ritual as it is believed to bring success.

The shrine hosts seasonal festivals as well as monthly ceremonies. As it is within the castle grounds, it offers great views across the city.

Address: 2-1 Honmaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoro 860-0002

Aso Shrine

This spectacular shrine within the caldera of Mount Aso is one of the oldest in Japan, believed to date back to 281 BC. Its immense two-story copper-roofed hall of worship was destroyed in the city’s earthquake in 2016 and is currently undergoing reconstruction, expected to be completed in 2025. Twelve deities are worshipped at the shrine, including Takeiwatatsu who is linked to the sun god Amaterasu. Visitors make their hatsumode to pray to this deity for agricultural prosperity and protection from traffic accidents. Aso shrine also holds important cultural festivals such as Hifuri-Shinji and Onda Matsuri. It’s a 20-minute walk north of Miyaji Station.

Website: (in Japanese)

Kokuzo Shrine

Another of Kumamoto’s ancient shrines, this structure in the Teno area lies just 6 km north of Aso shrine so it is worth combining a visit to the two if visiting at another time of year or serves as a good hatsumode alternative if the queue for the Aso shrine is too deep. The Kokuzo shrine is believed to date from around 100 BC, and the main attraction is the remains of the sugi tree that is part of the shrine, said to be around 2,000 years old but fell in a typhoon in 1991. The shrine itself is a wooden structure situated at the top of some steps. It is associated with four deities who visitors pray before and wish for agricultural prosperity. You can also see the Kamiokura tomb here, which is an open tomb situated just 20 meters from the shrine.

Address: Teno 2110, Ichinomiya, Aso Shi, Kumamoto

Takahashi Inari Shrine

A brightly-colored shrine west of Kumamoto city, this is one of the Shinto shrines linked to the god Inari that takes the form of a fox (kitsune). It is similar to the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto but smaller and not quite as old, having been built in 1496. The shrine is most popular for its Hatsu-Uma festival in February and annual festival in November, but it also attracts sizable crowds for the hatsumode in early January. The shrine itself is lined with red torii gates, and visitors are known to bring offerings of sake and rice.

Address: 9-6-20 Kamidai, Nishi-Ku, Kumamoto 860-0068

Reggaeman, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Justin Hanus editor

Leave a Reply