Thought to be at least 1000 years old, Isaniwa is one of Japan’s three shrines dedicated to the deity Hachiman. After climbing a long stretch of stone stairs, passing a double-story gate, a magnificent bright-red structure emerges.
The architectural details are especially grand with the building’s swooping tile roofs, gold-leaf columns and ornate, cloudlike beam engravings. In addition to the spectacular architecture, there are displayed paintings of warriors and warfare (as Hachiman is the guardian of warriors and protector of Japan) and even numerous documents on Japanese mathematics. A hall of treasures features swords and armor for samurai history buffs. Other relics include animal paintings and calligraphy.
Supposedly, Isaniwa Shrine originally marked the location where Emperor Chuai and Empress Jingu, who reigned in the third century AD, bathed at one of Japan’s oldest bathhouses, Dogo Onsen, now just a few hundred meters away. The shrine was moved to by the Kono samurai clan in the fourteenth century to the current location where, after conquering the stairs, you can enjoy breathtaking views of Matsuyama city. It was rebuilt in the 17th century by the Matsudaira clan; the current buildings with their great vermilion surface date from 1667. The original imperial bathers are enshrined there.
Despite its age, the shrine is still buzzing with worshippers and even couples celebrating or taking pictures for their wedding. Although visitors note that the stairs are a little treacherous, the views and tranquil atmosphere only add to the experience of walking around the colonnade and absorbing a rich and long history—and if you’re lucky, observing a modern-day ceremony. If the trip does tire you out, you can always relax at Dogo Onsen at the foot of the compound.