Udo Shrine, or Udo-jingū, is a spectacular Shinto shrine located inside a seaside cave in Miyazaki Prefecture near the most southern end of Kyushu. While it is located far away from most other attractions in Kyushu, it is possibly one one the most scenic and special shrines in southern Japan.
As you approach the parking lot of Udo Shrine, you can’t help but wonder if you are actually headed towards the right location. The shrine, and it’s massive parking lot, is located at the end of a very narrow road which meanders its way through a small village and along the Nichinan coast. Two cars can barely pass each other. However, when you reach the end of the road all doubt will disappear as you pull into a huge parking lot accommodating dozens of busses and a hundred cars at a time.
As you leave the parking lot you pass through the large shrine area, with huge gates, small paths and food stalls. The bustling shrine area has a great view over the pacific ocean, but the true attraction here is hidden. As you leave the large gates and buildings behind, and follow the main path to the end you will reach a set of steps in the rocks, leading you down towards the raging ocean. As you near the bottom of the stairs a large cave opening appears on your left side, and inside the glooming cave you can start to see Udo Shrine – a full-sized Shinto Shrine which is built inside the cave. The shrine is hidden well from the rough weather and wild ocean outside the cave, yet benefits from a fantastic view.
Throw balls to improve your luck
Inside the cave, in addition to the shrine it self, there is a small shrine shop where you can purchase religious objects and souvenirs, including small ceramic balls called Undama. These balls should be thrown at a target in the ocean for good luck. From the platform outside the cave you can see a large rock in the ocean which has a rope placed on it. The rope marks the target for the balls. If you can throw your ball so it lands and stays within the target, you will have good luck. It is said that women should throw with their right hand while men should throw with their left.
Legends and stories
Udo Shrine is dedicated to Ugayafukiaezu, the father of the legendary first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu. Ugayafukiaezu is said to have been born in this cave by his mother, the goddess Toyotama-hime (daughter of Ryūjin, the sea-dragon god), more than 2400 years ago. Toyotama-hime, being the daughter of a sea god got pregnant at the underwater palace Ryūgū-jō (which in one story is said to be located near Amami island), but she decided to give birth to her baby on land. When she was just about to give birth, she told her husband:
“When their time draws near, people of other lands all give birth in the form of their homeland. So I will now give birth in my original form. Please, I beg you, do not look at me!”source
The husband got a bit suspicious, and had to sneak a view of the birth. As he saw Toyotama-hime transform into a huge sea monster he got scared and fled from the site. When Toyotama-hime realized what had happened, she fled in shame, leaving behind her baby Ugayafukiaezu.
Ugayafukiaezu is said to have survived by a nourishing liquid coming from a set of breast shaped rocks, which can still be seen in the cave today. Drinking the water from these rocks is said to benefit pregnant women, and so over the years Udo Shrine has evolved into being a place where pregnant women and couples in love come to improve their chances of healthy child birth and luck in love.
Visiting Udo Shrine may be quite a journey, and probably only one you’ll make if you already find yourself in the southern part of Kyushu. The shrine is located as far away from the beaten tourist path as you can possibly get on any of Japans 5 main islands.
By car: car is definitely the best option to get to Udo Shrine. The nearest city with a regular train connection and airport is Miyazaki. From Miyazaki it is a 45min drive to Udo shrine.
By bus: It is possible to get to Udo Shrine by taking bus #965 from Miyazaki Station. The bus ride is about 90 minutes long and costs in the range of ¥1500-1600 each way (2020).
By train: the nearest station to Udo Shrine is Ibii Station where the JR Nichinan Line stops. From Ibii Station there is about 11km (7mi) to Udo Shrine. You can catch bus #965 from the station to Udo shrine (15 minutes + 15 minutes of walking). While not recommended, you can walk the 11km which takes around 2.5 hours (there are sidewalks through the tunnels too).