Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
Aoshima Shrine is located in Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu, conveniently near central Miyazaki city. It’s not exactly the most important shrine in Japan, nor is it the grandest, but it is probably the most “fun” shrine of all.
To reach the shrine, from the Aoshima Bus Stop, you have to first walk past a large souvenir store and a couple of smaller food stalls. There’s nothing too fancy about the food stalls, but there’s one that has a song constantly playing in the background. This by itself would not be eye-catching if not for the fact that the lyrics go something like “Eat me” and “I’m delicious”. Imagine a Japanese song with an Enka-like feel (Enka: a type of traditional Japanese song that your grandparents will probably like) with this kind of lyrics… Yup.
At the end of the path, past the food stalls, you’ll arrive at a bridge that spans for a couple of hundred meters. At the other end of the bridge lies the small island of Aoshima, where the shrine lies. It can be reached easily on foot in a couple of minutes, but you can ride on one of the few tuk-tuk cars to the shrine entrance for a price. Surrounding the bridge and the island are some interesting rock formations, known as the “Ogre’s Washboard”, so named because they look like giant washboards.
People go to Aoshima Shrine mainly to pray for success in love, but, like other shrines in Japan, it’s multi-purpose and visitors can pray for other things as well – and in a variety of ways.
One way of trying to make your wish come true in Aoshima Shrine is via a piece of paper manikin. First, write down your name, address and wish on one of those manikins. Then blow on it a couple of times. Next, put it in a basin of water nearby, where it will dissolve completely. This ensures that only you and the god know what your wish is. Finally, place some water into your hands from the water flowing out of the mouth of the statue of a dragon situated nearby, and dump it into the basin.
In this shrine, an interesting way to get a fortune-telling slip is by fishing for it - literally. There’s a space with lots of plastic fish with a fortune-telling slip in their mouths, and you can use a fishing rod-like stick – complete with line and hook – to catch one of those fish.
Aoshima Shrine also has sea shell-fortune telling. This one is pretty simple. First, pick up the two shells. Then silently say your wish, and throw them into the pentagon-shaped space. If the front side of both shells come up, you'll be lucky. If the back sides of both shells come up, you'll be unlucky. If the front side of one shell and the back side of the other shell comes up, you'll be very lucky. The instructions do say that you can keep throwing until you get a “Very Lucky” result… You have to pay a few hundred yen every time you throw them, though.
More unusual is another Do-It-Yourself fortune telling booth that can inform you about “what’s important to you right now”, according to the sign. Here, there’s a large wooden die about the size of an adult human fist. Instead of numbers, the faces have the kanji (Japanese characters) for various fortune-telling categories like “Fate” (in this case, Fate refers to Love and Marriage and such related words), “Traffic”, “Health”, “Money” and “Studies”. To begin, roll the die onto the table. The word on top is the category that’s “important to you right now”. Then pick up a slip of paper from the appropriate category in the nearby box, which explains your fortune in detail.
Further within the shrine grounds, you can try your hand at clay disk throwing. First, stand in front of the throwing area, and make your wish. Then throw the disk, and aim it within the circular area bounded by a rope. If it gets in, your wish would come true. If the disk breaks, so would your bad luck, and you’ll receive good luck in return.
Finally, there are strings of various colours for visitors to tie to a rope. Similar to the categories at the Die Fortune Telling Booth, each colour represents a category, such as “Fate” and “Health”. The pink strings represent the “Fate” category, and unsurprisingly, there are an overwhelming number of pink strings tied to the rope, compared to strings of other colours.
Aoshima Shrine can be easily reached by local buses in less than an hour from JR Miyazaki Station. It’s not the holiest or most sacred shrine in Japan, but it’s definitely one of the more interesting ones, for both religious people and casual tourists, and well worth a visit.