Aoi Aso Shrine

Main Hall/Corridor/Offering Hall/Worship Hall/Tower Gate

National Treasure

Aoi Aso Shrine is located within the city of Hitoyoshi.

Its buildings are aligned from the north, with the front-most building at the southern end of the line.

The shrine’s history dates back to 806, when the three gods of Aso were split and then enshrined here as the gods of the area.

The gods enshrined here are the guardian deities of land settlement,So, it is believed that people often went to this shrine to pray for the safe settlement of the Hitoyoshi Kuma area.

Later, this shrine came to be revered by the Sagara Clan when Nagayori, the first head of the Sagara family, became Lord of Hitoyoshi Manor, making it an even more integral to the lives of local citizens—to this day, it is affectionately called “Aoi-san”, and is one of the main shrines in Hitoyoshi Kuma.

The Okunchi Festival, held annually from October 3rd to 11th, dates back to the Heian period (794~1185) and is the largest festival in the Hitoyoshi Kuma region.

This festival features Kuma Kagura (ancient court music), which has been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset by the nation, as well as a parade of more than 2,000 people within the city of Hitoyoshi.

Being bitten on the head by the lion dancer in the parade is said to bring good health.

In 2008, the Main Hall, Corridors, Offering Hall, Worship Hall, and Tower Gate—all built between 1609 and 1613 at the command of Nagatsune, the 20th head of the Sagara family—became the first designated National Treasures in Kumamoto Prefecture.

They were chosen because the series of shrine buildings built during the Keicho period (1596~1615) incorporates the ornate decoration style of the Momoyama period while still maintaining a unified design, and became the standard for shrine and temple construction in the early modern Kuma region.

It is the first thatched-roof shrine building to be designated a National Treasure in Japan.

The shrine has many noteworthy points, including its enormous and steep thatched roof, lacquering techniques that incorporate both red and black lacquer, and its brilliant ornamentation.

The two-story Tower Gate is massive at 12 meters high, and harmoniously combines Zen Buddhist and Momoyama styles, with a pair of yin-yang demon faces in each corner of the eaves.

This is known as Hitoyoshi-style and is not seen anywhere else in Japan.

The Main Hall, built for the gods, features a carving of an ascending and a descending dragon on either side, as well as the shrine crest of two hawk wings painted in gold leaf.

In the Roofed Corridor are carvings of a pair of dragons with balanced “A” (open-mouthed) and “Un” (closed-mouthed) facial expressions.

The Offering Hall, which connects the Main Hall to the Worship Hall, still features carvings of nature and plants as well as metal fittings.

Cultural Property Overview


118, Kamiaoimachi, Hitoyoshi Shi, Kumamoto Ken, 868-0005, Japan

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