Kibiji District (Kibi Plains), Okayama
Kibitsuhiko Shrine is dedicated to Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto, who is known for being the heroine of the tale that, over time, became the famous tale of Momotaro!
The main shrine was rebuilt in 1697. It was built in the Sangensha Nagare architectural style, which is quite beautiful and impressive. The pathway leading up to the shrine has ponds on each side and to the right of the shrine is a nice statue of the folk hero Momotaro with his animal friends. Although the nearby Kibitsu Shrine is more famous, it's well worth it to stop here as well. Those on the Kibi Cycling Trail will see both.
Entrance to the shrine is free.
Saijo Inari is known as one of the three great Inari Shrines in Japan (Fushimi Inari in Kyoto and Toyokawa Inari in Aichi being the other two). It is unique, because the complex is composed of a mixture of Buddhist and Shinto elements, so it is also often called a temple, which is why it is usually just referred to as Saijo Inari, rather than Saijo Inari Shrine.
The shrine has an interesting tale regarding it's founding. It was originally founded by the Buddhist Priest Hoon Daishi 1200 years ago. After he entered the priesthood, the emperor fell ill, so Hoon-Daishi was asked to pray for him. He prayed in a cave for twenty-one days, and on the morning of the twenty-first day, he had a vision of the Boddhisattva Saijo-sama coming down on a white fox. Soon after this vision, the emperor miraculously recovered.
When Emperor Kammu fell ill, Hoon-Daishi was called upon again to pray, and after he prayed to Saijo-sama, Emperor Kammu also recovered. Impressed, the emperor wanted to build a temple for Hoon-Daishi, and after Hoon-Daishi received an oracle from his god, he built the temple on the sight where he first reached Enlightenment.
The original structures were destroyed in war however, the oldest modern structure was built in 1601, so it retains historical value. The temple is impressive, and if you take a walk up Mount Ryuo, behind the buildings, you will see many fox statues (a characteristic of Inari Shrines), as well as sacred stones; some quite large. The area leading up to the shrine is a market where you can buy food and souvenirs. Saijo Inari is a great shrine to visit for its history, as well as its beauty!
To see the entire complex and the sacred mountain sites, it takes about 1.5-2 hours. Entrance is free.
The Tsukuriyama Kofun is a great example of Japanese burial mounds. The keyhole shape, characteristic of Japanese burial mounds, has been well preserved. It is the largest kofun in Okayama prefecture, and the forth largest kofun in Japan (30 meters high, 350 meters long). It is believed that one of the rulers of ancient Kibi is buried inside the kofun, but the tomb has never been escavated. It is thought to have been constructed sometime in the fifth century.
On top of the kofun is Koujinja (Kou Shrine). If you visit this kofun, remember that the best view is from the sky, because you can best appreciate the keyhole shape however, standing on the top of the keyhole, as well as from the Kibiji trail, you can notice the shape somewhat.
To walk by or on top of the kofun is free.
Koikui Shrine is a small inconspicuous shrine with interesting history.
According to the tale of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-Mikoto, after the prince shot Ura, the demon, in the eye with an arrow, the demon transformed into a carp and swam away in the river. The prince tranformed into a cormorant (bird) and finally captured Ura where Koikui Shrine is now located. The story of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-Mikoto is the original tale that slowly changed over time to become the famous Momotaro tale! Because of its associations with the legend of Momotaro, Koikui Shrine is worth a stop for those who enjoy the tale, although it is a little bit off the Kibiji trail.
The story of Momotaro is not only famous in Okayama; It is arguably the most famous folktale in all of Japan, so I thought it was a unique experience to visit the site where the last confrontation between the prince and Ura took place.
The Ancient Kibi Culture Center is located on the mountain behind Kibitsu Shrine, and it houses some artifacts from Okayama's ancient Kibi kingdom. The artifacts are quite well-preserved, and entrance is free!
It's a rather small area, but with free entry, one can't really complain. What they do have is interesting, and if you are travelling on the Kibiji District cycling road, you may find it worthwhile to stop by to get a glimpse into the culture of the area's former inhabitants (there is also a Kibi museum near Kokubunji Temple on the Kibiji cycling path in the Soja area that is larger, if you are interested. I wasn't able to visit that museum though).
A short walk from the Kibi Ancient Cultural Property Center (down towards Kibitsu Shrine) is the Goryo Mausoleum, as well.
It takes about 20 minutes to view the artifacts in the museum.
Kibitsu Shrine was once the seat of the tutelary deity of all the Kibi Provinces, spanning from Okayama to modern Hiroshima prefecture. It was highly revered by the Japanese people, as well as the Imperial Court. It is also famous as the location of one of the battles between Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-Mikoto and the demon, Ura, which the famous Momotaro story is believed to have originated from.
While the original shrine was built in ancient times, the main sanctuary you see today was built in 1425, and the Zuijin Gate also dates to this time period (Muromachi). The 360 meter corridor was rebuilt in 1578, so the entire shrine is quite old and retains much historical and spiritual value. It is also a designated National Treasure. The shrine is quite unique in shape and very impressive to behold!
It is free to visit. A walk around the entire area takes about 45 minutes. The mountain behind the shrine (Kibi no Nakayama) is also an important historical site, as it has been written about in many ancient poems.