Kompira-san, the unofficial but more commonly used name for Kotohira-gū, comes from the nickname for Omono-nushi-no-Mikoto, the spiritual guardian of seafarers. Kompira was originally Kumbhira, the Hindu crocodile god of the River Ganges, and was imported as a deity from India well before the ninth century, when Kōbō Daishi chose the shrine as the spot for one of his Buddhist temples. For one thousand years Kompira-san served as both a Buddhist and Shinto holy place and was so popular that those who could not afford to make the pilgrimage themselves either dispatched their pet dogs, with pouches of coins as a gift to the gods, or tossed barrels of rice and money into the sea, in the hope that they would be picked up by sailors who would take the offering to Kompira-san on their behalf.

When the Meiji Restoration began, Shinto took precedence, and the Buddhas were removed from the shrine, along with Kompira, who was seen as too closely associated with the rival religion. While there are no representations of Kompira at the shrine today, an open-air gallery decorated with pictures and models of ships serves as a reminder of the shrine’s original purpose, and the Chinese flavour of some of the buildings hints at the former Buddhist connection.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

An expert's guide: the best homestays in Japan

An expert's guide: the best homestays in Japan

With a reputation for expensive hotels, Japan is the perfect place to try a homestay. There’s no better way to experience the real Japan than with a stay with…

15 Dec 2017 • Joe Minihane
All aboard: the most incredible sightseeing trains in Japan

All aboard: the most incredible sightseeing trains in Japan

None of this choo-choo stuff – Byun! Shu! are the sounds that a Japanese train makes. And while bullet trains – shinkansen – are one of the symbols of mod…

28 Nov 2017 • Neil McQuillian insert_drive_file Article
Sipping sake: a dispatch from one of Japan's oldest breweries

Sipping sake: a dispatch from one of Japan's oldest breweries

Sake is quickly replacing craft beer as the cool kid on the drinks scene globally – and a number of breweries have recently opened in the UK, USA and Austral…

10 Nov 2017 • Tamara Hinson local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right