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.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Japan travel tips: 13 things to know before you go

Japan travel tips: 13 things to know before you go

With its glittering royal palaces, ancient temples and sacred shrines as well as sandy beaches, some of the world’s best skiing and beautiful national parks, …

07 Sep 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
Where to stay in Tokyo: an area by area guide

Where to stay in Tokyo: an area by area guide

As the biggest city in the world, it’s unsurprising that Tokyo is crammed full of different places to stay – and with each district boasting its own charact…

08 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
A taste of Tokyo: the city’s best food experiences

A taste of Tokyo: the city’s best food experiences

If you really want to get to the heart of Tokyo's culinary scene, you'll need to go beyond the city's bustling restaurants and best-loved drinking dens. Rebecc…

21 Jul 2017 • Rebecca Hallett local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month