Takachiho Shrine (高千穂神社, Takachiho Jinja), located just west of the town center, is nestled in a grove of tall cedars. During the day the shrine's nondescript, unpainted buildings blend in naturally with the surrounding trees. The light that filters through, brings with it an air of calm, peaceful reverence.
The town of Takachiho is the site of one of the most important and well known legends of Japanese mythology. In the story, Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, became so outraged by her brother's cruel pranks that she hid herself in a cave, refusing to come out and depriving the world of her life-giving light.
All of the other gods and goddesses gathered to lure her out. They tried everything they could think of to no avail until one goddess performed an outrageously ribald dance that caused the other gods to roar with laughter. Amaterasu left the cave to see what all the fun was about, and in doing so she returned her light to the world.
Today this legend is reenacted as Yokagura (night dances) in a series of 33 episodes depicting the divine quarrel as well as other deeds of the gods. On winter weekends, people gather to watch all-night performances of these episodes at different locations each week, sometimes at private homes. The performances are held on Saturday evenings from mid November to mid February.
A massively shortened version of Takachiho Yokagura is performed for tourists every night throughout the year at the Takachiho Shrine. The one-hour show consists of just a few scenes of the story, performed by masked dancers and accompanied by traditional instruments. It is held at the Yokagura performance hall, just a few steps from the shrine's main building.
Takachiho Shrine is located at the western end of the town center, about a 10-15 minute walk from the bus center. Some hotels in the area offer a free shuttle bus to and from the evening Yokagura performances to staying guests. Otherwise, a taxi is the most convenient way to access the shrine.