But that is not its original location. The Ikuta Shrine used to be situated at Sunayama, a hill near Shinkobe (Shinkansen) Station , close to the Nunobiki Falls. Indeed, a hill enclosed by rivers and close to the majestic waterfalls - that is a more fitting location for a shrine than in the middle of flat land. After all, before humans filled them with human deities, Japan's shrines were dedicated to the abstract forces of nature. They were born out of awe for the universe. The original site was also the location of a village from the Yayoi period (300 BCE - 300 CE). The shrine was forced to move because of a flood that damaged its buildings, perhaps as early as 1200 years ago.
Legend has it that the shrine at this time was damaged by a pine tree and that the deity therefore took a great dislike of such trees. When the shrine was relocated, it was rebuilt in a forest of camphor trees.
But also the new location is filled with meaning: the road to the shrine leads directly to the sea. In other words, on its new location the shrine must have become a shrine where prayers were said for safe sea travel. In that respect it is associated with two other shrines from Hyogo, Hirota and Nagata, and with the Sumiyoshi Shrine from Osaka as well - all shrines for seafarers. They are also linked in Japanese mythology, where the (purely mythical) Empress Jingo, when experiencing troubles at sea after her return from an attack on Korea, was advised by an oracle to establish these shrines.
[The torii gate of the Ikuta shrine]
The name Kobe also comes from the shrine: in the past pronounced as "Kambe," these were families who performed services for the upkeep of the shrine and who planted rice for the sake to be offered to the gods. Kambe-mura or "Kambe village" became Kobe-mura and then finally Kobe.
In history the shrine and its forest again figure in the famous Battle of Ichinotani between the Heike and Genji clans, in the 12th c., something now difficult to imagine when you see the sparse trees of what once must have been a real forest.
The shrine now stands in the middle of the Sannomiya shopping and bar district. Perhaps for that last reason, it is popular with young people as a love shrine, although there is nothing in its history to support this. But this function was reinforced by the marriage here of popular model Fujiwara Norika in 2007.