Izumo-taisha is one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in Japan. No record gives the date of establishment. Located in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, it is home to two major festivals. It is dedicated to the god Ookuninushi (Ookuninushi-no-mikoto), famous as the Shinto deity of marriage.
According to the two oldest chronicles of Japan, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, when Ninigi-no-Mikoto, grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, descended from the heavens, the god Ookuninushi granted his country to Ninigi-no-Mikoto. Amaterasu was much pleased by this action and she presented Izumo-taisha to Ookuninushi.
At one time, the Japanese islands were controlled from Izumo, according to Shinto myths. Izumo, known as the realm of gods or the land of myths, is Izumo-taisha's province. Its main structure was originally constructed to glorify the great achievement of Ookuninushi, considered the creator of Japan. Ookuninushi was devoted to the building of the nation, in which he shared many joys and sorrows with the ancestors of the land. In addition to being the savior, Ookuninushi is considered the guardian god and god of happiness, as well as the god who establishes good relationships.
According to the Nihon Shoki, the sun goddess Amaterasu said, "From now on, my descendants shall administer the affairs of state. You shall cast a spell of establishing good relationship over people to lead them a happy life. I will build your residence with colossal columns and thick and broad planks in the same architectural style as mine and name it Amenohisu-no-miya." The other gods were gathered and ordered by Amaterasu to build the grand palace at the foot of Mt. Uga.
There is no knowledge of exactly when Izumo-taisha was built, but a record compiled around 950 (Heian period) describes the shrine as the highest building, reaching approximately 48 meters, which exceeds in height the 45 meter-tall temple that enshrined the Great Image of Buddha, Toudai-ji. This was due to early Shinto cosmology, when the people believed the gods (kami) were above the human world and belonged to the most extraordinary and majestic parts of nature. Therefore, Izumo-taisha could have been an attempt to create a place for the kami that would be above humans.
According to Kojiki, the legendary stories of old Japan, and Nihon Shoki, the chronicles of old Japan, Izumo-taisha was considered the largest wooden structure in Japan when it was originally constructed. Before being known as Izumo Ooyashiro or Izumo-taisha, the shrine was known as Okami-no-miya in Izumo, Itsukashinokami-no-miya, Kizuki-no-Oyashiro, Kizuki-no-miya, or Iwakumanoso-no-miya.
During the Kamakura era, around 1200, the main structure was reduced in size. Then in 1744, the shrine was reconstructed to the present size of 24 meters high and 11 meters square at its base.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, as travel became more common in Japan, the shrine became a central place of pilgrimage.
Since the shrine spirit was settled in the inner shrine in 1744, it has been relocated three times for renovation of the inner shrine, using a traditional ceremony. The relocations took place in 1809, 1881, and 1953.
From 1871 through 1946, the Izumo-taisha was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.
In April 2008, the spirit was moved to temporary housing in the front shrine of Izumo-taisha in preparation for the Heisei-era renovations. Izumo-taisha's inner shrine was opened to the public for the first time in 60 years in the summer of 2008.