Asahi Town's Air Shrine: A Photo Essay on Appreciating the Air

Discover the unique Air Shrine in Asahi Town, Yamagata, through a photo essay that explores the community's gratitude and celebration of the pure mountain air.

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In a beech forest echoing with birdsong stands a polished metal plate reflecting the fresh green leaves. This one-of-a-kind 'Air Shrine' is located in Asahi Town in Yamagata Prefecture. But it was not built by a religious organization. True to its name, it enshrines the air. 

Origins of the 'Air Shrine'

Located at the foot of the Asahi mountain range, the forest surrounding the Air Shrine was once traversed by mountain ascetics practicing Shugendo. Now, a stainless steel mirrored plate stands and reflects the surrounding scenery.

The history of the Air Shrine dates back 50 years. In the 1970s, Chiyoo Shirakawa, a local farmer, proposed building a shrine. Declaring that he "never tired while working in the mountain air," Shirakawa noted the need "to give thanks for the air".

Video of the Air Shrine (in Japanese only)

Shirakawa advocated for establishing a shrine dedicated to air, an unprecedented concept, at local meetings and in town newsletters. Yet low awareness of environmental issues among residents meant many people did not understand his idea and thought the town already had plenty of shrines.

"My grandfather was truly an eccentric," explains Shirakawa's granddaughter today. She recalls learning a lot about plants and other subjects from her knowledgeable and multi-talented grandfather as a child. "Looking back, he saw the world differently from others. His thinking might have been ahead of its time."

A Dream Becomes Reality

Shirakawa passed away in 1986 at the age of 73. It was later that the momentum for establishing the shrine gathered.

The Air Shrine in the early morning light. (©Sankei by Kazuya Kamogawa)

When plans were laid to build a leisure facility for enjoying nature in the town, a committee was also set up for shrine establishment. Many townspeople showed support through monetary contributions as well. A design competition was held and the innovative metal plate design was selected. The Air Shrine was completed in 1990.

Since then, the idea of revering the air has expanded. The town designated June 5, also known as World Environment Day, as Air Day. It holds an Air Festival every year on that day to re-emphasize the importance of air.

The entrance to the Air Shrine. (©Sankei by Kazuya Kamogawa)

Taking a deep breath in the quiet forest and peering into the mirror-like surface, one can see reflected shimmering green leaves and glittering sunlight filtering through the trees. It is almost as if the invisible air has become momentarily visible.

The surrounding scenery reflected on the shrine's 5-meter-square stainless steel plate. (©Sankei by Kazuya Kamogawa)
Underneath the Air Shine's stainless steel plate is a chamber containing 12 earthen jars that echo sounds allowing visitors to experience the air. This part of the shrine is only open to the public in June. (Image courtesy of Asahi Town Tourism Association)
The shrine blends in with the forest. (©Sankei by Kazuya Kamogawa)
A ceremony is performed in the lower chamber of the shrine. (Image courtesy of Asahi Town Tourism Association)

Read more about Asahi Town's one-of-a-kind Air Shrine here.

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