In Ibaraki Prefecture there is a shrine called the Kashima Shrine and for the most part it looks like any other Shinto Shrine in Japan. It was founded over 1,300 years ago and the architecture of the shrine looks pretty similar to any Shinto worship area. But if you go to the rear of the shrine building you will see something that no other shinto shrine has that is a scene of beauty.
What you see in this picture is called the Mitarashi Ike which in other words can be translated into Holy Washing Pond. This was made from an underground spring that comes up to the surface. It is said that a long time ago, the spring burst and in a single night this pond was made. And even throughout the years, the pond has never run dry.
Since the Kashima shrine was first founded the layout of the shrine has changed. The Mitarashi Ike was originally located at the end of the main walkway which is where the worshippers approach the shrine. Before entering the shrine they would use the water from the pong to cleanse their body and soul which was a part of purifying themselves before going in. This is still very much a part of the Shinto faith as all Shinto shrines have a chozuya where you are to purify yourself before making your prayers.
However, now the visitors purify in a different area which is now located near the current main entrance of the shrine. However, some people still use the water from the pond to purify themselves. But you’ll see that the pond is home to a school of koi fishes. This is another beautiful scene of the shrine with koi swimming around in the pond.
During a ceremony called the Daikan no Misogigyo that takes place at the Kashima Shrine the worshipers will strip down to loincloths and then make their way to the pond to make chant prayers together. I would say that these worshipers are very devout as this ceremony takes place during the bitterly cold temperatures in February.
Although the Daikan no Misogiyo is a very interesting ceremony it is not for everyone so if you are not so interested in being a part of this experience then you can just gaze into the peaceful and mysterious pond on any other day of the year.