Throughout the Izumo region, in cities such as Izumo, Matsue, and Unnan especially, there are ancient examples of Taisha-tsukuri shrine architecture. Izumo Taisha is the most famous and national treasure, and completed its Daisengu, a once-every-60-years rebuilding process in May of 2012. Kamosu Shrine is another treasure. With the current building constructed in since 1583, it stands as the oldest example of this architectural style. However, the style itself has been around since at least 552, and Izumo Taisha is likely a few centuries even older than that.
Like the Shinmei-tsukuri and Sumiyoshi-tsukuri styles found elsewhere in Japan, it predates the arrival of Buddhist influence. Therefore, there are some key features of these styles that you’ll find in Shinto shrines, but won’t find in Buddhist temples, such as the katsuogi (horizontal beams although the top of the central beam of the roof) and chigi (forked planks at the ends–or middle–of the central beam). A fun fact about chigi in Taisha-tsukuri: you can usually determine the gender of the kami enshrined within by the angle of the cut of the planks.
Taisha-tsukuri is distinguished by its gable-end pillars and central pillar, and raised square honden (main hall) supported on thick pillars or stilts. You tend to see really thick shimenawa (twisted straw ropes) as well, and Izumo Taisha has the largest shimenawa in Japan. When reconstructing the shrines to withstand the test of time and weather, or to follow a specific renewal schedule to keep the shrine feeling pure and fresh, sometimes only the roof is reconstructed.With their many layers of strips of cypress bark, the roofs are often considered the key focal point of any given shrine.
The roof starts with a frame…
A metal edge to help protect against rain…
And a whole bunch of hinoki cypress park.
And then you start piling it up.
The renewal construction at Sada Shrine will take place on one honden at a time, starting with the southern-most honden of the three (recall that it is unusual for a shrine to have more than one honden). Each time, the holy item the kami inhabits is moved to a temporary shrine so as not to be bothered by the home renovation. At least in Shimane, it’s not uncommon to offer free tours of the construction process at the beginning stages, offering an angle you don’t typically get to see on a normal visit. If you visit, keep an ear out! In the meantime, I have more photos available upon request.