The Story ofMichinoku Gold


The Sacred Island of Kinkasan

A Hiker’s Paradise With a Shrine Commemorating Japan’s First Discovery of Gold

Ever since ancient times, pilgrims traveled great distances just to reach the spiritual island of Kinkasan. Home to the Kinkasan Koganeyama Shrine, the sacred island has long had the reputation of bringing prosperity, good fortune, and wealth to its visitors. According to legend, if you visit the shrine once a year for three consecutive years, you won’t have to worry about money ever again. An overnight stay on the Oshika Peninsula, followed by another in Kinkasan has traditionally been a part of this pilgrimage, mostly due to the lack of transportation available. However, this tradition remains an important spiritual component of the pilgrimage, even today. We had the incredible opportunity to discover the local culture, history, and stories behind this holy place in an overnight stay at the Kinkasan Koganeyama Shrine!

Catrina Sugita

Our journey begins in Ayukawa Port, accessible by car or bus from Ishinomaki Station. Located in the Oshika Peninsula, or “Deer Peninsula,” Ayukawa is among Japan’s major fishing grounds which once prospered as one of the country’s most prominent whaling centers.

The whaling tradition in Ayukawa dates back centuries, earning the title of “Oshika Whale Town” due to its booming industry in the Post-war era. This eventually led to the creation of the Oshika Whale Festival in 1953, held every August to honor the spirit of the whales as well as to serve as a memorial for those who lost their lives at sea. The festival features other local traditions, such as ginrin taiko drum performances and the legendary Kinkasan Dragon (Snake) Dance from the Ryujinsai Festival held every July. Ayukawa Port also boasts a wide variety of local dishes waiting to be discovered, including an assortment platter of different kinds of whale meat ranging from cartilage, tongue, red meat, blubber (also known as white meat), and more.

Catrina Sugita

Getting to Kinkasan requires a short boat ride on the Sea Dream, a boat-taxi service created and operated by a local family business. Like most coastal regions of Northeast Japan, The Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Oshika Peninsula along with its already lackluster tourism industry. Concerned voices fearing another earthquake or tsunami hitting the area were among the most cited reasons to avoid visiting the peninsula. Then with Covid, the local family’s dreams of sharing their local culture, history, and traditions with visitors seemed to shatter right before their very eyes. Luckily, efforts to revitalize the local community and its tourism industry are underway. Kinkasan has actually just been designated a Japan Heritage, which recognizes the unique regional histories, cultures, and traditions that have been passed down through local folklore for generations. Making the trip out to Kinkasan is a great way to help fund further recovery efforts in the local community. The owners of Sea Dream are hoping that this will finally be their lucky break in successfully sharing their local culture with visitors.

Catrina Sugita

The short boat-ride to Kinkasan on the Sea Dream was such an enjoyable experience. We were given shrimp-flavored chips to throw out into the ocean, which attracted a flock of seagulls swooping by the boat to gulp down the treats. I imagine this experience would be even more enjoyable for families with children. What’s more, the owners met us with extreme kindness, answering any and all of our questions about the area and sharing the lore supporting the local history and culture. They are also the sole providers of all the food and other necessary items found on Kinkasan Island, inhabited solely by shrine priests and maidens.

Catrina Sugita

Upon arriving in Kinkasan we were warmly welcomed by the gods of prosperity, good fortune, and wealth, Ebisu and Daikokuten. We then made our way to the Shrine’s reception to fill out a form with our full name, address, and our “negai-goto” wish. You can choose more than one wish, including prayers for wealth, health, exams, pregnancy, safe transport, etc. While it may seem odd that the shrine requires all this information, it is actually necessary for the “Ichiban Ogoma Kito” morning prayer that all overnight guests participate in. The information provided is read out during the prayer so the gods can work their magic and make your wishes come true. Alongside the sacred “Oharae-no-kotoba” chant, a fire is offered to the gods which is lit inside the alter itself —a ritual seldom practiced in Shinto ceremonies today. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience rarely seen by Japanese people, let alone visitors to Japan.

Catrina Sugita

This was my first time doing “Okomori,” the tradition of spending the night in a Shinto Shrine. Both dinner and breakfast are included, and it was truly a wonderful way to experience traditional Japanese culture, such as bathing in communal baths, dressing in yukata robes, and sleeping on tatami mats. I was particularly impressed with the baths. Although not an Onsen, the baths use Kinkasan’s naturally filtered spring water, which is abundant in minerals. I found the communal bath incredibly relaxing, especially with its fantastic view of the ocean at sunset. Night-owls, however, may struggle with the Okomori experience as all events occur very early; The communal baths are only available until 17:30, dinner is at 18:00, with an early start the next day at 7:00 for the morning prayer.

Our pilgrimage continued the following day with a trek up to Kinkasan’s peak. With that said, I personally recommend doing the hike first and then spending the night at the Koganeyama Shrine so your muscles can fully enjoy the relaxing bath alongside the rewarding sunset.

Catrina Sugita

The best way to visit the eight shrines scattered throughout the Island is on a hike to the island’s summit, where the God and Goddess of Gold are enshrined. On your way up, make sure to stop by the Japanese Buddhist Goddess of Eloquence, Benzaiten, to purify your coins with the water flowing from the mouth of the dragon statue. Some people even wash their credit cards here!

Yu-an Wang

Although known as a somewhat challenging hour-long hike, I found it perfect both in terms of effort and time taken to reach the top. It’s definitely worth the spectacular panorama of the Pacific Ocean, which comes into view at the 400-meter mark. What’s more, you’re bound to come across the island’s diverse flora and fauna along the way, including the Japanese Macaque and wild deer. In the Shinto Religion, deer are considered sacred animals, as they are the messengers of the Gods. Hunting and logging have long been forbidden on the sacred island, allowing pilgrims to admire the centuries-old zelkova and other uniquely shaped trees that still stand here today. Similar to Nara, you can feed the deer with treats provided by the Shrine for just 100 yen. Beware, as the deer tend to become a bit entitled the moment they realize that it’s treat time; they won’t hesitate to trample you to get to the goodies!

Catrina Sugita

After our hike, we made our way back to the Oshika Peninsula, where there’s still so much to do and see, including a stay at the Hotel New Sakai overlooking Kinkasan Island, the Reborn Art Festival (held once every two years), the local campsite for outdoor enthusiasts, the First Torii of the Kinkasan Koganeyama Shrine (which is close to a few other Temples and Shrines), as well as the Oshikagobansho Park Observatory for an incredible vista of Kinkasan Island. Other worthwhile stops on the way back to Ishinomaki include the Hasekura Tsunenaga Statue at the Tsukinoura Observatory and the Sant Juan Bautista Museum. Both locations offer a glimpse into the area’s rich history under the command of the “daimyo” feudal lord Masamune Date. In fact, Lord Date’s strong support was vital for Kinkasan and the surrounding areas and constitutes an important part of Japanese history. As per the Lord’s orders, his retainer, Hasekura Tsunenaga, was the first Japanese to set sail to Europe on the Sant Juan Bautista (the first Japanese-built western-style ship) on the “Keicho Diplomatic Mission” some 400 years ago. Details about this legendary ship and the journey to Europe are related in the Sant Juan Bautista Museum as well as in the Ishinomaki Museum, another worthwhile stop if you have the time!

Takeru Kasama


Catrina Sugita
Catrina currently works as a translator, editor, and international project coordinator in activities promoting the Tohoku Region to the world. Her hobbies include learning languages, videography, and finding the best spicy food in town!



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