When it comes to it, standing by the beach with the soft crash of the surf on the sand, it's hard to make yourself climb the steps up to the Ushimado Shinto Shrine. Fortunately the climb is picturesque and not too long, and you'll be glad you did.
A few hundred meters through dense forest has you climbing up stairs through a tunnel of green. The stairs are a rhythmic ascension that isn't too hard on the legs, and you'll find little old ladies climbing their way to the top. Sometimes I marvel at the toughness of little old Japanese ladies, they seem to get to the top of every mountain I hike. Though I did hear of one such little old lady holding up a queue of hikers whilst yelling “scary!” on a particularly narrow section of a climb.
After the first flight of stairs there's a lookout with decent views over part of the town and the islands. It makes for a nice rest but if you're looking for a quality vista you're better off checking out the Olive Gardens on a different hilltop. Keep on walking and you'll head into another tunnel of trees and more stairs, though it's only 90 meters to the shrine at this point. There's something quite mystical about the walk up the stairs, it has the feel of old Japan that can be so elusive in today's world of tour buses and “don't step on the grass!” signs.
The shrine is a decent sized complex with plenty of moss and maple trees to give it that authentic Japanese feel. The chief priest, Yoshihiro Okazaki, is a very friendly man who loves to chat in English. If you have any questions or just feel in need of some English chatter he'll be more than happy to converse. The shrine is dedicated to the legendary Empress Jingu, the wife of the 14th Emperor Chuai, who is popularly known as the godmother of Japan.
The main building (that is, the centre of worship which is located behind the oratory hall where the main services are performed in) is over 200 years old and is of some historical significance. The buildings are “reformed” regularly, being cleaned and fixed to maintain the structural and aesthetic integrity. The majority of the buildings are quite old, but the process of maintenance leads to replacing a lot of materials over time, so short of an entire structural replacement it can be hard to pinpoint a date for each building.
On the August 30th each year the shrine is host to a summer festival. They construct a large grass ring as a centre point and give out little rings for the ceremonial participants. The participants walk through the large ring three times, giving their hopes and wishes to the shrine in search of fulfillment. Anyone and everyone is very much welcomed, so if you are in the Ushimado area at the time it will be an event to remember.