The establishment of Munakata Taisha is prehistoric and unclear, but it is said that in the 4th century, at Okinoshima, which is located in the key point between Japan and the continent, ritual ceremonies were held to pray for a safe navigation and successful trade. In this time ritual ceremonies were held outside and in the 7th century a similar ceremonies were began to be held at Mitake-san in Ōshima island and in Tashima on mainland.
In the Kojiki, composed in the early 8th century, and the Nihon-Shoki it is documented that the Munakata clan is worshipping the three Munakata goddesses in 3 shrines, Hetsugū, Nakatsugū and Okitsugū and it can be seen that the elemental worship turned into a worship of personified deities. In folklore, the shrine originates Japanese mythology. In the pledge between Amaterasu-ōmikami and Susanō-no-mikoto, when Amaterasu-ōmikami chewed Susanō-no-mikoto's sword and breathes out, the three sisters Tagorihime-no-kami, Tagitsuhime-no-kami and Ichikishimahime-no-kami gave birth from her breath. Under the oracle of Amaterasu-ōmikami, the three goddesses descended to Munakata, looking out on the Genkai sea, and were enshrined in Munakata Taisha. Munakata Taisha is the oldest shrine which the location is documented clearly in the Kojiki and the Nihon-Shoki.
From ancient times Munakata Taisha was worshipped as a local deity, but after Empress Jingū had miraculous efficacies praying for safe navigation during Sankan-Seibatsu, the imperial coart considered Munakata Taisha as an important shrine and worshipped it as a guardian of navigation. under the Ritsuryō system, a large area was designated as a Shingun, an area that was established as a holy precinct, and as the Munakata clan served as priesthood it also had administrative power over the area.
In the Sengoku period the Munakata clan, as it turned into a samurai family, was mobilized in battle and Munakata Taisha was often a target of attack. The Munakata clan declined and Munakata Taisha was destroyed repeatedly, but every time it was restored by efforts by the Imperial court or samurai families. Kobayakawa Takakage, the feudal lord of Chikuzen Province, and the Kuroda family, the head of Fukuoka domain, are told to have rebuilt the shrine.
It is known that, after the Second World War, the ruined shrine was restored by the efforts of Idemitsu Sazō, the founder of the petroleum company Idemitsu Kōsan.
In 2017, Munakata Taisha was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a part of"Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region".
It is not clear when the Hetsugū, enshrining Ichikishimahime-no-kami, was built. But it is said that in the 7th century, ritual ceremonies similar in Okinoshima became to be held at the Takamiya-saijō behind Hetsugū, and in the 12th century, a shrine was built at the foot of the hill where Takamiya-saijō is.
In the pledge between Amaterasu-ōmikami and Susanō-no-mikoto, when Amaterasu-ōmikami chewed Susanō-no-mikoto's sword and breathes out, the three Munakata goddesses, consisting of the three sisters Tagorihime-no-kami, Tagitsuhime-no-kami and Ichikishimahime-no-kami, gave birth from her breath. Amaterasu-ōmikami gave the three goddesses an oracle, "You three goddesses descend to the route between Kyūshū and the continent, provide protection to the successive Emperors and be worshipped" and under this oracle the three goddesses descended to earth. Each of the goddesses were enshrined in the island of Okinoshima, the island of Ōshima and mainland Kyūshū and where they were enshrined became Munakata Taisha.
These are the three Munakata Taisha shrines and their enshrined deities.
- Ichikishimahime-no-kami (市杵島姫神)
- Tagitsuhime-no-kami (湍津姫神)
- Tagorihime-no-kami (田心姫神)
It is said that the three Munakata goddesses were indigenous gods worshipped by the Munakata clan, but as the imperial court grew close to the Munakata clan, having power over the area which is a key point between Japan and the continent, the three goddesses became to be worshipped as one of the national deities documented in Kojiki and Nihon-shoki.
The main enshrined deity of Hetsugū is Ichikishimahime-no-kami, one of the three Munakata goddesses.
In Tei-ni-gū and Tei-san-gū, the divided spirits of Tagitsuhime-no-kami and Tagorihime-no-kami are enshrined. So it is possible to worship all three Munakata goddesses in Hetsugū.
Since Munakata Taisha has been located in the key point of traffic between Kyūshū and the continent, the three Munakata goddesses were worshipped to provide protection for a Safe navigation. In modern times they are also believed to have powers for Traffic safety for motor traffic as well as marine traffic.
Also, since the three Munakata goddesses descended under the oracle to protect the Imperial family, the three goddesses are believed to bring national prosperity.
In ancient times, under the Ritsuryō system shrines were permitted to own only the land designated as a Shingun, an area that was established as a holy precinct. Munakata Taisha was one of the 7 major shrines permitted to have a Shingun. 121 deities from shrines around the Shingun had been enshrined here as auxiliary shrines. Some shrines still exists where they originally were, but some are lost.
119 masshas are enshrined in 21 shrines surrounding the honden.
These 2 auxiliary shrines are outside the Mikaki.
- Matsu shrine
- Hiruko shrine
These are some annual events.
- January 1st and 3rd
- February 3rd
- Shunki-taisai (Spring festival)
- April 1st and 2nd
- Nagoshi-no-ōharae-shiki and Nagoshi-sai
- July 31st
- Shūki-taisai (Autumn festival)
- September 30th to October 3rd
- Toshikoshi-no-ōharae-shiki and Joya-sai
- December 31st