In Nakatsu, the oldest shrine is the Komo Shrine (Jinja in Japanese). All of the Jinja in Japan are for the Shinto religion. Shintoism is simular to other pantheons with there many gods for this and that, but it also is animistic. This means that all things are considered to have spirits and that some things have a spirit worthy of reverence. In Japan, many of these items are marked by a rice straw rope with white paper folded and bound into the rope. Often they are put around ancient trees or unusual rock formations.
The Komo Shrine has these ropes as well as the typical Tori gates. The shrine dates back well before 1500 years. The most important part is the lake and is considered the inner part of the shrine and it has a Tori gate in the water to delineate that it is a holy site. The lake has ties back to when rice cultivation was introduced into the area. The Koreans brought it over and it changed Japan forever. Even today a wild variety of rice called Komo grows at the far end of the pond. The pond was likely tied to local rice production and achieved its holy status due to its long importance to the local community. I think the most interesting thing about the shrine is that it is a physical representation of the importance of rice culture in Japan.
Rice is the most important food in Japan. This can be seen in several aspects of Japanese culture. For instance, each meal is named with rice: Morning Rice, Afternoon Rice, and Evening Rice. In premodern times rice was used as a form of currency. Taxes were paid in rice by farmers and each Local Samurai ruler (called Daimyo) was given a domain by the size of its rice production. Each grain of rice was looked after with such care so that not one would be lost from harvest to the time it was eaten. They also use mochi rice as an offering at new years.
While the shrine is peaceful and enjoyable, it has a deeper meaning and a tie back to ancient times when rice was first brought to Japan.
(as a side note, this was the shrine that the swords were blessed for new years. Please see our post on the “New Years Review”)