front view over the worship hall to the main sanctuary

view from underground chamber

rock chamber interior

Appropriate Proportion 


Go-Oh Shrine traces its origins back to the Muromachi (Ashikaga) period (1338-1573). In recent years, however, the structure had deteriorated considerably and was slated for reconstruction under the Naoshima House Project. Called in as artist-designer, I avoided existing shrine typologies and tried to recreate an imaginary architecture more in keeping with ancient Japanese Shinto worship.

Prior to shinmyo-zukuri, the first Shinto architectural style formalized in the seventh century, animist worship is thought to have focused on sites in nature where some special quality or force was felt - ineffable “power places” - whether in giant trees or waterfalls or boulders. The ancient Japanese conceived of their kami or deities, as manifesting themselves only when humans purified their “power places” for them. Thus, my vision of Go-Oh Shrine started from the giant rock slob visited by the local kami. The inland sea around Naoshima island abounds in quarries active since medieval times.  At Mount Mannari, I found a large boulder that had slipped off the rock face, with little sign of human intervention.  It weighed some twenty-four tons, however, so moving it to a shrine atop another island was fraught with difficulty. 

The shrine comprises three main parts: the Worship Hall, the Main Sanctuary, and the Rock Chamber. We first dug out the underground chamber, reminiscent of a tumulus, then laid in rought-hewn optical-glass steps from the chamber up to the shrine hall. The massive rock slab completely cuts off the Worship Hall and the Main Sanctuary from the Rock Chamber; only the “stairway of light” joins the celestial and earthbound realms.

From the underground chamber, a concrete-walled passage leads to the mountainside. Visitors to the shrine first worship at the divine iwakura (stone seat) and shrine hall, then descend to the “ancient” underground chamber via the concrete passage, lastly taking in a view of the sea through the portal to the present on the way out.


- Hiroshi Sugimoto