The Meoto Iwa (“Married Couple Rocks”) are two giant rock stacks on the sea shore of Futami, Ise. The larger rock, measuring 30 x 131ft, is known as o-iwa (“male rock”), and the smaller one is called me-iwa (“female rock”). Unlike Stonehenge, these rocks are natural formations. But like Stonehenge, they have deep spiritual significance. They are linked by a huge shimenawa straw rope (which weighs over a ton and has to be replaced several times a year) and o-iwa is topped with a torii gate. Both of these things represent that the Meoto Iwa belong to the world of kami. Linked together in this way, o-iwa and me-iwa symbolise the primordial couple Izanagi and Izanami, the kami who gave birth to the land and other important deities, including Amaterasu.
It is at Summer Solstice that we can see the link between Meoto Iwa and Amaterasu. Around this time, the Sun appears to rise right between o-iwa and me-iwa, as shown in the photograph above. It is as if the Sun Goddess is born from the ocean surrounding the rocks – just as Amaterasu was born from the left eye of Izanagi when he purified himself in the sea after visiting the underworld.
The Meoto Iwa have been venerated in Japan for centuries; one print depicting the rocks bound by a shimenawa dates to the 14th century. It was perhaps this natural alignment with the rising sun at the Summer Solstice that caught the attention of ancient Japanese and inspired them to worship the site, just as the prehistoric Britons constructed Stonehenge in alignment with the Summer Solstice sunrise. And just like Stonehenge, the Meoto Iwa are the site of rituals at Summer Solstice even today. At daybreak, hundreds of pilgrims enter the ocean as the sun rises between the rocks in a ceremony called Geshisai – literally, “Summer Solstice Rite.” Participants of this ceremony are re-enacting the story of Izanagi’s purification, washing away all spiritual stains, imperfections and regrets they may have.