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  • Kristina Elyse Butke

Amanoyasukawara and Terinelle's Cave


Thousands of rocks piled up in cairns - Amanoyasukawara and Terinelle's Cave
Photo of the cairns of Amanoyasukawara by Kristina Elyse Butke

In my novel Son of the Siren, I included elves and fae folk. The fae live in the wandering forest of Elythia, while the elves are scattered over two locations: the primeval forest of Yanna and the mountains of Glynna. The elves' appearances reflect their environment--Yannan elves have warm brown skin and green hair to blend into the trees in the forest, while Glynnan elves have gray skin, and hair that varies between white, gray, and black, to blend into the mountain rock.


Readers interact with Glynnan elves the most through my character Brandegil, who is determined to return the fugitive Lirien to the Queen of Ardeth in order to recover an artifact that was stolen from the Glynnan elves--the miraculous sword known as Alibrandr. Forged by the Glynnan elf Terinelle, the sword can reputedly slice the air into ribbons and rend the heavens. The nation of Ardeth stole the sword from the elves and have locked it in their treasury; meanwhile the shrine to Alibrandr remains empty.


Living in Japan, I have seen my fair number of shrines. In fact, if you've been following my posts, you'll see that much of Japan has ended up in the book. The shrine to Alibrandr resides in a cave and contains a weathered statue of Terinelle, minus the sword in her hand. The cave is filled with thousands of cairns stretched across the floor and surrounding the statue.


The image of a multitude of stones piled up in a sacred cave came directly from one of the most powerful places I've ever been to in Japan -- the cave shrine of Amanoyasukawara.

Photo of wooden torii amid thousands of stones in a cave.
Photo of Amanoyasukawara Shrine by Kristina Elyse Butke

This shrine is important to the Amanoiwato myth centered in Takachiho, Miyazaki. The myth goes that the god Susanoo had offended his sister, the sun goddess Amaterasu, so she hid in a cave (Amanoiwato) and sunlight was deprived from the world. The gods all gathered in a nearby cave (Amanoyasukawara) to discuss what was to be done, and that's when the goddess Ame-no-Uzume danced, and she created such an uproar among the gods that Amaterasu was curious and poked her head out to see what the commotion was. The god Ame-no-Tajikarao pulled the door to the cave open and light was brought back to the world upon Amaterasu's return.


Wooden torii gate and stone lantern in a cave surrounded by thousands of cairns
Photo of Amanoyasukawara by Kristina Elyse Butke

I have seen both Amanoyasukawara and Amanoiwato (which is only accessible through a priest at the shrine, and you cannot go directly to that cave; it's too sacred). Both places have such a strange energy about them that I can't really describe, but Amanoyasukuwara, because you can enter that cave--that special atmosphere feels more tangible.


Maybe it's because the site feels like a place of pilgrimage, given thousands upon thousands of people over the years have made their way there, and left thousands upon thousands of stones standing as a testament to their visit. Whatever it is, when you visit this place, the air feels different, and you get a sense of ancientness when you see it.


A stone lantern flanks the smooth stairs and worship space surrounded by thousands of stones
Photo of Amanoyasukawara by Kristina Elyse Butke

In my book Son of the Siren, I swapped out the haiden/honden of Amanoyasukawara for an ancient, well-worn statue of Terinelle, but the rest of the cavern and its stone contents were pretty much designed to be a replica of Amanoyasukawara.


The giant cavern and stones that litter the floor are breathtaking, and so memorable that I thought, There's not way this is not ending up in a book. The imagery is far too powerful to be untouched by it, so it found its way into Son of the Siren. I know I made it different from the real place, but still I hope I did Amanoyasukawara justice when I described Terinelle's cave in the book. Be sure to look out for it!


Thousands of stacked stones on a mossy rock and across a cave floor
Photo of the cairns at Amanoyasukawara by Kristina Elyse Butke