Photo/IllutrationWomen line up for “goshuin” seal stamps and other items at Aitsuchijinja shrine in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture. The Yamanoi well can be seen at the far right. (Taku Koyama)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

YAWATA, Kyoto Prefecture--A tweet that legendary swords featured in the popular video game were forged at a humble shrine here has set off a stampede by so-called sword girls.

Thanks to its newfound popularity, Aitsuchijinja shrine has raised about 4 million yen ($35,000), far exceeding its goal, in a crowdfunding campaign to refurbish its aging facilities.

The small Shinto shrine has become a holy site for “touken joshi,” who, influenced mainly by the “Touken Ranbu Online”game, became fans of Japanese swords.

As part of their “pilgrimages,” the women visit locations connected to the game, which features anthropomorphized characters representing noted blades.

Aitsuchijinja stands at the foot of Mount Otokoyama, where Iwashimizu Hachimangu shrine, a government-designated national treasure, is located. Its main hall and office building are falling into disrepair.

Kiyoko Takatsuki, 42, who became its head priest in February 2018, launched a reconstruction project with volunteers and set up a website to introduce the shrine's history.

In August, a female visitor to the shrine tweeted: “I hear it's a place where famed swords ‘Higekiri’ and ‘Hizamaru’ were forged.”

She also wrote that visitors could get “goshuin” seal stamps there during the Tsukinami-sai festival held twice a month.

More than 100 visitors, mostly women, showed up at the shrine's Sept. 1 festival.

A swordsmith in the Heian Period (794-1185) named Yasutsuna forged the celebrated blades with water from the Yamanoi well at the shrine, according to historical records kept by the shrine.

When the shrine started a crowdfunding campaign on Jan. 31 to renovate a stand where visitors offer votive candles, it reached its target of 740,000 yen in five hours.

The shrine raised the goal to 2.6 million yen to also refurbish the Yamanoi well and cover other expenses, eventually taking in more than 4 million yen from 171 sponsors.

“I’m a touken joshi, too. I’m happy that I came to this place because I could see the well,” said Minori Fukushima, 29, a company worker from Fukuoka, who attended the Tsukinami-sai festival on March 1.

“I think that the job of a Shinto priest is to connect people to the gods to help them, but now, I'm so grateful that we are supported by so many people,” Takatsuki said. “I hope we can renovate the main hall and the office building as soon as possible.”

The shrine plans to hold a swashbuckling performance during the festival on May 15 and June 1 to pray for the shrine's reconstruction.