Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Owari Okunitama Jinja (Konomiya Jinja)                      UC

Owari Okunitama Jinja haiden
Owari Okunitama Jinja haiden
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Nara period (before 767). The present haiden was built at the beginning of the Edo period. 
Address: 1-1-1 Konomiya, Inazawa-shi, Aichi 492-8137
Tel/Information: 0587-23-2121
How to get there: Take the Meitetsu Nagoya Honsen line train from Nagoya Station to Konomiya Station, then 3 minutes on foot.  Or the JR Tokaido Line from Nagoya Station to Inazawa Station and then 15 minutes on foot.
Enshrined kami: Owari Okunitama no kami (Okuninushi). 
Prayers offered: Protection from danger (yakuyoke) especially in the ages of greatest danger (yakudoshi) which are age 25, 42 and 61 for men and 19, 33 and 37 for women plus one year before and after. 
Best time to go: During the main event at the shrine, the Hadaka Matsuri in January, and during cherry blossom season from late-March to early-April.

Torii of Owari Okunitama Jinja
Torii, sando and romon
Important physical features: Konomiya Jinja is built in the Owari zukuri style found only in the Aichi area of Japan. This involves a particular grouping of buildings beginning with the gabled (kirizumahaiden in front (also called a tatehaiden here), covered in Japanese cypress bark, with open sides and the gable facing forward. The honden in the rear is connected to the haiden by an intermediate liturgy hall (saimonden) and a short passageway. The 3-bay, 2-story main gate (romon) is an Important Cultural Property built in the early Muromachi era (1336-1573) and rebuilt in 1646. A free-standing, wooden-plank fence called a banbei stands between the romon gate and the haiden.

Important spiritual features: This shrine is dedicated to Okunitama no kami which is said to be another name for the rough spirit (aramitama) of Okuninushi. The shrine was founded sometime in the early Nara period but an ancient stone alter (iwakura), a place where the kami is said to descend to the earth, is located on the shrine grounds. The five stones are set out in a circle and according to shrine tradition, the rock formation is over two thousand years old. The majority of such iwakura remaining in Japan are from the Jomon period and their significance is a matter of speculation. Though some claim that iwakura were places for the kami to descend, thereby insinuating that Shinto is as ancient as Japan itself, others think they may have has a  place in funerary or other specific rites. However there is no question that both Shinto and Buddhism often located their places of worship on ancient sites that were used for some form of worship and Konomiya Jinja was no doubt one such place.

The "Naked Man Festival" (hadaka matsuri) of Owari Okunitama (Konomiya) Jinja
The "Naked Man Festival" (hadaka matsuri)
Description: Popularly called Konomiya Jinja, the shrine is properly called Owari Okunitama Jinja. Owari is the ancient name for the Aichi area of central Japan where one of its major cities, Nagoya, is located. A long approach passes under several wooden torii, the larger of which is in the ryoubu style with supporting legs in front and back, indicating a history of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism. This shrine is considered one of the “Five Jinja of Owari.” In the Nara period, there was a kokufu (local office of the Imperial Court) located next to this shrine.  This shrine was designated a Soja—an administrative classification of the mid-Heian period defining a shrine which enshrines all the gods of the province and represents shrines receiving offerings from the provincial governor. Essentially this points to the shrine’s importance since at least the twelfth-century.
Today, Konomiya Jinja is known nationally for its “naked-man” (hadaka) matsuri. Tradition has it that this festival first took place in 767AD, making it over 1200 years old. It was instituted in an attempt to ward off a plague and is properly considered a festival to exorcise bad spirits, but it is also a celebration of male virility. There are many such festivals in Japan with Konomiya perhaps the most famous, attracting thousands of male participants and some 300,000 spectators each year. Participants wear strips of colored cloth called naori gire to ward off evil. Such festivals are purification rites meant to remove impurity and open a path to good fortune. Basically, one man is chosen to be the “god-man” (shin otoko) who is designated to remove the pollution of the entire town. He does this by having thousands of men considered to be in the unlucky years (yakudoshi) touch him, transferring their bad luck to him. It is an honor to be chosen as the shin otoko—a scapegoatwho must be isolated within the shrine for three days before the festival, have his hair shaved off, and be fed on rice gruel—all in order to purify himself. The mostly heavy-drinking participants (they are running around almost naked in the middle of February after all), carry long bamboo poles covered with papers with the “excuses” of people who couldn’t make it to the festival, which they deposit at the shrine. When the shino otoko appears, these naked men basically cause a riot by trying to all reach the him at the same time. The shin-otoko's guards attempt to stop him getting killed in the resulting mayhem by throwing cold water on the crowd (the participants throw water on each other as well), until the shin otoko can pass through the crowd and in through a small opening in the shrine to end the festival. A man, tethered to a rope, is often sent out from the shrine to “rescue” the shino otoko. The next morning at 3am, he carries a dohei shinji (a cake of mochi rice mixed with ash) on his shoulders while being chased by visitors throwing small pebbles at him. The cakes have candles in them and if one should blow out it portends misfortune throughout the year. The dohei is then buried, symbolically burying the pollution and purifying the town for another year. A number of huge kagami mochi (a hard, dried rice-cake stacked three high, 6.5 feet tall and wide and weighing about 2 tons) is also prepared and cut into pieces to be distributed to visitors. As with many Shinto festivals, designed to take participants from the profane to the sacred world, a certain amount of sheer madness is required. The Hadaka Matsuri of Konomiya Jinja certainly fits that bill.

The "Naked Man Festival" (hadaka matsuri) of Owari Okunitama (Konomiya) Jinja
The "Naked Man Festival" (hadaka matsuri)
Festival: Hadaka Matsuri (properly called the Naoi shinji –“dispelling misfortune festival”), mid-February (thirteenth-day of the Lunar New Year so the date varies each year). Especially males of the ages 24-26, 40-42, and 60-62 are invited to take part, but basically all males (no women please) are invited to take part. Includes a procession to the shrine with multi-colored banners and bamboo poles. Not strictly speaking naked, the participants are all bare-chested and wearing white loin cloths.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Omiya Hikawa Jinja                                                UC

Torii of Omiya Hikawa Jinja
Torii of Omiya Hikawa Jinja
(all photos, Joseph Cali)
Date Founded: Founded in 473b.c. during the reign of legendary Emperor Kosho according to shrine tradition. Documentation points to at least as early as the ninth century. Current buildings from 1940.
Address: 1-407 Takahana-cho, Omiya-ku, Saitama-shi, Saitama 330-0803
Tel/Information: 048-641-0137 A two page brochure in English is available.
How to get there: JR Keihin Tohoku Line or Saikyo Line to JR Omiya station. Then 15 minutes by foot from the east exit.
Enshrined kami: Susano-o no mikoto, Onamuchi no mikoto and Inadahime no mikoto.
Prayers offered: Pray for a good marriage, safety in the home and prosperity.
Best times to go: Best to go when the cherry blossoms bloom in early April.

Romon of Omiya Hikawa Jinja
Romon
Important physical features: Like most shrines, the buildings of Hikawa Jinja have been rebuilt numerous times, including once by Minamoto no Yoritomo and once by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The current buildings were reconstructed in 1940 and therefore lack historic value. However the long, 1.2-mile sando leads to a vermillion-colored romon and a very lovely setting of Zelkova and ancient Japanese elm trees. To reach the romon you cross an arched bridge that spans several ponds with names like "God pond," "White Bird pond" and" Gourd pond". Once past the romon and inside the grounds proper, a large buden stands in the middle of the courtyard directly in front of the haiden and the honden (which is all but invisible). The later buildings are in nagare zukuri style with copper-shingle roofs and are connected to each other on the gabled sides by an ainoma. To the east of the shrine grounds is a large park that was once part of the shrine. It is home to some fifteen hundred flowering cheery trees and a larger pond. The shrine grounds are also filled with large, old camphor and Zelkova trees.

Important spiritual features: The kami enshrined at Hikawa Jinja are central to some of the most important beliefs of Shinto, relating to the “Age of the Gods” and the creation of the land. I go into detail on these kami elsewhere so here I will deal with aspects particular to this shrine. The name Hikawa means “cold” or “frozen” river and is thought to originate from the Hi River in the Izumo region. People from the Izumo region spread throughout the lands along the Japan Sea to the north, and south into Tohoku and the Kanto Plain, and settled in the area known as Musashi (present day Saitama, Tokyo, and parts of Yokohama). During the reign of Emperor Kosho, the Kuni no Miyatsuko (governor) of Musashi was appointed from a member of the Izumo clan. It is noted in the Kojiki that the ancestor of the Kuni no Miyatsuko of Izumo and Musashi (and others) was the second son of Susano-o, Takahira Tori no mikoto. It is speculated that this Kuni no Miyatsuko brought the divided spirit of Susano-o from Kizuki Taisha on the Hi river and therefore Hikawa Jinja maybe the first case of Susano-o being worshiped outside of Izumo. However it is not perfectly clear if it was Susano-o or his son Onamuchi no mikoto who was revered here first, as both are from the Izumo region. It seems that Emperor Shomu (r.724-49) appointed the shrine as the Ichi no miya of Musashi and we do know that by the time the shrine was recorded in the Engishiki of 927 Hikawa Jinja is noted as having one kami enshrined (but which one is not stated). It is also known that by 1667 there were three separate shrines but it remained in dispute which kami occupied which shrine. Around 1700 it was determined that neither kami could be proclaimed superior and all were equal. But finally in 1868 it was decided that Susano-o was the principle kami and twelve years later, what were three separate honden were combined into one. Today, three kami Susano-o, Onamuchi (his son) and Inadahime (one of his consorts) are all enshrined together.
            While it is unquestionably a very old shrine in the Kanto area it is also recorded as a Myojin Taisha (a shrine of a “shining” or “eminent” kami) in the Engishiki (927) that contains ten chapters on kami affairs from rites, to prayers to a register of all deities and shrines. (However the Engishiki was not very good at "naming names.") The term "myojin" first appears in the Shoku Nihongi (797) and was used for kami thought to have particularly strong power. Such myojin shrines received offerings from the Imperial Court and the Engishiki lists 244 such recipients. The system eventually became burdensome and was abandoned in favor of providing offerings to 22 prominent shrines—called the nijunisha—most of them in the immediate area of the capital of Kyoto. 

Omiya Hikawa Jinja
Buden
Description: The former City of Omiya “Great Shrine'” (now combined with Urawa, Yono and others to form Saitama City), takes its name from the important position of Hikawa Jinja. There are as many as 280 Hikawa shrines across Japan, most of which are located in Saitama and areas around Tokyo. Hikawa Jinja was the Ichi no miya (top ranking shrine) in Musashi. There are many legends related to the foundation of the shrine—including one that it was founded by the legendary, tragic hero, Yamato Takeru. But it was not until the Emperor Meiji visited the shrine in 1868 that it gained national attention. The 15-year-old emperor broke precedent by visiting a number of shrines in person. He became emperor in 1867 after the death of Emperor Komei (r.1846-67) and the next year, moved to Edo even as it was declared the new official capital of the nation and renamed Tokyo (eastern capital). One of his first acts (even before moving to Tokyo) was to visit Hikawa Jinja and decree it the guardian shrine of the province and to make it one of the sixteen shrines (chokusaisha) in the modern era to receive offerings from Imperial messengers (chokushi), dispatched between every ten to once every year in perpetuity. In this declaration he also reaffirmed the ancient concept of saisei ichi (the unity of worship and government) that formed an important part of the “social contract” of the developing State Shinto. While the concept of the emperor as leader of the nation and as a living god descended from gods was a basic notion of the society since ancient times, it took on a very different form in the Meiji period. Be that as it may, Hikawa Jinja gained prominence at a turning point in Japanese history.
            The approach to Hikawa Jinja actually begins at the first torii located close to Saitama Shintoshin Station, known best for its "Super-arena" sports and event hall. The long, straight sando begins on a narrow tree-lined road that branches off from noisy Route 164 marked by the first torii. This continues until it crosses the wide street that comes directly out of the east exit of Omiya Station. From here it turns into the type of broad, tree-lined avenues often found en route to a shrine. The wide center section is for pedestrian traffic only, separated from the cars that run on either side by trees, hedges and low stonewalls. Further along this road stands the second torii. Said to be one of the largest wooden torii in eastern Japan, it was brought here from Meiji Jingu in 1976, after it was damaged by lightening, and repaired. Finally one reaches the smaller third torii and the shrine grounds proper. During the New Year holiday (oshogatsu) the sando is lined with stalls selling food, drink and assorted sundries. This is when the shrine is most active, attracting around two million visitors and making it one of the top ten visited shrines in the country. Such matsuri (festival) days are less a time to see the shrine or quietly worship than they are a time to share in the experience of the Japanese people at worship/play. On quiet days, the walk along this sando clearly defines what urban thoroughfares in Japan should be like—tree-lined and with plenty of space to walk away from traffic and hold events—as opposed to the car-centric, telephone pole-lined, electric wired, asphalt and concrete wasteland that is now the government approved standard. Clearly, the kami and the trees go hand in hand.

Festivals: Daitosai, 10 December. Actually, this festival begins on 30 November and ends on 11 December, but the tenth is considered the climax. A bonfire is built on the shrine grounds which is why it was once called the Ohisai (Fire Festival). The approach to the shrine is lined with street stalls and the festival is also known as the Tokaichi (Ten-day Market). From 30 November to 9 December, a ritual known as the zensai (pre-purification) starts at ten o'clock in the evening. The important ritual involves offering 100 different types of dishes (hyakutorizen or"One Hundred Offering Trays"), including diamond shaped rice cakes, eight different saltwater and freshwater foods and eight different types of wild plants. Noh by firelight (Takigi noh) and ancient court music (gagaku) are also performed. If you miss the stalls, don’t worry; they'll be back in time for New Years.

On the first and fifteenth days of the month you can see kagura (which is a traditional dance performance) on the grounds of the shrine without a fee. Sometimes the dates change so please check the performance schedule.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Aso Jinja                                                                         UC

Romon and yakuimon of Aso Jinja
Romon and yakuimon of Aso Jinja
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Founded in 282 b.c. during the reign of Emperor Korei (r. 290–15 b.c.), according to shrine tradition. The current buildings are from 1835.
Address: 3083-1 Ichinomiya-machi Miyaji, Aso-shi, Kumamoto 869-2612
Tel/Information: 0967-22-0064. The shrine is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
How to get there: JR Hohi Honsen Line to Miyaji Station, then 15 to 20 minutes on foot.
Enshrined kami: Takeiwatatsu no mikoto.
Prayers offered: Safety on the seas and the roadways, a good marriage, and academic success.
Best times to go: Mid-March for the Hifuri Matsuri, or 28–29 July for the Onda Matsuri.

Important physical features: Aso Jinja’s most important physical feature may be its proximity to the Aso Volcano. The volcano actually has two caldera—the small “inner” one that is still smoldering, and the huge “outer” one that is a broad and flat plain bordered on all sides by a natural wall that constitutes the difference between the original (higher) elevation of the ground and the lower elevation following the eruption. In other words the elevation at the rim of the outer caldera (3,600 to 3,900 feet) is roughly equivalent to the height of the remaining peaks in the center (3,600 to 4,500 feet). The shrine lies in the northeastern part of the outer caldera—one of the largest in the world at approximately eighty miles in circumference, and the largest in which people are actually living. One of the craters near the center is active, and though the occasional eruptions are small, it does smolder constantly and emit enough gas to warrant color-coded warnings to alert visitors to the level of danger. It is thought that the eruptions that produced the caldera happened between 90,000 and 300,000 years ago.
            Like most shrines with a long history, Aso has been rebuilt numerous times—the last in the mid-1800s. It has a magnificent, two-story romon gate about sixty-seven feet tall that is said to be one of the three largest shrine gates in Japan (the others are at Hakozakigu in Fukuoka and Kashima Jingu in Ibaraki). It is three bays wide and unpainted, differing from the other large romon in having a wide pent roof surrounding it at the height of the first story—a feature more often seen in Buddhist architecture. The lower roof is wider than the irimoya roof that caps the structure, and it contains a karahafu over the center bay. Both roofs are covered in copper tiles but were originally surfaced in shingles made of tree bark. A long covered fence extends from both sides of the gate, and smaller roofed gates (yakuimon) punctuate the fence to the right and left. The impressive two-tiered romon leads to a small courtyard that faces the nearby haiden. The haiden has an irimoya-zukuri roof, the ridge of which runs from the entrance side back toward the honden. Large chidorihafu (false dormers) emerge from just under the roof ridge to both the left and right. A step canopy completes the front side. A fence with a broad roof extends to the right and left, and is also punctuated by entrance gates with karahafu. A four-by-two–bay room is positioned at the front corners of the fence. From this point, the fence is lower and the roof smaller as it wraps around the inner compound containing the honden.
            The inner compound contains three honden, though there is only one “god seat” (shinza). It is an unusual feature, which is discussed below. Two of the honden (called geden) stand side by side with a space of about ten feet between them, while the third is in the center and to the rear. The two front honden (geden) are identical five-by-two–bay nagare-zukuri structures, but with irimoya gabled roofs and chidorihafu and karahafu on the front side. The roof configuration is unusual but not unheard-of for a honden. The main ridge has chigi and katsuogi, with chigi on the chidorihafu as well. The third building is a much smaller two-by-two–bay structure with only a chidorihafu on the front side of the irimoya roof. The roofs of all the structures are copper tile, and all the wood is unpainted.

Onda Matsuri of Aso Jinja
Onda Matsuri
Important spiritual features: The main kami enshrined at Aso Jinja is Takeiwatatsu no mikoto, a grandchild of the first emperor, Jinmu. Despite his noble lineage, no mention is made of the kami in the Kojiki or the Nihon shoki. Much of what is known about him and about the traditions of Aso Jinja comes from the Dazai kannaishi (1841) by Ito Tsunetari. He compiled into eighty-two volumes, over thirty-seven years, old documents relating to Kyushu—of which the Asosha engi was one. The Dazai kannaishi relates that Jinmu sent his grandson to Kyushu to resettle the place from which their ancestors had emerged and that the grandson built a palace in Miyaji. Shrine tradition states that the kami first set about draining a large lake inside the caldera of the volcano and then taught agriculture to the local people. Along the way he met Kusakabe Yoshimi no kami—the deity enshrined at nearby Kusakabe Yoshimi Jinja—and married his daughter, Asotsuhime. According to this tradition, after his marriage, Takeiwatatsu decided to find a place to settle by firing an arrow into the air. Yamura (literally, “arrow village”) in Miyaji is said to be the spot from which he launched the arrow, while Aso Jinja marks the spot where it landed. Much later, in 282 b.c., Emperor Korei ordered the founding of Aso no Miya. Though not mentioned in the Engi shiki (927) list of shrines for the province, it may be that three other shrines mentioned were later merged into one. It is in this light that the three honden and one kami of Aso must be viewed.
            Another tradition of the shrine is that of the juniza (Aso junisha), or twelve god seats of Aso shrine. These include Takeiwatatsu, his wife and son, his father-in-law, and other relatives. So it is that the honden to the left is said also to contain six male deities, and the honden to the right six female deities. The honden in the middle rear is called the shoshinden (once called Moromoro Jinja) and enshrines all 3,132 deities mentioned in the Engi shiki. The arrangement seems to date from the last reconstruction in the nineteenth century.
            One thing about this shrine that has been remarkably constant is its priesthood. The Aso clan claim descent from the son of Emperor Jinmu, and their leader once held the title of kuni no miyatsuko (provincial governor or country chieftain). This is the same Hayamikatama no mikoto who is enshrined at Aoi Aso Jinja, and he is considered a great-grandson of Jinmu. They were vast landholders and controlled the province until the fourteenth century, thereafter continuing as the priestly family of Aso Jinja (from where the clan name was eventually taken). Although the Meiji government abolished ancestral control of shrines, several families managed to stay in position. The Senge of Izumo Taisha are one example; they claim eighty-four generations as chief priests of the shrine. The Aso clan are another and claim ninety-one generations.

Description: The Aso area of Kyushu is currently being promoted for “ecotourism,” and with good reason. It is largely unspoiled and has unique natural assets. The black volcanic soil is rich and fertile, producing an abundance of crops, and the water here is said to be some of the best in the country. The ancient volcanic pumice provides a natural purification mechanism for the water that flows through the city of Kumamoto toward the sea. It is the largest city in the world to have its primary needs met by spring water. Of course, the magma under the volcano means that there are also a large number of onsen hot springs in the area. The shrine is located in Aso City, a relatively small community surrounded by farms and fields, in the outer caldera of the volcano. The long, straight road that passes in front of the shrine from north to south crosses the railroad line about half a mile south of the shrine. In other words, the long approach is perpendicular to the direction of the shrine, which faces east toward the sunrise. The long, straight road is used for shrine ceremonies such as horseback archery (yabusame) and fire swinging in the Hifuri Matsuri. The shrine’s torii are also along this road, so that if you look southward, the peaks of the inner caldera of Mount Aso are framed by them. One theory is that the shrine originated on the side or the top of the mountains—though its own tradition eschews this theory. Nevertheless, the volcano continues to loom large in the background, and the earthquakes it generates have had a major impact on of the life of the people. There are currently about five hundred Aso shrines across the country of which this is the principal one.

Hifuri Matsuri of Aso Jinja
Hifuri Matsuri
Festivals: Aso Hifuri Matsuri, mid-March (the date varies). Originally an agricultural festival to pray for a good harvest and celebrate the marriage between the deity of Aso and the rice deity. When they are carried through the streets in mikoshi, large numbers of participants greet them with taimatsu, or lighted torches of bundled grass, swung round on ropes—and everyone is invited to join in. Designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

Onda Matsuri, 28–29 July. A traditional planting festival. Fourteen women called unari, wrapped in white from head to toe, carry offerings of rice on their heads, accompanied by a procession with mikoshi, shishimai (a lion dance), and oxen.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Aoi Aso Jinja                                                                         UC
Romon of Aoi Aso Jinja
Romon of Aoi Aso Jinja
(all photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Founded in 806, according to shrine tradition. The current buildings are from 1609 to 1613.
Address: 118 Kamiaoi-cho, Hitoyoshi-shi, Kumamoto 868-0005
Tel/Information: 0966-22-2274 Open from 8:30 to 5pm.
How to get there: From Kumamoto Station, take the Kagoshima Honsen Line to Yatsuhiro Station. Change to the JR Hisatsu Line to Hitoyoshi Station, then 5 minutes on foot.
Enshrined kami: Takeiwatatsu no mikoto, Asotsuhime no mikoto, and Kuni no Miyatsuko Hayamikatama no mikoto.
Prayers offered: Help with new ventures.
Best times to go: The beginning of April for cherry-blossom viewing, and the beginning of July for the lotus blossoms in the pond in front of the shrine. Also for the Okunchi Festival in early October.

Haiden of Aoi Aso Jinja
Haiden
Important physical features: Aoi Aso Jinja’s extremely interesting and unique architecture is its most important physical feature. Five structures of this shrine, constructed between 1609 and 1613, are designated National Treasures—of which there are fewer than eleven hundred nationwide. The fact that three of the five important structures retain their thatched roofs (kayabuki) is a credit to the will of the priests to preserve the shrines’ history in the face of what has no doubt been tremendous pressure over the years to do away with them. Aside from the obvious fire hazard that the roofs pose, the number of craftsmen capable of high-quality kaya thatching has dwindled in modern times to almost nothing. (Of course, all roofs in Japan were either thatched or covered in tree bark at one time, but while many shrine buildings still employ cypress-bark roofs, thatch is now quite rare.) 
           This group of shrine buildings begins with the two-story, three-bay romon gate, which at approximately forty feet tall, is not particularly large for its type. But the structure’s Momoyama-period polychroming, elaborate carving and its massive thatched roof make for a most impressive introduction to the shrine grounds. The gate has a hipped roof (yosemune or yotsuyane), usually associated with Buddhist temples or with thatched-roof farmhouses (minka). It is topped with okichigi, or crossed wood battens that sit on the ridge like chigi. The three-bay-wide gate was once lacquered mainly in black, with red bracket complexes (tokyo) in the zenshuyo (Zen-sect) style and details painted in white and green. Though mostly worn down now to the underlying wood, the once-bright polychrome will make a striking sight when restored. In the outer bays are small, primitive wooden zuijin and komainu figures. There are carvings around the gate above the transom depicting the “twenty-four paragons of filial piety,” a Chinese Confucian theme on the proper relations of children and parents that became a standard of Japanese pictorial art after it entered Japan in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.
Finally, there are the mysterious and rather curious depictions of  heads of deities. There are four pairs, each in a kind of two-faced Janus composition in white, that sit at the upper corners on the tail rafters (odaruki) under the eaves. They appear to represent yin/yang or nigitama/aratama (protective/aggressive) pairs. The only carvings of this type known in Japan, they were termed “hitoyoshi-style” by Yazaki Yoshimori, a professor at Kyoto University, who undertook a study of the romon in 1944. Interestingly, the Roman two-faced god Janus was also a god of gates and doors. There are paintings of dragons on the ceiling, and legend has it that they came out to drink at a nearby pond and were drawn to the magnificent gate.
            Like the gate, the haiden has a thatched yosemune roof, with the ridge running left to right, and the five-by-three–bay building is divided into three rooms. The building also serves as a kaguraden, where performances of the Kuma Kagura (“Kuma dance”) are performed every 8 October. The front bay is an open “porch,” and the walls of the enclosed bays are of simple vertical wooden-board construction. The building was once painted in black lacquer. It has a very unusual step canopy, with a karahafu roof covered in copper tiles. The interior walls are painted black, with tatami mat floors. Behind the haiden and set perpendicular to it, is the three-by-five–bay heiden, also with a thatched roof and primarily lacquered in black inside and out. There are windows along both sides of this simple structure, giving it the appearance of a large room in a house. There is additional polychroming in red and green along the outer walls above the transoms, in a pattern typical of Buddhist temples. The fascinating design element here is the intricate wooden relief carving seen on the transoms located inside and outside the building. There is one panel for every bay on both the interior and exterior. They are of polychromed wood and depict pine trees, bamboo, plums, peonies, and birds. In addition, the interior has four elaborately carved and painted openwork transoms between the front and rear rooms. The center bay of the back wall comprises a doorway that opens to the one by one bay corridor which itself opens to reveal the front of the honden. This corridor is really no more than a canopy but is considered a separate structure also with a National Treasure designation. Attached to the upper corners of the door frame are carved reliefs of dragons, their faces turned toward the honden.
Heiden of Aoi Aso Jinja
Heiden
            The honden is a three-by-two–bay nagare-zukuri structure with a copper-tile roof, which contains chigi and katsuogi. These are the only features of the honden that are obviously Shinto. The building is as elaborately polychromed and carved as the other structures, and employs a kozama motif usually found on buildings at Buddhist temples. The walls are made in a board and batten style, with the battens forming a large “X” shape in each bay. They are painted in red, and the same construction style is applied to the front and rear doors of the heiden as well. The gable pediments employ diagonal latticework and a rounded ridge support lintel (koyazuka) that is richly carved in a wisteria motif and lacquered in black. Between the roof and the lattice pediment are carved reliefs of dragons and cranes. All in all, one of the most eccentric and interesting groups of buildings you are likely to run across in a shrine.

Important spiritual features: Takeiwatatsu, Asotsuhime, and Kuni no Miyatsuko are a father, wife and son group who are considered the ancestors of the people of Kumamoto. Takeiwatatsu was the grandson of Emperor Jinmu, who was sent here from Yamato to "settle" Kyushu. While Takeiwatatsu is part of the Yamato lineage that flows from Ninigi no mikoto, the kami who descended to Mount Takachiho in neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture, Asotsuhime and her son are considered native kami of Kumamoto. The Kujiki (nineth or tenth century) states that during the reign of Emperor Sujin, Hayamikatama no mikoto was appointed the first local lord of Aso Province. Presumably, this is why the title "Kuni no miyatsuko" is added to the name of the kami here. The three kami are enshrined in one honden. They are also among the twelve kami enshrined in Aso Jinja and in other shrines in Kyushu. The legend of Takeiwatatsu coming to Kyushu is similar to legends found throughout the country whereby a kami representing the ruling clans conquers, negotiates with, or marries with local kami. Such legends had the effect of showing the dominance of the rulers while also preserving the traditions of the subordinated peoples.   

Kumamoto Aoi Aso Jinja
Arched bridge, lotus pond and torii
Description: The shrine’s name might seem somewhat misleading, since Aso is so strongly associated with the volcano of the same name far to the north. Aoi Aso Jinja is in fact located close to the southern bank of the Kuma River in the southern Kumamoto city of Hitoyoshi. It stands a short distance from Hitoyoshi Station, with the first torii just to the south before a stone bridge that spans a small body of water filled with lotus blossoms. The arched bridge leads directly to the second torii and the entrance to the grounds proper. Slightly further south is the Kuma River, said to be one of the three fastest flowing in Japan, and boat trips accompanied by a master poler are popular. Although the shrine claims a foundation date of 806, it is likely that some form of worship was practiced here from an earlier date. The present structures were rebuilt at the behest of Sagara Yorifusa (1574-1636), leader of the Sagara clan that ruled the area known as the Hitoyoshi Domain for seven centuries since it was granted to them by Minamoto no Yoritomo. It is a bunsha, (literally, “divided spirit”) or branch shrine of Aso Jinja. Formerly called Aoi Myojin, it was a shinbutsu shugo shrine combining Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. The legacy is clearly preserved today in the shrine’s architecture and in a similar building, the Shiyozen-in kannon-do, a Buddhist temple constructed by the Sagara in 1625. For more on shinbutsu shugo see my book, "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion."
            Hitoyoshi became an important river-port town and acquired a castle in the twelfth century; the remains of the castle keep are now a tourist attraction. There are also about fifty hot springs located along the river. Late-Jomon settlements (400 b.c.) have been excavated in the area, and there are numerous tumuli from the Kofun period (a.d. 300–538). The region is rich in natural resources and attractions. Kyusendo Cave for example, is a natural limestone cave that, at three miles long, is one of the largest in the country. It runs under the city and can be explored in groups (tours around ¥1,050).

Festival: Okunchi Matsuri, 3–11 October. A number of events are held, including kagura dance performance. In one traditional event, children have their head put into the mouth of a wooden shishigashira (headdress used to perform a traditional lion dance), which is said to protect them from illness and other harm in the coming year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Yoshino Mikumari Jinja                                                       UC                                                                       
Yoshino Mikumari Jinja
The three honden of Yoshino Mikumari Jinja
(photos courtesy of
Nakamura Satoshi www.yamato-gokoro.com)
 Date founded: Founded in the reign of Emperor Sujin (r. 97–30 b.c.), according to shrine tradition. The current buildings are from 1604. 
Address: 1612 Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara 639-3115
Tel/Information: 0746-32-3012 
How to get there: Take the Kintetsu Yoshino Line from Yoshino-guchi Station to Yoshino Station. Then take the Yoshino ropeway (¥600 round trip) to Yoshinoyama Station. From there it’s about 70 minutes on foot.
Enshrined kami: Ame no mikumari no kami, Hayaakitsu hiko no mikoto, and Kuni no mikumari no kami. 
Prayers offered: Anything related to water, abundant crops, and the health of children.
Best times to go: For the cherry blossom season from early to late-April, or for the autumn color in November.

Yoshino Mikumari Jinja
The torii and romon
Important physical features: Yoshino Mikumari Jinja is part of the World Heritage Site called “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” (for more on this, see “Kumano Sanzan” in "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion").
            The present form of Yoshino Mikumari Jinja is due to rebuilding at the behest of Toyotomi Hideyori in 1604 (the order would actually have been given by someone else in his name, since Hideyori was only eleven at the time). Like emperors and shogun before and after this time, the Toyotomi worked to ensure their position both through force of arms and the moral force lent by support of shrines and temples (though the latter also entailed the political support of religious sects and their associated clans). Toyotomi Hideyoshi was very active in rebuilding shrines and temples during his lifetime, as well as creating some new ones—including a Great Buddha Hall and a statue both of which were reputed to be larger than the great Buddha of Nara and Todaiji temple. After his death, his wife, Yododono, carried on this legacy in his name and in that of his son. The three honden of this shrine are designated Important Cultural Properties and are a splendid example of Momoyama-period architecture. The shrine is also somewhat unusual in that it combines three separate kasuga-zukuri-style honden under one elongated roof. The entire structure is nine bays wide by two bays deep. It has a nagare-zukuri roof covered in Japanese cypress bark. Though said to be ikkensha-zukuri associated with the kasuga style, it is a little difficult to see the similarities. Whereas kasuga-style honden have the gabled end facing to the front, Yoshino Mikumari’s long roof has the non-gabled side forward. Instead, three chidorihafu false dormers stand to the front, giving the impression of a front-facing gable, but without the pent roofs typical of kasuga-zukuri. There are also no chigi or katsuogi, as one would expect to find on a kasuga-style structure.
            It is interesting to compare this group of honden with that of Uda Mikumari Jinja. Here, as in Uda, the bracketing is more complex than the typical kasuga-zukuri style, as is the decoration. However, unlike Uda, Yoshino has not been repainted in quite a long time, and it is difficult to see the detail in the darkened wood. The honden are raised about three feet above the ground and stand behind a latticed tamagaki fence. The shrine’s other structures include a haiden, heiden, romon, and kairo constructed at the same time as the honden, and all designated Important Cultural Properties.
            Unfortunately, some of the most noteworthy treasures at this shrine are not available for viewing. The shrine is said to house twenty sculptures of the deities, which have never been displayed. These rare Shinto sculptures, called shinzo, are thought to be the work of a minor member of the Kei school of sculptors. The school is best known for the work of two of its finest practitioners, Unkei and his father Kokei, who were active from the late twelfth to the early thirteenth century and are renowned for works such as Unkei’s nio guardian figures at the nandaimon gate of Todaiji in Nara. The only sculpture from Yoshino Mikumari that has been studied is a thirty-three-inch seated female figure with polychromed surface, identified as Tamayorihime, made in 1251 and designated a National Treasure. She has a plump, doll-like face, glass eyes, and wears Heian-style “twelve-layer” robes (juni-hitoe). On her parted red lips is a faint smile. Interestingly, this Tamayorihime is associated with childrearing and therefore with the Mikomori misreading of the deity’s name detailed below. Of the other sculptures it is known that there are male, female, and child figures and that some date from 1224. Amongst the treasures that are on display is a small sculpture of the poet Saigyo, who lived in a hut that still exists not far from the shrine, in the oku-senbon area of cherry trees. The lifelike sculpture from 1785 was probably placed here in the Meiji period and is not one of the twenty shinzo sculptures. Also on view are two very old mikoshi.

Important spiritual features: The shrine is one of the four Yamato Yonsho Mikumari mentioned in the Engi shiki, written in 927 and promulgated in 967, as important places where the Mikumari deity was enshrined. By that time the Yoshino and Omine ranges were the home of a combinatory practice that closely identified the various Buddha with different native kami.  The Mikomori deity was identified as one of the “eight gongen of Yoshino.”  The great Shinto scholar Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) took an interest in the deity, perhaps because his father had prayed fervently to it for a child, after which, he was born. Therefore he felt a special connection to the deity and determined to understand its source.  So he began to research the connection between Mikumari and Mikomori no kami, also called Komori Daimyojin. In his day, the Mikumari deity had come to be worshipped as a child-protecting kami (which is the meaning of the word “mikomori”), due to a mistaken pronunciation that had happened sometime during the late Heian period. Mikomori was often depicted as a court lady with children, and the distortion of the original deity together with its appropriation by Buddhism made Norinaga upset. Mistaken or not, the Mikumari deity is still regarded as a protector of children to this day.  And after all, the deity has proved its worth in this respect by answering a father’s prayer and delivering Norinaga himself.

Description: This is probably the most celebrated of the four ancient Mikumari shrines. The layout is rather unusual. Passing under a torii and climbing a flight of stone steps brings you to the red and white romon that is the entrance to the grounds. Where one would normally expect to see a haiden with the view of the honden obscured behind it, here the honden are to the right and facing left, while to the left of the entrance and facing right is the haiden. The heiden is in the rear, facing the entrance. There is a small rectangular garden in the space between these structures, with a great weeping cherry tree near the heiden. It is recorded that Emperor Monmu (r. 697–707) offered a horse to the kami of Mount Yoshino in 698, asking the deity for rain. The mountain’s water kami is not actually a kami of rain; nevertheless black horses were offered to it in times of drought (a common custom at that time), and white horses were offered to pray for the cessation of rain. Horses offered in this way were sometimes given as a gift or paraded and left at the shrine for a short time. Mount Mikumari is also mentioned in the Manyoshu anthology of poetry from the mid-eighth century. Water kami were often associated with mountains, from which water travels to irrigate the valleys and plains below, and were among the most ancient and important in the lives of the people.
            Yoshino was not only a place of prayer and meditation. The area became the capital of the so-called Southern Court during the Nanbokucho period (1336–92). Emperor Go-Daigo (1288–1339) tried to overthrow the Kamakura bakufu, but was thwarted and exiled to the Oki Islands. He managed to escape and raise an army to recapture Kyoto. However, he was again forced to flee after which he set up government in Yoshino. When he "retired", his son Go-Murakami continued the struggle, but to no avail. By the time Go-Murakami died in 1368, the Southern Court had been further weakened, and his successor, Emperor Chokei, moved his base of his activities to Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka (where he was enthroned). After his abdication in 1383, Chokei returned to Yoshino, where he died and was buried in 1394. It was not until the Taisho era (1912-26) that his reign and those of other Southern Court emperors was reconfigured as the legitimate line.
            These days, Yoshino is perhaps best known for the cherry trees that bear its name (Prunus yedoensis, the Yoshino cherry). Although this variety was developed elsewhere, the mountains and valleys of Yoshino are covered with about two hundred varieties of cherry and some thirty thousand trees, with intense clusters known as the senbon (“thousand trees”). There are four separate clusters called the oku-, kami-, naka-, and shimo-senbon (the later being at the lowest altitude). Walking tours and bus tours are available, but expect crowds. After all, the cherry trees bloom for only about two weeks. It is this ephemeral quality that came to be associated with the (supposedly) beautiful and (frequently) brief life of the samurai during the medieval period. Yet it was the monk and mountain ascetic who planted the tree in such profusion in the precincts of shrines and temples. In this way, the mountains of Yoshino have brought together ascetic, warrior and natural beauty, thereby leaving their mark on the culture of Japan.

Festival: Otaue Festival (Planting Festival), 3 April. An ancient rice-planting festival with music and dance.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Uda Mikumari Jinja                                                              UC

Uda Mikumari Jinja
Middle shrine of Uda Mikumari Jinja
(photo courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Founded during the reign of Emperor Sujin (r. 97–30 b.c.)
Address: 245 Furuichiba, Utano-ku, Uda-shi, Nara 633-2226
Tel/Information: 0745-84-2613
How to get there: Take the Kintetsu Osaka Line to Haibara Station. Then take the Nara Kotsu Bus number 10 or 11 to Furuichiba/Mikumari Jinja-mae bus stop. The shrine is 5 minutes from there on foot.
Enshrined kami: Ame no mikumari no kami, Hayaakitsu hiko no mikoto, and Kuni no mikumari no kami.
Prayers offered: Anything related to water, abundant crops, and the health of children.
Best times to go: For the cherry blossom season from early to late April, or for the autumn color in November.

Important physical features: The principal building of Uda Mikumari Jinja is designated a National Treasure. This is the highest classification of importance in the government’s system of Important Cultural Properties. The kami are worshipped at three locations along the Yoshino River (upper [Yoshino], middle [Furuichiba] and lower [Shimoidani] shrines). The middle shrine, built in 1320 as verified by dating found on the ridgepoles of the structures, contains three kasuga-zukuri (also called ikensha-zukuri) one-by-one–bay honden standing side by side behind a tamagaki fence. The kasuga-zukuri style features a gable roof, while on the gabled side (front side) of the shrine a pent roof is added. The roof is surfaced in Japanese cedar bark. There are some departures here from the usual kasuga style. The polychroming is more elaborate as is the bracketing. In addition, there are sculptured figures within the kaerumata struts and zobana beam endings. The other chief difference is in the shape and construction of the pent roof. Here it is called a “hip-rafter inserted” style (sumigi-iri or oji-zukuri). The difference is evident in the way the corners of the cypress bark–covered pent roof curve up to meet the upward-turning corners of the gable roof. The layout of the honden behind the tamagaki fence punctuated with gates seem to relate Uda Mikumari to the style of the Kumano shrines further south.
            Two smaller shrines to the right of the main structures are from the Muromachi period and are designated Important Cultural Properties. The one to the left is a Kasuga shrine. This area once had a feudal relationship with the Kasuga/Kofukuji religious complex. The shrine bears the wisteria crest that is the mark of Kasuga Taisha and the Fujiwara clan. The structure to the right is a Munakata shrine from the late Muromachi period and is also an Important Cultural Property. The Munakata deities were originally enshrined in Kyushu as protectors of the sea lanes.

Important spiritual features: Hayaakitsu hiko no mikoto is a kami mentioned in the Kojiki as one of the deities created by Izanami and Izanagi. Actually, this deity is one half of a pair of male and female kami created at the time. Such pairs (hiko/hime) were usually taken to be the same kami, and one name is sometimes used to represent both. The Hayaakitsu kami are considered protectors of inlets and straits, and are therefore water kami. The Kojiki goes on to name the children of these kami, all of which are water kami related to elements such as waves and sea foam. Two of them, Ame no mikumari and Kuni no mikumari, are considered “water-dividing” kami and protectors of running water (“mi” comes from “mizu,” or “water,” in Japanese, and “kubaru” means “to distribute”). Such kami are usually found at the headwaters of streams or water distribution points.
            Collectively called the "kami of Mikumari," reference is made to them in a number of ancient records. Perhaps the most important mention is from the Engi shiki, completed in 927. It states that the deity is enshrined in the Mikumari Jinja in Yoshino, in Uda, in Tsuge, and in Katsuragi. It also states that there are other Mikumari shrines “here and there” but that “at the Prayer Festival and the Annual Festival, the names of Yoshino (Southern), Uda (Eastern), Tsuge (Northern), and Katsuragi (Western) are spelled out.” In other words, these four shrines were considered the most important and were known as the Yamato Yonsho Mikumari (“four Mikumari shrines of Yamato Province”).

Description: Uda Mikumari is located in the mountains east of Nara. The Nihon shoki and the Kogoshui record that Emperor Sujin sent the sacred mirror and sword from the imperial residence to be enshrined in a new location. Emperor Suinin, his successor, appointed one of his daughters, Yamatohime no mikoto, to carry them until a new location was found. Documents from the outer shrine of Ise, written in the Kamakura period, detail her ramblings in search of a new home to enshrine the spirit of Amaterasu. Records indicate that on this journey she spent four years in Akinomiya (“the Aki shrine”) in Uda. Looking at a map, one sees that Uda is in the general direction of Ise—when coming from Kashihara, where Yamatohime first alighted. Akinomiya (the “aki” of “Hayaakitsu”) is believed to refer to Uda Mikumari.
            While the continuity of such ancient sites of worship in Japan is not rare, the preservation of wooden structures over the centuries takes enormous effort. For example, the spot now occupied by Mikumari's haiden, built in 1973, was previously occupied by a kaguraden that was destroyed when a large tree toppled over in a typhoon (however another roughly 500-year-old Japanese cedar is still a feature of the shrine). With weather, fire, earthquakes, and other factors working to diminish the stock of ancient shrines, Uda Mikumari remains a miraculous survivor.

Festivals: Mikumari Reitaisai, third Sunday in October. This is the main festival of the shrine and dates from the Heian period. The shrine’s mikoshi are carried in procession and met by the mikoshi of other villages. Two drums, weighing two tons each, compete with others in a drumming “battle.” There is also a procession in Edo-period-style.

Oharano Jinja                                                                             C
Kasuga-style honden of Oharano Jinja
The four Kasuga-style honden of Oharano Jinja
(photo courtesy of the shrine)
Date Founded: 784 in the old capital of Nagaoka-kyo. First shrine buildings built in 850 at the behest of Emperor Montoku (r. 850-58). Present buildings from 1648.
Address: 1152 Minami Kasuga-cho Oharano Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 610-1153 
Tel/Information: 075-331-0014
How to get there: From Hankyu Katsura station take the Keihan bus to Minami Kasuga-cho bus stop then 8 minutes on foot. Or take the JR Line to JR Mukomachi Station then by bus to Minami Kasuga-cho bus stop. There are very few busses per day so call ahead to check the schedule.  Not on the typical tourist route.
Enshrined kami: Ame no Koyane no mikoto and his consort Himegami, Takemikazuchi no mikoto, and Futsunushi no mikoto. All of these kami were invited to descend from Kasuga Taisha in Nara.
Prayers offered: Pray for a good love match, a good marriage, and for protection against bad luck.
Best time to go: From mid-November is a good time to view the autumn color of the Japanese maples.

Oharano Jinja
The second torii of Oharano Jinja
(this and following photos by Joseph Cali)
Important physical features: Oharano Jinja sits on the far western side of Kyoto. In 784, when the shrine was founded, this was not the old capital of Heian-kyo (which became modern day Kyoto), but the short-lived capital of Nagaoka-kyo. It was the capital for a mere ten years before Emperor Kanmu decided to build a new city from which to rule. It had once been the practice to move capitals when the Emperor died. This was based on the strong Shinto fear of pollution from death and the general fear of spirits of the dead haunting the palace where they died. These fears gradually gave way to the desire to imitate the Chinese and their grand cities, but this could only be achieved by staying in one place for a longer time. Eight successive Emperors occupied the former capital of Nara, though even this amounted to a surprisingly short seventy-four years. Emperor Kanmu wanted to leave Nara for a number of political reasons. He feared a conspiracy by rivals or by the Buddhist clergy who had become a force to be reckoned with. Nagaoka-kyo was deemed a suitable location but the city was beset by natural disasters, such as flooding. In 785, the principle architect of the city, Fujiwara no Tanetsugu, was assassinated—possibly by a member of the rival Tachibana clan. Kanmu abruptly decided to move the capital further to the northeast where, in 794, he founded Heian-kyo. In the meantime, the Empress (Fujiwara no Otomuro; a descendent of the powerful northern house of the Fujiwara), invited the gods of her ancestors to descend on Oharano from Kasuga in the former capital at Nara. But it took another sixty years, during the reign of Emperor Montoku (who’s mother was Fujiwara no Junshi and who’s wife was Fujiwara no Akirakeiko) for Oharano to be built in the style of Kasuga Taisha, with almost identical 1-bay honden for each of the four kami enshrined. These structures were rebuilt in 2008 but are true to their former style, which in turn is true (with some minor differences) to the style of Kasuga Taisha. (Please see the entry for Kasuga Taisha in "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion" for details).

Koisawa no ike of Oharano Jinja
Koisawa no ike
            Of the 20 acres of land that comprise the shrine grounds, about 16 acres are forested. Even then, only a small percentage of the cedar bark used to repair the shrine came from these forests. (Cedar bark can only be striped from a tree once in ten years.) This was once the hunting reserve of Emperor Kanmu and it is said that he loved the area. The shrine is mentioned in the Genji Monogatari (early 11th century) and Ise Monogatari (9th century) and many other stories and poems, and it was one of the nijunisha that received offerings from the imperial court. There is a natural spring on the grounds called Segai no Shimizu, of which numerous poems have also been written. Though quite impossible to see any likeness today, a pond called Koisawa no ike made by Montoku, is modeled on Sarusawa no ike in Nara (as is a third, smaller one near the more well-known Fujiwara family shrine—Yoshida Jinja—in Kyoto).

Important spiritual features: The kami of Oharano Jinja were prayed to by many empresses and imperial ladies from the time of its founding. This may have been in part because most of the wives and mothers of the Emperors, from the late-Nara period through the Heian period, were from the Fujiwara clan. Although few ancient records exist from this shrine, it is known that Fujiwara no Yoshifusa (804-72), the first Chancellor (daijo daijin) appointed since the priest Dokyo (who famously tried to usurp the position of emperor) ninety years prior, created the post of Saijo. Known as the Kasuga Saiin this high priestess was selected from among Fujiwara daughters and was in charge of affairs at the Kasuga and Oharano shrines for a brief time. Though just a pale imitation of the Saiku of Ise and the Saiin of Kamigamo, it reflects the power and prestige of the Fujiwara and their ancestral deities that each of their family shrines (Kasuga, Oharano and Yoshida) were in the elite group of twenty two shrines receiving offerings from the court. (Please see the entry for Kasuga Taisha in "Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion" for details).

Oharano Jinja
Oharano Jinja
Description: The first stone torii of Oharano stands alongside the winding road that passes by the shrine. A slowly inclining stone stair leads to the second torii at its top. From the moment you pass under the first torii, you are enveloped in a canopy of about 20 acres of lush greenery—a hallmark of Oharano Jinja. The arrow-straight sando leads through a thick growth of maple trees that leads to a clearing with Sarusawa no ike pond to the right and Segai no Shimizu spring to the left. The brilliant green of the maples in spring and summer is followed by their turn to brilliant reds and yellows in fall. Continuing down the sando leads to the third (this one red) torii and the beginning of the inner grounds. Just before coming to the torii there stands a hand-washing basin (teimizuya) with a sculptured deer as a waterspout. The deer is a familiar of the kami and amply represented at all Fujiwara shrines (most famously in Nara where deer roam freely among the tourists in Nara Park. At Oharano, deer also occupy the place to the right and left front of the shrine usually occupied by lion or fox sculptures. They sit atop the flight of stairs that leads to the chumon gate in front of the honden. There is neither a haiden nor a kaguraden—only a modest shrine surrounded by a magnificent forest. This is, I suppose, appropriate for a shrine that existed in a capital that really never was. Nagaoka-kyo was essentially an aborted attempt by Emperor Kanmu to escape from the intrigues of Nara. But Nagaoka-kyo proved no better when its administrator Fujiwara no Tanetsugu was assassinated. The Emperor’s brother Prince Sawara was implicated and Kanmu exiled him to Awaji but he died ( or was assassinated) en route. A series of disasters that followed were blamed on the angry spirit of Sawara, who became one of the famous goryo (angry spirits) of the Heian era. Kanmu abandoned the short-lived capital and established a new one at Heian-kyo. But Oharano Jinja remained an ancestral shrine of the Fujiwara.
The Fujiwara clan was established when Emperor Tenji gave the name to Nakatomi no Kamatari who was instrumental in overthrowing the powerful Soga clan and establishing the Taika Reform in 646. The Nakatomi were an ancient and powerful clan in charge of kami ritual and purification ceremonies. It is thought hey were originally from the eastern province of Hitachi (present day Ibaragi) and their chief ancestral shrine was Kashima Jingu. The Nakatomi traced their ancestry to Amenokoyane no mikoto who performed norito (prayers) in front of the Heavenly Rock Cave in one of the central myths of Imperial Shinto mythology. This kami descended with the heavenly grandchild Ninigi and his ancestors were charged with protecting the divine mirror of Amaterasu, performing rituals, and reading norito for the divine protection of theYamato state. Along with the Mononobe they opposed the introduction of Buddhism to the country but were defeated by the Soga who, along with Prince Shotoku Taishi (573-621), established Buddhism as a national religion alongside worship of the kami. As the Soga wiped out the Mononobe, so the Nakatomi destroyed the Soga, leaving no rivals in their drive to power. One of Kamatari’s sons Fuhito established a new dynasty when he managed to have one of his daughters Miyako married to Emperor Mommu (r. 697-707) and their son Obito elevated to become Emperor Shomu (r. 724-49). This was the first time the child of a non-imperial line became emperor. It also established the Fujiwara as regents for underage emperors who continued to be the children of Fujiwara mothers, which lead to their having a lock on the office of Kampaku, chief advisor to the Emperor. In this way the Fujiwara became the clan supplying wives and mothers to the emperors and the real power behind the throne from about the 8th to the 11th centuries.

Festivals: Reisai (Oharano-sai), 8 April. The main festival of the shrine with a procession of the shrine’s mikoshi.

Mitakeri-sai, the second Sunday of September. A festival begun in the Edo period and featuring kami zumo.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Keta Taisha                                                                              UC
Keta Taisha
Keta Taisha
(photo courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: During the reign of Emperor Kogen (r. 214 b.c. to 158 b.c.) or Emperor Sujin (r. 97 b.c. to 70 b.c.) according to shrine tradition. The current honden is from 1787, the haiden is from 1654, and the sessha Wakamiya Jinja is from 1569.
Address: Jikemachi, Hakui-shi, Ishikawa 925-0003
Tel/Information: 0767-22-0602. Brief description in English is available. Open daily 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
How to get there: From Kanazawa Station, take the JR Nanao Line to Hakui Station, then the Hoku Tetsu bus to the Noto Ichinomiya bus stop (buses are infrequent). From there it’s 5 minutes on foot to the shrine.
Enshrined kami: Okuninushi no kami (Onamuchi no mikoto).
Prayers offered: To find love and marriage.
Best time to go: Mid to late April for cherry-blossom viewing.

Important physical features: Keta Taisha was historically the principal shrine, of Noto Province (part of present-day Ishikawa Prefecture). The location of the shrine in the city of Hakui on the Noto Peninsula—a peninsula that juts out into the Japan Sea from the middle of the main island of Honshu—is perhaps its most important physical feature. This is an isolated and mountainous region bounded on three sides by ocean. Hakui is located on the southwestern coast of the peninsula, which makes it somewhat more accessible than the north. A number of the buildings of Keta Taisha, including the honden (main shrine) built in 1787, two sessha (auxiliary shrines), Hakusan and Wakamiya built in 1787 and 1569 respectively, and the haiden (worship hall) built in 1654 and shrine gate built in 1584, are designated Important Cultural Properties. They are excellent examples of late-medieval to early-Edo architecture, in unpainted wood, with gabled roofs covered with cypress bark. The honden is in a style called ryonagare-zukuri, without chigi or katsuogi, and with the interior divided into outer, middle, and inner areas, typical of Buddhist-influenced architecture. The sessha to the left of the honden is called Wakamiya Jinja and is one of the oldest buildings in the prefecture, dating to 1569. It is only one bay square (about thirty-five square feet), with stairs and an entrance on the non-gabled side. A porch without a railing surrounds the haiden, which has an irimoya-zukuri roof. The unpainted and weathered wood blends well with the ancient forest and windblown beach nearby. The forested location behind the shrine consists of about eight acres of various broadleaf evergreens and rare plant species protected by law. As such, it is off-limits to visitors other than researchers with the proper permission. The okumiya of the shrine is located within this forest, but the main shrine is close to the Japan Sea coast, with a long stretch of sandy beach within walking distance.

Important spiritual features: Keta Taisha was important from ancient times and is listed as a high-ranking shrine in the Engi shiki (a.d. 927) along with a large number of shrines near the Japan Sea with the name Keta. The first literary mention comes in the Manyoshu of the mid-eighth century when an emissary of the court, Otomo no Yakamochi, wrote a poem to commemorate his visit in 748. The next related mention is in the Nihon sandai jitsuroku, which mentions Keta Wakamiya of Hida Province (in present-day Gifu Prefecture) for the year 873. It is believed to be related to Keta Taisha, and this seems to be the first mention in literature of the term wakamiya, usually meaning a place where an offspring of the main deity is enshrined. Keta Taisha enshrines Susano-o’s son Okuninushi no kami, who is said to have liberated this land. One legend speaks of an eight-tailed serpent that was living at the bottom of Ochi Lagoon and terrorizing the people, during the reign of the mythical Emperor Kogen, until it was slain by Okuninushi and an army of three hundred men. It seems to be a reflection of the legend of Susano-o slaying the serpent Yamata no orochi in Izumo, and the theory is that the Okuninuchi story reflects the actual conquering and settling of this area by clans from Izumo. A ritual called the Janome Shinji is conducted every year on 3 April, in which a target painted with a snake’s eye is stabbed with sword and lance and shot with arrows. Okuninushi is also considered a deity of good marriage, and Keta Taisha works hard to promote this image, selling ema (votive plaques) painted with hearts which are used to wish for a good match. Especially in recent years, the shrine has put a lot of energy into attracting young worshippers, including a specialized web site and the promotion of Kokoro Musubi Taisai or Heart-binding Festival (in mid-August) and a Haato no Hi (Heart Day”; “Haato,” the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “heart,” is also a play on the pronunciation in Japanese of the date “8/10”).
The shrine also hosts a heart-binding event called tsuitachi musubi on the first day of every month. A member of the imperial family supposedly prayed here once for a good match, which led to an engagement. Another ancient/modern story connects this shrine to the supernatural. It seems the city of Hakui, where the shrine is located, is a little UFO-crazy, and in the mid-1990s it became home to Cosmo Isle Hakui, a spaceship-shaped building for exhibitions of UFO and NASA paraphernalia (also housing a library). This relates to the shrine because the Shugakuin temple, a former jinguji of Keta Taisha, is said to own a twelve-hundred-year-old document that reports burning objects moving slowly across the sky.

Heart-binding festival of Keta Taisha
Advertisement for the Heart-binding Festival
(photo taken from the shrine's website) 
Description: Keta Taisha is properly approached from the sea where its ancient sando begins with a stone torii. After about a quarter mile, you enter the grounds of Keta Taisha by passing under a very large unpainted wooden torii in the ryobu style and then proceed along the tree-lined sando to the main gate. The shrine has recently become known for several special events involving large numbers of miko shrine maidens. Long ago, miko were required to be virgins and to be kept ritually pure, usually being selected for the job at a tender age. Originally miko were mediums for receiving oracles from the kami. These days, miko are the young ladies you see dressed in red-and-white flowing robes (red hakama pants over a white haori kimono jacket), cleaning the shrine grounds, taking part in ceremonies, performing sacred dance, selling amulets from the shrine office, and generally making themselves useful. At Keta Taisha, before the New Year, twenty or thirty miko gather at the shrine to “toss the omikuji” in a ceremony called Mikujiawase. Omikuji are fortunes written on paper, and the shrine makes about 200,000 pieces in anticipation of New Year’s visitors. However, there are only fifty different predictions, so the miko gather them together and toss them up in the air to be sure they are mixed well and in good random order.
Another ceremony is held on 31 December for girls selected from around the country to become “fortune girls” (yuki musume). These girls become miko for just a few days over the New Year’s holiday, when shrines need a lot of temporary help. To qualify, the girls first practice purification words (oharai kotoba) in front of the shrine. Then they all jog down to the beach in formation and line up in front of the ocean. They all remove their sandals, stand at the water’s edge, read the oharai kotoba and perform other ceremonies. Then they jog back to the shrine and don yellow haori jackets and receive purification from the priest at the worship hall in a sort of graduation ceremony. At zero degrees Celsius with bare feet in the ocean, it’s something of an endurance ceremony as well as being a brilliant public relations event. It accomplishes the dual task of attracting young female staff together with male suitors who line up to photograph them, thus helping fulfill the kami’s promise of a good love match.

Festivals: U Matsuri (Cormorant Festival), 16 December. This ceremony is held between midnight and 3 a.m. when a cormorant that was captured three days before is brought to the shrine. The cormorant is not fed during this period. It is displayed in a cage on its travel to the shrine and prayed too by passersby as a kami. It is taken inside the shrine building and purified, and the priest holds a sort of question-and-answer session with the hunters who captured it. All the lights except for one in the shrine are turned off and the released cormorant wanders toward the light source. Its movements are watched and a divination is then made for the following year based upon those movements. Afterward the bird is recaptured and rereleased at the shoreline. This festival is said to date from the beginning of the shrine and is designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

Heikoku Festival, 18–23 March. Also known as the Kunimuke Matsuri, a procession of the mikoshi through several towns, over five days and about seventy miles, reenacting the conquest of the land by Okuninushi and heralding the coming of spring.