Thursday, March 14, 2019

Reposed from Green Shinto

Enthronement seminars (ISSA)

Courtesy of John Dougill and Green Shinto.
Announcement by the International Shinto Studies Association…
In the course of the present calendar year of 2019 there will be several ceremonies relating to the enthronement of the new Emperor of Japan, Naruhito. Most important are the senso no gi (践祚の儀),the sokui no rei (即位の礼), and the daijōsai (大嘗祭). In view of the considerable significance of these events in Japan, the International Shinto Studies Association (ISSA) is arranging three reflective seminars on the subject which will be open to the public. The first of these (in Japanese) will be held in Tokyo on March 5th. Two further seminars in Tokyo and Kyoto will be held in English, as shown below. All will consist of brief lectures, responses, and discussion.
Tokyo, March 30th, 14.00 – 16.30.
Place: St. Andrew’s Cathedral Church, 3-6-18 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku.  (St. Andrew’s is just to the left of St. Alban’s Church, opposite Tokyo Tower.)
Prof. John Breen (International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken)):  “Modern rites of enthronement: Meiji, Taisho and Showa”
Prof. Michael Pye (Marburg University (em.) / Otani University): “Perceptions of the Japanese enthronement ceremonies”
Dr. William Gater (Rikkyo University, ret.): “Comparing Enthronement in Britain and Japan.”
Panelist and discussion coordinator: Prof. Iwasawa Tomoko (Reitaku University) 
Kyoto, April 6th, 13.30 – 15.30.
Place: Meeting Room of the Kyoto Diocese of the Anglican Church in Japan. Karasuma-dori Shimodachiuri-kado (just north of St. Agnes’ Cathedral Church).  (Entrance from the street is to the right of the Palace Side Hotel. The meeting room is on the ground floor.)
Prof. John Breen (International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken)): “Modern rites of enthronement: Meiji, Taisho and Showa”
Prof. Michael Pye (Marburg University (em) / Otani University): “Perceptions of the Japanese enthronement ceremonies”
Discussant: Kato Taishi 加藤大志 (Hattori Tenjingu 服部天神宮,Osaka).
The cooperation and hospitality of the authorities of the Anglican Church in Japan (Nippon Seiko Kai日本聖公会) in the interest of dialogical exchange is most gratefully acknowledged.
The speakers and topics at the Japanese ISSA seminar in Tokyo are as follows:
佐野真人 (皇學館大学助教)『大嘗祭における太上天皇の役割』
松本郁代 (横浜市立大学教授)『中世における即位儀礼と神仏』
岩沢知子(麗澤大学教授)Panel Coordinator
For further details of the seminar in Japanese (pre-registration) see>.
The formal name and address of the International Shinto Studies Association are as follows: 特定非営利活動法人 神道国際学会.〒158-0096 東京都世田谷区玉川台2-1-15ベスト用賀 2F.
President: Revd. Prof. Michael Pye.  Chairman of the Trustees: Revd. Miyake Yoshinobu 三宅善信.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Haruna Jinja

Haruna Jinja                                                                       UC

The sōryūmon of Haruna Jinja
Date founded: Founded in 586 according to shrine tradition.
Address: 849 Harunasan-machi, Takasaki-shi, Gunma Prefecture
Tel/Information: 027-374-9050.
How to get there: A number of trains stop at Takasaki Station. The Takasaki line runs from Ueno and other Tokyo Stations. Then board the Lake Harunako Bus from bus stop 2 at the West Exit of Takasaki Station. The bus takes 70 minutes and costs 1,100 yen one-way. The first torii is about 400 meters from the Haruna Jinja bus stop.
Enshrined kamiHomusubi no kami and Haniyama hime (Haniyasu no kami) and Toyokiirihiko in the kyohonenkan.
Prayers offered: Prayers for good rainfall and good harvests, fertility, success in business and marriage. 
Best time to go: The autumn color is beautiful. There is a fireworks festival on Haruna Lake on August 1st.

Haruna Jinja map courtesy of
Important physical features: Haruna Jinja is home to a number of Important Cultural Properties of Japan. The designation applies to the honsha, heiden, haiden combination reconstructed in 1806, a gakuden, two gaguraden, and and two gates – the soryumon and zuishinmon. The honsha and haiden are connected by the heiden in a form of Kasuga zukuri (actually more like gongen zukuri), painted in red with chidorihafu and karahafu roof details and extensive carving colored in white – reminiscent of Toshogu shrines.

Honsha of Haruna Jinja, all photos from here on courtesy of Japan Geographic
The honsha incorporates the Misugata Rock, which forms a cave and enshrines the goshintai of Haruna Jinja. To the left of the main shrine is the oldest of the buildings on the grounds, the kyohonenkan from about 1716. Before the forced separation of Buddhism and Shinto, this building housed a Buddha image. It is now said to be the home of the spirit of Toyokiirihiko, thought to be a son of Emperor Sujin (r.97-30B.C.). Also painted in red it is an irimoya-zukuri building with chidorihafu and karahafu.  Directly in front of and facing the honsha is the kaguraden of 1764, entirely painted in red.

Kaguraden of Haruna Jinja
These buildings sit on a sort of plateau approached by climbing two staircases and finally passing through the soryumon of 1855 and one final staircase. Perhaps more impressive than these interesting structures is the ancient landscape and the way in which the shrine has been incorporated into it. The shrine is virtually hidden within craggy rocks and tall cedars, giving it the feel of a secretive hideaway.  Haruna Jinja lies at the base of Mt. Haruna, one of the "Three Mountains of Jomo" which includes Mt. Akagi and Mt. Myogi. Jomo is the old name for Gunma, the prefecture in Eastern Japan where the shrine is located.

The area of the shrine is quite extensive with just the walk from the first torii to the main shrine being some 700 meters. Along the way are bronze sculptures of the "Seven Gods of Good-fortune" (shichifukujin), a pagoda (sanjunoto) and another building called the miyukiden.


A website I read claims the similarities between this pagoda and the famous one in Tokyo's Ueno zoo are "striking", this is a three-tired pagoda whereas Ueno's is five-levels. Like many religious sites in Japan, Haruna was a shinbutsu shugo site of combinatory practice until the Meiji period, and affiliated with Kaneji temple, which was located in Ueno, Tokyo, from the 14th to 19th century. The multi-level shrine grounds lies nestled in a cedar forest with streams and waterfalls. At about 860 meters above sea level, some of these falls freeze in winter. But perhaps most impressive are the fantastically-shaped rocks - including the Misugata-iwa - that form an impressive background to the shrine. Final mention goes to the towering cedars that dot the landscape. One of these is the Yatate Cedar – located near the hand-washing basin at the beginning of the final climb to the shrine – a Natural Monument of Japan.

Important spiritual features: A number of Haruna shrines are listed in the Engishiki of 927, a compilation of rights and prayers which lists 3032 shrines. The main kami worshiped here is Homusubi or Kagutsuchi the original kami of fire, whose birth caused the death of Izanami. This kami became the object of popular faith, conversely, as a tutelary for protection from fire. Recorded in Nihongi, Haniyasu no kami is a tutelary kami of earth that was produced by Izanagi and Izanami after they had completed giving birth to the "Great Eight-Island Country" (Ōyashimaguni-Japan). The name haniyasu is thought to mean "to knead earth so as to make it soft." Kojiki relates that the two kami Haniyasu hiko no kami and Haniyasu hime no kami were produced from Izanami's feces. It seems that after the medieval period, the shrines fortunes declined and was ultimately revived and strengthened by the Tendai monk Tenkai who was abbot of Kaneji Temple and a close advisor of Ieyasu Tokugawa. Tenkai was responsible for Ieyasu being enshrined as the kami Tosho Daigongen. Monks called betto ran the shrine from this time until the Meiji Period.

One of the many small falls in the vicinity of the shrine
Description: There is some conjecture that the shrine was founded in the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Yomei but the shrine website makes no mention of such an early date. Nevertheless Haruna Jinja is an excellent shrine in a beautiful natural setting. With craggy rocks, towering cedars, waterfalls, and mountain views, Haruna has much to recommend it. In addition to nature, a large number of man-made structures give the casual visitor or serious student much to explore. Beside the shrine grounds, nearby sites include Haruna Fuji and Haruna Lake, Mount Myogi and the very interesting Myogi Jinja. Mount Akagi and lake Ono complete the natural triumvirate. The entire area is thick with onsen hot springs. Although each season has much to recommend it, be aware that roads may be impassible in winter.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Police: 3 die after sword attack near famed shrine in Tokyo

December 8, 2017 at 17:30 JST
Though I am not in the habit of posting news stories on this blog, I felt I needed to be a bit more timely with this one. All though the facts are not all known, it is obviously a great tragedy. It has all the more meaning for me as I have featured this important shrine in my book and have spent many hours on the grounds and interviewed one of the negi for the book. I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and parishioners, and encourage any readers of this blog to visit this historic shrine and its magnificent festival. For details, please see Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion
Photo/IllutrationReporters gather near the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine early on Dec. 8 after a murder-suicide incident occurred there several hours earlier. (Takayuki Kakuno)
Shigenaga Tomioka, accused murderer, now deceased
    Nagako Tomioka, former guji, now deceased
    Tomioka Hachimangu, at bottom
A bitter sibling rivalry apparently escalated into rampage involving swords that left three people dead and one injured near a renowned shrine in Tokyo on the night of Dec. 7.
One of those killed was Nagako Tomioka, 58, chief priest at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Koto Ward.

She was stabbed in the back of her head as well as chest in an ambush perpetrated by her younger brother, Shigenaga, 56, and a woman, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Police later on Dec. 8 confirmed the woman was Shigenaga’s 49-year-old wife, Mariko.
After the attack on Nagako, Shigenaga fatally stabbed his wife in the chest and abdomen and then committed suicide by turning his sword on himself.

His body was found with wounds to the left chest and abdomen.
Police suspect Shigenaga remained bitter about being fired as chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu in 2001. His older sister later took over the post.

According to investigative sources, Shigenaga was arrested and indicted in January 2006 on charges of threatening his sister with postcards that said, “I will kill you,” among other things.
According to Tokyo police, Nagako was driven to her home within the shrine grounds after a meeting with local police officers.

Police said Shigenaga and his wife were hiding by a nearby building.
After the car parked and Nagako got out, Shigenaga attacked his sister with a sword with a blade about 80 centimeters long, according to security camera footage. The time of the attack was 8:25 p.m.
The 33-year-old chauffeur, who had also gotten out of the vehicle, fled the scene but was chased for about 100 meters by Mariko. She slashed his right arm with a sword with a blade about 45 cm long.
He was listed in serious condition, but his injuries were not life-threatening.

Shigenaga then stabbed his wife in front of Nagako’s home before killing himself, the video footage showed. A sword broken in half was found near Nagako’s body. A shorter sword and two knives were discovered near Shigenaga’s body.

According to people who knew the siblings, they were close as young children and often played together at the shrine, which hosts one of the three largest festivals in Tokyo.
Their father served as chief priest until Shigenaga took over.

However, he was suddenly fired in 2001, and several sources said his financial problems likely led in part to his dismissal. A classmate of Shigenaga recalled that he enjoyed a flashy lifestyle.
The father resumed as chief priest before eventually giving the post to Nagako.
After Shigenaga was fired, Nagako consulted with police the following year and said there were problems within the family about the chief priest position.

Police are now looking into the possibility that other recent problems may have triggered the attack.
A shrine member in his 50s recalled a phone call from Shigenaga in July. Over about 40 minutes, Shigenaga laid out his complaints about his sister and the shrine.
“He occasionally broke out crying or began shouting, and I felt that he was emotionally unstable,” the man said.

A woman in her 70s who is a member of the shrine and knew the siblings said the two had argued over money even before Shigenaga was dismissed as head priest.
From five to 10 years ago, shrine members received anonymous letters that criticized Nagako.
“I was always worried that something like this might occur someday, but it is still a huge shock,” the woman said.

Tomioka Hachimangu shrine was established in the early Edo Period (1603-1867) and grew in popularity under the sponsorship of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The shrine is closely linked with sumo, and several statues erected on the shrine grounds are related to the sport.

Sword-wielding ex-priest warned shrine about his ‘vengeful ghost’

December 10, 2017 at 17:55 JST

Photo/IllutrationBloodstains remain at the entrance of a building near Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Tokyo’s Koto Ward on Dec. 8. (Kazuyoshi Sako)

A brother who killed his sister with a sword had demanded that officials of a famed shrine in Tokyo dismiss her as chief priest or else he would “haunt” them as a “vengeful ghost.”

The warning came in a letter received by officials and representatives of shrine parishioners on Dec. 9, two days after the brother fatally stabbed his sister and wife before committing suicide at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Koto Ward.

The letter, written by Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, described the trouble he had had with his sister, Nagako, 58, over the years and other matters, according to people familiar with the letter.
The letter, written on eight A-4 size pages, bore a signature that is believed to be his, as well as a postmark showing that it had been dropped off in Tokyo’s Ueno district.

Police believe Shigenaga posted the letter before he went on the rampage on the night of Dec. 7.
In the letter, Shigenaga, who had been fired as chief priest of the Shinto shrine in 2001, argued that Nagako’s character was not worthy of the position. He demanded that she be expelled from the shrine and that his son be named chief priest.

“I am going to haunt you by becoming a vengeful ghost after my death if my demands are not met,” the brother warned in his letter.

Shigenaga and his wife, Mariko, 49, ambushed Nagako near her home on the shrine grounds with swords. Mariko also slashed Nagako’s driver, who suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries.
Shigenaga then fatally stabbed his wife and killed himself.

Police suspect the brother continued to harbor resentment over being fired as chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu, according to investigative sources.

The siblings’ father, Okinaga, was chief priest of the shrine. But Shigenaga began serving as acting chief priest in November 1994, after his father became ill and was admitted to a hospital the previous month, Toshiji Sato, a lawyer representing the shrine, told a news conference on Dec. 9.
Shigenaga was promoted to chief priest in March 1995.

However, Okinaga resumed the role and fired his son as chief priest in May 2001, after his problems with women and money became a big issue within the family since 1999, according to Sato.
When Shigenaga stepped down, he apologized to family members, shrine officials and representatives of shrine parishioners for causing problems. He also promised “not to cause any trouble afterward.”
The family paid him a retirement fee for stepping down and offered financial support.
Both sides agreed that the monetary support would be terminated if he breached his promise not to cause problems.

But Shigenaga was arrested and fined for sending a menacing letter to his father and shrine officials in 2006. Nagako had reported the letter to police, and he started condemning his sister around this time, according to Sato.

Nagako was named chief priest when her father stepped down in October 2010. Okinaga died in July 2012.

With unanimous backing from shrine officials and parishioner representatives, the shrine proposed Nagako’s appointment to the Association of Shinto Shrines, an influential organization of which Tomioka Hachimangu was a member. The association rejected the proposal.

The shrine sought the association’s approval in June 2013, but again the request was not granted.
When Tomioka Hachimangu made its fourth request for approval of Nagako as chief priest in March this year, it came to light that a letter denigrating Nagako had been delivered to the association.
The letter was sent under the name of Shigenaga’s wife.

Sato believed that Shigenaga played a role in the letter. He said he sent a letter dated April 25 to the brother, warning him against such behavior. On May 29, a board of senior officials at Tomioka Hachimangu adopted a resolution to leave the association. Sato said he was entrusted to take care of procedures following Nagako’s decision to withdraw the shrine’s membership.

The lawyer said he also interviewed Nagako about details of how and why she took the post.
In late June, Shigenaga started denouncing senior shrine officials and some representatives of parishioners over the resolution. It was also learned that he made phone calls that slandered his sister.
Sato said he sent another letter to Shigenaga, dated July 10, warning him to end his series of harassment. The brother was living in Fukuoka Prefecture at the time.

The harassment ended, procedures to leave the association were completed, and Nagako and people involved in shrine affairs had developed a sense of relief.

Shigenaga killed his sister on Dec. 7. “We could have taken measures to respond if new harassment had taken place,” Sato said. “I am sorry about the attack.”

Shigenaga also apparently created problems for others after he moved to Fukuoka Prefecture from Tokyo several years ago. Neighbors in the prefecture in Kyushu said disputes erupted between Shigenaga and local residents over his car’s parking space and other issues. “I had not seen his car for several months, so I assumed that he had gone somewhere else,” a woman in the neighborhood said.

Slaying of priest, murder-suicide planned well in advance: police

December 12, 2017 at 15:05 JST

The wife of a murderous former chief priest made arrangements for her death before they carried out a carefully planned sword attack against his sister at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine in Tokyo, police said Dec. 12.
The Dec. 7 attack and murder-suicide at the shrine in Koto Ward left all three dead.
Officers with the Metropolitan Police Department said Shigenaga and Mariko Tomioka used an apartment about 30 meters from the shrine as a base for their plot to murder Nagako Tomioka, 58, the chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu and older sister of Shigenaga, 56.
A sword with a 66-centimeter-long blade was found in the apartment along with a knife with an 80-cm blade normally used to cut up tuna and binoculars.
Police also found a letter written under Mariko’s name taped to a door frame.
“I, Mariko Tomioka, have decided to murder Nagako Tomioka because of long-standing animosity,” the letter said. “After I kill her, I plan to take responsibility by committing suicide, but if I am unable to do so due to fear, I have asked my husband, Shigenaga, to assist me in that task.”
The letter was dated Dec. 1 and was addressed to the police and media representatives.
Security cameras in the vicinity captured footage of Shigenaga and Mariko leaving the apartment building about an hour before the attack.
After Nagako got out of a vehicle near her home on the shrine grounds, Shigenaga fatally stabbed her with a sword, while Mariko chased and slashed the 33-year-old driver.
Two swords were used in the attack, and shorter knives were also found at the crime scene.
Shigenaga then killed his 49-year-old wife with a sword and committed suicide.
Police said the apartment was on the fifth floor and was rented out on June 30. Roads in the vicinity of the crime scene are clearly visible from the apartment.
Police believe the attack stemmed in part from Shigenaga’s continued bitterness about being fired as chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu in 2001. His older sister eventually took over the post, and Shigenaga had expressed clear resentment over her promotion.

Shrine ‘cleanses’ murder sites, but worshippers may not return

December 15, 2017 at 18:05 JST

A popular Shinto shrine in Tokyo performed purification rituals at the sites of a double-murder suicide, but parishioners there remain shaken by gruesome assault that involved samurai swords.
At 4 p.m. on Dec. 14, 10 priests gathered in front of the home of Nagako Tomioka, 58, the chief priest of Tomioka Hachimangu shrine who was killed by her sword-wielding brother on Dec. 7.
The priests performed a special “oharae” purification ritual at the front entrance of the house as well as the area where the brother, Shigenaga Tomioka, 56, killed his wife, Mariko, 49, and then committed suicide.
The oharae ritual is usually conducted twice a year--the last day in June and New Year’s Eve.
Police suspect that Shigenaga, who was fired as chief priest of the shrine in Koto Ward 16 years ago, held a grudge against his sister, who had taken over the post. He and Mariko apparently planned the attack against Nagako well in advance.
“They did not hate each other in the past, but the situation somehow ended up with the worst possible ending,” a former employee of the shrine said about the siblings. “I feel terrible for the people who are connected to the shrine and who have worshiped at the shrine for many years.”
The shrine, founded in 1627, is famed for the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri festival, one of the three major festivals held in the capital. The imperial couple attended the event in 2012.
Over the New Year’s holidays, Japanese customarily visit Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples for the first prayer of the year. Tomioka Hachimangu boasted about 300,000 New Year’s visitors every year.
Officials of the shrine held an emergency meeting on Dec. 9 to decide on an acting chief priest. Some parishioners said their faith in the shrine is unchanged, but others had different feelings.
“Although a shrine is a place where we receive the purification ritual, this horrendous case has rendered the shrine itself in need of the ritual,” said a woman in her 50s, who has made New Year’s prayers at the shrine for more than 30 years.
A 77-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood said the shrine has usually been swarmed with worshipers on the first three days of the new year.
“But I bet the number will greatly drop (in 2018),” he said.
“A letter written by the suspect was found that said he will curse the place,” the man continued. “I will never visit the shrine again. I feel sad because it was the pride of our town, and the liveliness will be gone.”
Shigenaga’s letter, written before he and his wife ambushed Nagako, demanded that his sister be dismissed as chief priest of the shrine and replaced by Shigenaga’s son.
“I am going to haunt you by becoming a vengeful ghost after my death if my demands are not met,” the letter said, according to police.
Tokyo police recently revealed that Shigenaga had, in fact, made 2,800 copies of the letter for delivery to shrines around Japan and parishioners. Each letter was signed and stamped with Shigenaga’s thumbprint.
Shigenaga left the stack of letters with a commercial handyman and gave instructions on Dec. 7, the day of attack, to “post them on the morning of Dec. 8 from anywhere other than in Koto Ward.”
Police confirmed that 1,000 of the letters were received by shrines around Japan. The other 1,800 were delivered to schools attended by children of Tomioka Hachimangu’s parishioners and eating establishments frequented by the parishioners.
(This article was compiled from reports by Yosuke Takashima and Mika Kuniyoshi.)

    Saturday, April 22, 2017

    The Modern History (Controversy) of the Emperor's Succession
    and the Japanese Method of Counting Years (Nengo) (part 2)
    The Emperor of Japan, Akihito, r. 1989– (photo Reuters)
    The answer to the question, "What year is it?" may seem obvious to Americans, most Europeans, and a vast number of people around the world: the answer is 2017. But though we may take for granted that time is the same all over the world, the counting of time is far from consistent. The point I am getting to is that, while in Japan we are fully aware of this Gregorian dating and use it daily, we also have another system which is just as widely employed if not well known outside the country: the nengo or gengo (both pronunciations are used). In terms of the nengo, the current year is Heisei 29. The name Heisei is the Era name and is based two kanji: one in a line from the Chinese shokyo (Classic of History) referring to the wise Emperor Shun, and one from the shiki (Records of the Grand Historian). The combination of the two kanji is intended to mean "peace everywhere". The name was arbitrarily decided, and the era begun, in 1989 when Emperor Akihito ascended the throne. But the true significance of the nengo system is that it preserves the myth that Japan is a sacred land and her ruler is descended from Amaterasu omikami, and that Japan is unique and superior to any other nation because the Imperial line has continued from the beginning of time. This religious-mythological doctrine became a political and militaristic justification for war in the not-too-distant past. More importantly the myth is fundamentally alive and functioning behind many of Japan's doctrines in the present day. (More on this in a later post.)

    Taking a step back, calendar systems basically come down to three types: those based on the earth's revolution around the sun (solar); those based on the phases of the moon (lunar); and those which are based on historical events related to a particular country. In fact, the first two also rely on the third type. The nengo can be considered of the third type. Since the Meiji Era (beginning in 1868) it has been based on the years of reign of the emperor. The current emperor, Akihito, acceded to the throne on 7 January 1989. That year became Heisei 1 or Heisei gannen meaning the first year of Heisei. Then we count from there to get the present year. The previous year (plus seven days) was the last year of his father's reign, Showa 64 (in other words, we went from year 64 [1988] to year 1 [1989] when the previous emperor passed away). In fact, the counting of time based on the reign of a sovereign was typical in many parts of the world in antiquity. In Japan before Meiji, just to complicate things however, a new era could be declared at any time and the numbering would begin again each time. So, for example, during the reign of Emperor Komei, the last emperor before Meiji, there were no less than seven era names within the twenty-four year span of his reign. This, and any number of other traditions, was legislated away by the new government with the stroke of a pen.
    Emperor Showa (Hirohito), r. 1926–1989 (photo Japan Times)
    As I stated above, the vast majority of the world is at least aware of the Gregorian numbering and this is the system most used in international dating and transactions. It is based on a solar calendar with its own system of adjustment to keep the calendar from drifting (the drift occurs because splitting the year into 24 hour units leaves a negative remainder). The primary mechanism of adjustment is to add a day to the year once in every four years (leap year) and change the number of days in February, which was deemed to be the simplest method. But besides the counting of time itself is the all-important question of starting points. The historical founding of a country in the modern age is generally based on some verifiable date. However, in a world that began who-knows-when, an arbitrary starting point must necessarily be decided if you intend to have a consecutive numbering system of years since the "beginning" such as the one that has brought us to the year 2017. To put it another way, no matter the solar or lunar system of measurement, the actual dating always involves some historical, and therefore local and arbitrary, conventions.

    In the case of 2017 that choice was the supposed birthday of Jesus Christ. This starting point for the numbering of years was gradually adopted over a long period of time, beginning with its proposal by Dionysis Exiguus in 525, becoming widespread initially among Roman Catholic countries. He also proposed the term Anno Domini (the year of our Lord). He calculated the year of the birth of Jesus Christ, based on the Gospel of Luke, which states that Jesus was "about thirty years old" shortly after "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (Wikipedia), calling this year AD 1. Of course, he recognized that actual time did not begin at that point. Without going into details, he was simply replacing an old convention with a new one that he felt was more pleasing to the increasing number of Catholics. A fairly arbitrary, fairly local concept based on sketchy history. But if you are going to count, no matter what system you use, you have to start somewhere. Of course, there are a number of sources that corroborate the dates of Tiberius life and reign and that he existed is not in doubt. A number of historical sources exist as well that corroborate the existence of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. Relating the two gives some basis for dating the later though, in fact, the exact year of the birth of Jesus is unknown.

    While I find the topic of calendars and dating quite interesting, I will return to my original topic of the Japanese counting of time (hopefully before exhausting my readers' attention). As I mentioned above the traditional system in Japan involves dating according to the reign of Emperors. Underlying this is the same system of lunar measurement that was used in China and much of the world prior to the adoption of a solar-based system. Therefore Japanese New Year essentially coincided with Chinese New Year, which is reckoned as the beginning of spring. Since the lunar and solar calendars do not coincide, by the solar calendar New Year falls on a different day each year ¬– between 21 January and 20 February – when the new moon occurs. By the way, Shinto festivals, which by in large are still calculated by the lunar calendar, fall on different dates each year. Again, this is just the system of measurement and has nothing to do with the starting point, which is a historical-cultural choice.
    Japanese Crown Prince, Naruhito (photo by Zimbio from
    In the case of Japan, there has generally been no great interest in the sequential dating of years as in the Gregorian style – except during the war years when the Koki system was also employed. (Accordingly, for example, 1940 was deemed to be the year 2600.) But there has been a burning interest in the starting point, which relates to the beginning of the reigns of emperors. By this calculation, the first emperor of Japan is deemed to have been Jimmu (or Jinmu) and his reign is considered to have been from 660BC to 585BC; a total of 75 years (2600 was calculated form the first year of his supposed reign). This is according to the Kojiki, Japan's oldest existing record of legend, myth, and history, which was finished around AD712. It also relates that Jimmu was the great-grandson of Ninigi-no-mikoto, who was himself the grandson of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and descended to earth to rule by her command. Why he ultimately did not rule, and why it took two more generations and several hundred years (yeah, those guys were as old as Moses) for the first Emperor to emerge, is not clear. Apparently the world was left in such disorder by the descendants of Amaterasu's brother, Susano-o, that it took several generations to straighten it out – though almost nothing is recorded of how this was accomplished. At the end of this time Jinmu and his brother(s) began a march from their native Kyushu, conquering and deposing – with divine assistance – along the way, until he arrived at the land of Yamato and established the "country". According to the Kojiki, Jimmu was 126 years old when he died and Japan reckons that the current emperor is the 125th in a direct line of decent from Jimmu. Japan still celebrates National Foundation Day (kenkoku or previously kigensetsu) on February 11, based on the nationalistic fantasies of the Meiji leaders and the foundation myth of Jimmu.

    Of course, myth is central to the foundation of any country or people whether or not their origins predate written history, as Japan's certainly do. Stories or myths were all that existed before the practice of writing, archeology, paleontology, et al., began to present physical evidence of the lives of men of the past. But in regard to evidence, Japanese myths face some formidable problems. For all intents and purposes Japan had no writing system until it began to adopt the Chinese system in the 6th century. The earliest written reports about the country actually come from Chinese envoys who visited the country in the 3rd century (and apparently got a number of their facts wrong, adding to the confusion). Archeological evidence points to the existence of a group of city states from about the third century but nothing that could be called a unified country under a single monarch or group of monarchs until the fifth century if then. In other words, the supposed origin of the myth antedates the recording of it by some 1,300 years.

    So, the mythology dictates that Jimmu was the first emperor in 660BC, and that by the fifth century, Japan already had its seventeenth Emperor, Richu. Of course, mythology is not to be taken on face value and certainly must be distinguished from history. And there's the rub: since the Meiji period, the Japanese have essentially – in many respects – refused to distinguish reality from myth. All the more so since the end of WWII when a new round of denial of history began which continues until today. This is because – to those most insecure about their own self-worth – to do so has the potential to diminish the position of the Emperor, and thereby the prestige and pride that has been invested in the myth of the country's history as a whole. The definition of diminish, in this case, simply means modifying the insistence on the "longest continuous line of emperors of any country in the world."

    It is obvious to historians and archeologists alike that there is no way that Japanese history as a country begins anywhere remotely near 660BC. Yet at the dawn of the Meiji period, the leaders who had deposed the last Tokugawa Shogun and were desperately trying to build a modern nation-state on the Western model, used the myth of a country older than any other as their unifying theme. Since then, in some quarters, the Japanese self image has had too much invested in these Imperial/national myths to let them go. To my knowledge the question, "should Japan change the unfounded dating of its National Foundation Day and the wholly manufactured myth of 125 consecutive Emperors," has never come up, or has been shouted down so vehemently that no amount of evidence can give any alternative any traction. Yet, the very fact that the foundation day of the country is based on pure fiction makes for more, not less, insecurity vis a vis other countries.

    As one who has lived in Japan for a very long time, I would describe the character of the people as generally lacking in introspection. To put it in a more positive light people do not like to dwell on the past. They also do not like to point the finger of blame at anyone – both admirable traits to be sure. However the other side of the coin is that placing real responsibility and correcting errors such that they never happen again, becomes virtually impossible. This for the simple reason that the "feelings" of others must be considered as paramount (not truth; not right or wrong). Of course, the feelings, in this case, are those of other Japanese and especially those intent on maintaining the myths that were created in the Meiji Era. Especially, when it comes to correcting history relating to the Emperor and the country, it is the nationalist elements whose feelings might be hurt, potentially making them angry – often violently so. In the past, these “feelings” could result in political assassinations by militaristic, nationalist elements. But such so-called feelings today are only a cover for the less violent but equally vehement powers that be, who are the ones currently employing these myths when it suits their purpose. This includes the Liberal Democratic Party and the still existent aristocracy that runs the country. In other words, one thing that is always behind Japanese inaction or seeming ambiguity on any thorny historical issue is the fear of disunity and violence from within.

    The aversion to "rocking the boat" taints the Japanese experience of history. It impacts especially on relations with China and Korea, which have never been truly healed as a result. Even the bombing of Pearl Harbor has never truly been atoned in the national conscious, unlike the yearly remembrance of the bombing of Hiroshima (a contradiction that, as an American, I feel acutely). It also results in the government editing history books to be sure that they maintain the 'correct view' of history, the one which takes great pains not to offend the national(istic) myths. The audacity to state in public, for example, that Emperor Showa shared responsibility for the war (which he obviously did) earned the Mayor of Nagasaki a bullet in the chest in 1990. The statement that got him shot was this, "Forty-three years have passed since the end of the war, and I think we have had enough chance to reflect on the nature of the war. From reading various accounts from abroad and having been a soldier myself, involved in military education, I do believe that the emperor bore responsibility for the war..." Few dare to make such a statement even today. So long as the legitimization of Japan as a country is linked to the myth of an unfaltering and infallible line of emperors, the country can never come face to face with its true history. Though it might not be apparent at first glance, this is the crux of the issue surrounding the controversy of the current emperor's resignation as well.

    I would like to end this brief discussion by quoting extensively from Klaus Antoni, professor of Japanology at the University of Tuebingen, who has researched and written extensively on Japanese religion and society. The entire text can be downloaded free from as well as other places on the net.

    "Unlike the situation in post-war Germany, in Japan the year 1945 has never been seen to the same degree as a historic turning point in the sense of a new beginning unencumbered by history. The break provided by the Japanese defeat in the war indeed had lasting effects on Japanese society, for example, in the form of a modern(ized) Constitution and a political turn toward the United States, and yet continuities remain in Japan that can only be understood historically.

    This is especially clear in the fact that Japan still uses its own calendar system [to count] years. The official Japanese calendar is not the Gregorian, or Western calendar, but the traditional Japanese system based on the periods of rule of the Japanese emperors (gengô, traditionally nengô). The psychological importance of this calendar in Japan can be seen, for example, in the fact that after 1945, the year of Japan’s defeat, the emperor not only retained his position, but also the era name – and thus the cycle of year numbers – remained unchanged. Only after the death of Emperor Hirohito (Shôwa-tennô) on January 7, 1989, was a new era name (Heisei) declared, marking the beginning of a new calendar cycle.

    This calendar system has the effect that in Japan history is not viewed as a linear progression, but rather in an insular manner.  One cannot tell how far back in history an event lies simply from the calendar date on which it took place – for example, in the year Taihô 1. Only after placing it in a linear chronology is its true historical distance revealed, as in the case of Taihô 1, which corresponds to the year 701 A.D.

    Obviously, this concept of time results in a different view of history, in which history becomes a kind of ocean with individual events scattered across it like islands. In extreme cases, an event’s historical distance from the present is of only secondary importance. In the context of religions, this fact results in a general indifference toward an objective historical chronology. Taken to the extreme, this can allow the age of myths to be directly linked to the present.

    A further characteristic of Japanese culture that continues to be influential to this day is the fact that the country’s history has always been shaped and edited by large families, dynasties or clans – and a government which continues the practice until today. Whether for the imperial household, which proudly claims to have reigned without a change of blood lineage since the beginning of time (although this is viewed much more critically by any historian worthy of the title), the important families of the court nobility (and above all, the Fujiwara clan), the military nobility (especially the Minamoto and Tokugawa houses) or merchants and farmers, the crucial factor determining one’s position and reputation has always been one’s genealogical family membership – that is, one’s bloodline (though, in another twist which I won't get into, this also includes outsiders brought into the family when there are no blood descendants). Stated in the extreme, the power of genealogy can be seen as the driving force in Japanese cultural history and is especially important in the religious legitimization of ruling power."

    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    The Modern History (Controversy) of the Emperor's Succession
    and the Japanese Method of Counting Years (Nengo) (part 1)

    Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Emperor Jimmu
    The legendary first Emperor Jimmu,
    supposed reign 660-585 BC
    On December 1 2001 a daughter was born to the Crown Prince of Japan, thereby stirring an old controversy on the right of succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Princess Toshi, whose given name is Aiko, is the only child of the eldest son of the current monarch, Emperor Akihito. The Emperor's eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will succeed his father to the throne: no problem there. If Prince Naruhito had a son, his son would be next in line to succeed. However, women are barred from succession and this is where the old controversy has been revived. Until September of 2006, the controversy was more acute. That is because the Crown Prince's younger brother, Fumihito, also had two daughters who were barred from succession. In other words: only female heirs. But in that year, some sixteen years after his marriage to Princess Akishino, a son was born to Fumihito. The new nephew, Prince Hisahito is now next in line to the throne after his uncle. Why the controversy: simply because, like so many aspects of traditional, Japanese culture, the succession law is a modern invention disguised in traditional clothes.

    Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Empress Jingu
    Legendary Empress Jingu (r. 201-269) Mother of Emperor Ojin
    and worshiped together as the kami Hachiman
    Historically, the Emperor's succession has been male dominated, but not exclusively so and not legislated as such.  Some male and female Emperors even ascended the throne more than once. The Emperor also, traditionally, never stepped outside the palace grounds and most people had no idea who the Emperor was at any given time. This changed, as so many of Japan's "immutable traditions" did, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. As most readers probably know, this is the beginning of the modern period when the Shogun was deposed and the Emperor "restored" to primacy as head of state – a position he had neither officially or unofficially occupied since the Kamakura Period beginning about 1185. Of course, after being restored, he was still, and is today, only a figurehead. Rather, the "restoration" ushered in a semi-democratic form of government. And that government not only legislated for the people, it legislated for the Emperor too. The Imperial House Code, established in 1889, and heavily influenced by Meiji leader's newfound love affair with Prussia, instituted a number of the changes that have continually returned to haunt the country.
    Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Empress Genmei
    Artist's impression of Empress Genmei (r.707-715)
    Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Empress Gensho
    Empress Gensho (r.715-724) the only Empress in
    history to have succeeded her mother who was also an Empress (Genmei)

    The first change I have already mentioned (no female succession). The second change was to forbid agnatic succession whereby another relative – usually a brother – could succeed. The third change was that an adopted child could not succeed. The last adopted child to become Emperor was Emperor Kokaku (r.1780–1817) who stepped in because the previous Emperor, Go-Momozono, died childless. He was also the last Emperor to abdicate, which he did in favor of his son Emperor Ninko. Which brings us to the fourth change: abdication is also forbidden by the same law of 1889. Herein lies another controversy: the current Emperor Akihito, age 83, has decided to abdicate by 2017 (now postponed to 2019) due to health issues. This has sent the government scrambling to change the law and opponents scrambling for ways to convince the Emperor to die in office.

    Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Emperor Komei
    Emperor Komei (r. 1846-67) the last feudal
    Emperor and last to reside in Kyoto
    Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Emperor Meiji
    Emperor Meiji (r.1867-1912) First Emperor
    to preside over a parliament in Tokyo.
    The law was rewritten again in 1947, mostly because Japan adopted a new American influenced constitution. However changes were minor and it was pretty much kept the same, except to further add the restriction that illegitimate children also could not succeed. Which might have been a moot point since another change from the 1889 law forbade Emperors to have concubines. It also abolished collateral houses which could have otherwise contributed princes in a pinch.

    But like most thorny problems in the land of the rising sun, the problem of the Emperor's abdication is already being solved. This is simply because the Emperor insists he will abdicate – and who is going to stop him? Which demonstrates very clearly that tradition, religion, law, hell and damnation aside – where there's a will there's a way. So why all the fuss about succession? Simply change the law to allow daughters to succeed as well. This law is not based on Japanese tradition other than the tradition, among a not-so-small segment of the public, that men are superior to women. Of course, this is fr from an unusual belief, not only in Japan but also in America – as was clear in the recent presidential election. In fact, the majority of the population is in favor of the change, as a number of polls have shown, but among the Japanese ruling class – I mean the permanent ruling class – "not over my dead body."

    Monday, September 12, 2016


    As readers of this blog know I released "Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion", coauthored with John Dougill and published by the University of Hawaii Press, in December of 2012. The desire to continue my research into shrines led me to launch this blog in August of the same year. In addition to ongoing research, the blog contains excerpts from the book and a number of entries that didn't make it through the final edit. I believe the combination of book and blog presents a comprehensive overview of Japanese shrines in English, unlike that found anywhere else. Whereas much of the blog contents have not been verified with individual shrines—as the contents of the book have—I am rather conservative about including information from unreliable sources. One finds that misinformation is picked up and repeated to such a degree that it becomes perceived as fact. This is especially true in Japanese history/myth and equally true of Internet content. I make every effort not to add to the noise. I have also tried to make available on the blog some of the sources I have consulted in writing the book—particularly where they are readily available on the net—with a summary of each. Please let me know if there is some information related to shrines which you would like to see posted.

    Here is a recent review from the website Patheos at

    From the "About" section of the website comes this: Founded in 2008, is the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality and to explore and experience the world's beliefs. Patheos is the website of choice for the millions of people looking for credible and balanced information about religion. Patheos brings together faith communities, academics, and the broader public into a single environment, and is the place where many people turn on a regular basis for insight, inspiration, and stimulating discussion. Patheos is unlike any other religious and spiritual site on the Web today.
    The review is reprinted here by permission of the author, Megan Manson — with my thanks! You can read a short interview with Megan here:

    Pagan, Shinto & Spiritual Book Reviews

    Joseph Cali & John Dougill, Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion
    (University of Hawai’i Press, 2012)
    This book is by two of the most generous and enthusiastic non-Japanese specialists on Shinto. Joseph Cali is the creator of Shinto Shrines of Japan Blog Guide, a very useful website for those looking for information about specific jinja (Shinto shrines). John Dougill is the author of Green Shinto, which I consider an essential resource for international followers of Shinto and especially those approaching Shinto from a Neopagan perspective. I’ve therefore had Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion on my wishlist for some time, and I’m really glad I’ve finally got to read it. I was not disappointed.
    Booksellers would not be wrong for putting Shinto Shrines in their “Travel” section. It looks and feels very much like a Lonely Planet-style guidebook – one that covers, in considerable detail, 57 prominent jinja (shrines) located all over Japan. Like a Lonely Planet book, Shinto Shrines is packed with full-colour photographs and the entries for each shrine all feature a table of useful information.
    What makes Shinto Shrines stand out from Lonely Planet, and in fact many other books on Shinto, is the attention given to details about the shrines – there’s information here that you just won’t find elsewhere, at least in English. The key information about each shrine not only includes its contact details, but also information on which kami are enshrined there, what kind of prayers are usually offered, and key dates in the shrine’s calendar. Perhaps the most attention is given to the shrine’s architectural features, so if that interests you in particular you’ll be in heaven (and if you don’t, you can just skim-read these parts). This, coupled with the excellent introduction to Shinto (with some really helpful illustrations) at the beginning, means that Shinto Shrines transcends being a mere travel guide and is in fact a solid resource for more serious students of the Shinto religion and its shrines.
    Friendly, detailed and clearly written with a lot of love, Shinto Shrines is a reference book for a new generation of Japanologists and other enthusiasts of Japan and Shinto – those who are not content with simple armchair research, and want to go out there and experience Shinto for themselves.

    Tuesday, August 9, 2016

    Photo Tour of Usa Jingu
    In Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, my focus was on delivering as much information as possible about as many shrines as possible. The original goal was 100 shrines but this would have necessitated a massive book at a massive price (as well as an irate publisher). Since I was unwilling to compromise the information for each shrine, I compromised on the number of photos. In this blog too, I have followed the style of the book and therefore images are again minimal. But in the assumption that readers of the book and of this blog might also be interested in seeing more of the places being written about, I am presenting a series of Photo Tours.  Here then is the principle shrine of the kami often referred to as the "God of War":Hachiman.
    Usa Jingu
           Hachiman shrines are one of the most numerous types, having 30,000 individual shrines by some reckonings. This is likely an inflated figure given that the total number of shrines in the country is said to number about 80,000. However there is little doubt that Hachiman is one of the most common shrines, and Usa in Oita province, Kyushu, is probably where the cult began. Hachiman is an extremely interesting and thoroughly combinatory kami containing distinct Buddhist elements and origins.

    Top photo shows the left ichi no goten, bottom the san no goten. Both pictures also show the nii no goten in the center back and the moshiden in front of it.
           Hachiman is itself a combination of Emperor Ojin, Himegami (a consort kami which varies according to the shrine but is here considered to be the three female Munakata deities), and Jingu Kogo. This is why there are three individual buildings. These are enclosed within a kairo covered walkway with a two-tiered roumon entrance. It is the roumon and kairo painted in cinnabar that represent the Hachiman style to most visitors. The same style can be seen at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura and others. What is not so apparent is the double gable roof which is even more indicative of the style though, in fact, the double gable is now to be seen in only four Hachiman shrines that I know of. Not all Hachiman shrines have three deities or three buildings either. Some enshrine Ojin alone and some Ojin and Jingu who are child and mother. Some include Ojin's sons.

    Gegu of Usa Hachiman, front and right side
            While the grounds of the shrine are extensive and the structures number more than 20, the two principle groupings are the jogu (at the top of the page) and the gegu. Although the terminology is slightly different, as with Ise Jingu, the kami of the gegu are said to provide food to the kami of the jogu. Interestingly, I have been told that the gegu (or in the case of Ise, the geku) was likely built before the jogu (or in the case of Ise again, the naiku) since a place to prepare food offerings would be needed before the principle kami could be enshrined. The structure is similar to that of the main shrine except that the kairo does not surround the entire compound, there is no roumon, and the three individual shrines within do not sport a double gable as can be seen clearly from the right side photo. 

    Covered bridge of Usa Jingu
            Another distinctive structure at Usa is this covered bridge called the kurehashi which is thought to exist since the thirteenth century. It is one of several bridges that cross the Yorimo River bordering the shrine grounds. The ceremonial bridge is used only once every ten years when an imperial messenger, bearing offerings from the Emperor, crosses it. Modifications have been made over the years, such as the closed gate and the concrete pilings. Such a long covered bridge is quite rare in Japan and I would love to hear from readers if anyone is aware of any others.

    Map of he grounds of Usa Hachiman

    Wednesday, December 30, 2015

    Photo Tour of Popular Shrines and Temples at New Year      C
    In Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, my focus was on delivering as much information as possible about as many shrines as possible. The original goal was 100 shrines but this would have necessitated a massive book at a massive price (as well as an irate publisher). Since I was unwilling to compromise the information for each shrine, I compromised on the number of photos. In this blog too, I have followed the style of the book and therefore images are again minimal. But on the assumption that readers of the book and of this blog might also be interested in seeing more of the places being written about, I am presenting a series of Photo Tours.
              The tour this time is a little different in that it contains a number of the most popular shrines and temples frequented by the Japanese people—and quite a large number of foreigners—on or about the first day of the year. First up is, of course, Tokyo's Meiji Jingu.
    A taste of the crowds, looking from the inside of the Roumon on New Years Day (all photos copyright Joseph Cali)
                Meiji Jingu is constantly the most visited jinja at Oshogatsu (Japanese new Year), with police estimates usually running around three million people over a three day period. Of course, the shrine's location in central Tokyo certainly contributes to the numbers. Please check my book for details.
    During a quieter time, the first torii, one of the largest wooden torii in Japan.

         Even during a quiet time, it takes about fifteen minutes to walk from this torii of the large grounds to the shrine proper. But if you line-up and wait for the drums to signal midnight—as many people do—it can easily take between one and two hours not including the waiting time.
    A view of the forest surrounding the shrine in the autumn.

    The Meiji period began in 1868 after the shogun 'returned' power to the Emperor, who was a mere boy of fourteen. In 1873 the lunar calendar was abandoned in favor of the Gregorian and New Year began on January 1. Prior to this time the current holiday of Setsubun, celebrated on February 3, was essentially the New Year, and celebrated by throwing beans (mamemaki) to cleanse the evil accumulated in the previous year and make a fresh start.
    Photographing the members after the wedding ceremony

    Many New Years customs are associated with temples (ringing of the bell 108 times to rid the soul of the 108 worldly desires), and shrines (buying demon-breaking arrows), and customs such as eating toshikoshi soba, kagami mochi, and ozoni and giving children otoshidama. Of course, Meiji Jingu is not just about New Years. On any weekend of the year you can witness a constant procession of Shinto wedding ceremonies, known as shinzen kekkon. The style began in the Meiji period but became popularized after the wedding of the Taisho Emperor's (Emperor Meiji's son) wedding. The bride in this photo wears a wataboshi, one of two common headdress.
    Geihaiden outer worship hall of Meiji Jingu
     Meiji Jingu is also noteworthy for its dedication to Japanese martial arts known collectively as budo. The Shiseikan, located at the rear of the grounds, conducts training sessions in judo, kyudo, aikido and kendo, for both Japanese and foreigners (by invitation only). The shrine is also noted for its garden, called Yoyogi Gyoen, open to the public for a five hundred yen fee. The shrine itself was built in 1920, it is said, largely with contributions from the public. Its forest too was planted with donated trees and lots of volunteer labor.
    A view of part of the garden where iris bloom in spring

    Another view of the garden in autumn

    The consistently second most visited New Year's destination is Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Chiba. Founded in 940, it also attracts around three million visitors over a three day period (considered the usual New Year holiday). This is another very large temple housing no less than five Important Cultural Properties.

    Somon Gate of Naritasan
    The first three structures of the temple follow in quick order beginning with the Somon gate, which leads to the Niomon gate of 1830 above a short flight of stone stairs. This is followed by a three-story pagoda built in 1712 and the newly built Main hall.

    If you are interested in some details of the temple my book, Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, has a short entry. It may seem incongruous that a book on Shinto has a listing for a Buddhist temple but such is the importance of the place that any trip to Katori Jingu—also in Chiba—would be incomplete without a stop here. This is especially true when one realizes that there was no sharp separation of shrines and temples and the worship of Kami and Buddha before the Meiji era.
    The lantern of Naritasan, donated by the local fish market, sporting the kanji for — "Fish Market'

    It is also possible to find a good bit of information in English on the net. Naritasan's own website is informative as is Narita City's website at and Japan Visitor. I don't vouch for the veracity of these sites but they will give you a good sense of what you are seeing. 
    The three-story pagoda of Naritasan from 1712
    The Main hall

    Naritasan is a Shingon sect temple, said to have been founded by a follower of Kobo Daishi who brought (or revived) the sect to Japan in the ninth century, which means that a ceremony called the goma is performed here. This is a ritual in which planks of wood are burned and prayers to Fudo-myo-O are chanted. I have not witnessed the ritual here but at a related temple, Naritasan Shinshoji Fukagawa Fudodo, located next to Tomioka Hachimangu in the Monzen-nakacho area of Tokyo. At this temple the chanting and drumming were accompanied by a shugenja blowing on the horagai (conch shell).
    Shakudo Hall

     The Shakudo Hall of 1858 was once the Main Hall of the temple. Built in the irimoya style with a copper-tile roof with karahafu and chidorihafu, it is more reminiscent of Shinto-style architecture that was prevalent throughout the Muromachi to the Edo periods.
    Omiyage gift shops on the temple grounds.

    New Years is called Oshogatsu and the first visit to the shrine or temple is called hatsumode. Various charms to bring good luck are purchased and old charms are brought to the temple to be burnt. Probably the most sought after charm at either temple or shrine is the omikuji. This is essentially a prediction of your fortune for the coming year.
    Daito of Naritasan

    This is a recent addition built on the temple's 1,150th birthday in 1984. Called the 'Great Peace Pagoda' in English, the temple's website calls it a five-story pagoda but I just don't see it. It looks more like a daito or tohoto two-story pagoda to me. Be that as it may, it is impressively situated to be viewed from a lower plaza containing a fountain.
    Naritasan Park
    There is also a very lovely park/garden with a small pond and pavilion. If you stroll through the whole grounds, the park comes at the end of the journey, just in time for a well deserved rest. Of course, the new year is not the best time for viewing gardens but relaxing none the less.

    It is often repeated that the third most popular shrine or temple in the Kanto for New Year's visits is Kawasaki Daishi more formally known as Heiken-ji. The temple's foundation story claims a date of 1128 when a priest named Sonken and exiled samurai from Owari, Hirama Kanenori, began constructing the temple to house a miraculous statue of Kobo Daishi also known as Kukai.
    First gate and monzenmachi of Kawasaki Daishi crowded with people on New Year's Day

    Of course, one should note that stories of statues of Buddhas and others, being fished out of the sea, is a staple of temple foundation legends. One of the most famous in Tokyo is Sensoji in Asakusa where the fishermen were reputed to be two brothers who were later enshrined (along with the village headman) in Asakusa Jinja next door. Be that as it may, it is a very popular site.
    The Daisanmon Gate built in 1977

    As with Naritasan above, this is a Shingon sect temple. Shingon is an esoteric sect that was brought to Japan by Kobo Daishi in 806 after a number of years studying in China. The teachings rely heavily on three ancient tantra's (treatise) and use physical images called mandala's as an aid to understanding, especially the Mandala of the Two Realms — the Womb and Diamond Realms.
    The Daihondo or main temple building of Kawasaki Daishi, rebuilt in 1958

    As temples go, the grounds of this one are rather small. This may be the consequence of several post-war reconstructions or it may simply be the encroaching city. Kawasaki has a population of about 1.5 million of which about thirty-thousand are foreigners. Situated between Tokyo and Yokohama and like them, it is a port city and the site of many large industries.
    Looking back from the temple toward the Daisanmon as the crowd quietly waits for a chance to approach.

    Five-story pagoda from 1984 (note the similar timing with the Daito of Naritasan, above)

    The entrance to the temple with visitors lined up to throw their money and say a prayer.

    In the photo above you can make out part of the jimon crest of the temple which consists of three oak-leaves in a circle and is called the maru ni mitsukashiwa. It is a fairly common crest with a very large number of variations. This is originally a samurai crest which was then adopted by both temples and shrines (when used in reference to samurai or jinja it is generally known as a kamon  or just mon). Though not really visible in the photo, inside the closed glass doors, a goma ceremony is in progress.
    A shop selling daruma for the New Year

    Finally, I think it is fair to say that one of the most important aspects of shrines and temples is the monzenmachi — literally the town within the gate. Many a large town began with no more than a temple or shrine. As one can imagine, this attracted pilgrims and pilgrims had needs which attracted merchants. Though most of these original towns are now only a small area within much larger cities, they still maintain something of that bygone era. The photo above shows one such shop at the entrance to Kawasaki Daichi which specializes in Daruma dolls. The tradition is to buy the doll and paint in one eye when one makes a resolution or sets a goal, then paint in the other when the goal is accomplished. (No word on weather there is a market for used, one-eyed Daruma or not.) Not only for New Years, these dolls are a favorite among successful candidates for political office who love to be depicted painting in that second eye.