Keta Taisha UC
(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.
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(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.