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
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
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.

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