Uda Mikumari Jinja UC
|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
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.