Sunday, September 30, 2012


Atsuta Jingu                                                                             UC
Gate to the grounds of the honden of Atsuta Jingu
(photo by Gnsin via Wikipedia)
Date founded: Founded on the death of Yamatotakeru no mikoto in a.d. 113 according to shrine tradition. The shrine was founded to enshrine the sacred sword Kusanagi no tsurugi, one of the three Imperial Regalia. The current honden is from 1955.
Address: 1-1-1 Jingu, Atsuta-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi 456-8585
Tel/Information: 052-671-4151. A brief history of the shrine in English is available.
How to get there: Meitetsu Railway to Jingumae Station, then three minutes by foot. JR Tokaido Line to Atsuta Station, then about eight minutes by foot. Meijo Subway Line to Jingu-Nishi Station or Tenma-cho Station (closer to the main entrance), then about five minutes by foot.
Enshrined kami: Atsuta no Okami, identified as Amaterasu omikami as embodied in the sacred sword Kusanagi no tsurugi (one of the three sacred treasures of the imperial throne). Also, in the aidono,  Amaterasu Omikami; Susano-o no mikoto; Yamatotakeru no mikoto; and Takeinadane no mikoto and Miyasuhime no mikoto (ancestors of the Owari clan).
Prayers offered: Pray for bountiful crops, family harmony, and safety on the roadways.
Best time to go: Although located in the heart of the city of Nagoya, a lovely wooded area surrounds the shrine. The grounds are at their best in spring and summer.

Important physical features: Although it may not be viewed, the truly important physical feature of Atsuta Jingu is the sacred sword of Susano-o, of Amaterasu, and of Yamatotakeru called the Kusanagi no tsurugi. In terms of the shrine itself, Atsuta Jingu is a modern version of shinmei-zukuri. This notion of remaking the shrine from its former style into shinmei-zukuri arose in the Meiji era, and the work was first completed in 1893. The Meiji government created a group of ninety-seven national shrines in 1871 known as kanpeisha (imperial shrines), of which twenty-nine were initially given the highest rank of kanpei taisha. Atsuta Jingu became one of these shrines, which also included many of the nijunisha (or twenty-two shrines receiving offerings from the Imperial House during the Heian period). The name Jingu, previously reserved for Ise, was given to some older shrines (such as Atsuta and Miyazaki) and some newly created ones (such as Heian and Hokkaido) starting at about that time. Atsuta Jingu was heavily damaged during World War II and restored between1955–66 to its present condition. Some of the buildings of the naiku at Ise were brought here after that shrine’s renewal in 1953. Some differences with Ise Jingu include a roof surfaced in copper rather than thatch (although prewar pictures show it with a cedar shingle roofing) but curved to retain a thatched-roof silhouette; columns supported by foundation stones, rather than being planted directly in the ground; no twenty-year rebuilding regimen; and no leaving a “dormant” site when the old shrine is dismantled. Another difference with Ise is the two smaller shrines for the yaoyorozu deities of the East and West within the courtyard occupied by the honden, arranged on either side of it. Ise has two treasure houses to the left and right rear (which is thought to reflect the original layout). Though shrines rather than treasure houses, the in-line arrangement at Atusta reflects the layout that prevailed at Ise before the Meiji period.
            Like many other shrines, Atsuta has suffered numerous fires and been rebuilt many times in its long history. Unlike many other shrines, it has the distinction of having been rebuilt or repaired at different times by Japan’s “big three shoguns,” Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. A document from 1841 inventories and details the buildings, and a drawing shows the layout as it was in the early seventeenth century. By that time, the shrine had a multiple fence/multiple gate structure and the layout was similar to what it is today. According to tradition, the shrine had four gates when a structure was first erected (said to be in 684) and the south gate (kaizomon) had a tablet written by Kobo Daishi–the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. The Western gate was supposed to have had a tablet written by Emperor Tenmu. Of particular interest is the treasure house, holding about four thousand objects including garments, furniture and utensils, mirrors, and bugaku masks—many designated Important Cultural Properties. The Kusanagi no tsurugi is not on display, but a large number of important swords and daggers are. The treasure house is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is 300 yen for adults.

Important spiritual features: Of the kami enshrined at Atsuta Jingu, all but one are related to the sacred sword called the Kusanagi no tsurugi (“herb-mowing sword” or “grass-cutting sword”), which is also known as the Atsuta no okami. The unrelated kami, Takeinadane no mikoto, is a native agricultural deity of the Owari area (present-day Aichi). Both this deity and his younger sister, Miyasuhime no mikoto, are considered to be ancestral deities of the Owari clan, and the shrine is believed to have originally been a family shrine. The Owari were said to have descended from Hoakari no mikoto, one of Ninigi no mikoto's three sons. It seems that the Owari and illustrious Urabe were branches of the same family.
           The principle kami of Atsuta Jingu, though, is said to be Amaterasu omikami in the form of the sacred sword. This is one of the three imperial regalia (sanshu no shinki) that were entrusted to the heavenly grandson Ninigi when he descended to rule Japan. The Kojiki and Nihon shoki record that when Ninigi was sent to rule, Amaterasu gave him, in addition to the sword (also known as Ama no murakumo no tsurugi [“sword of the gathering clouds of heaven”]), the jewel known as Yasakani no magatama and the mirror known as Yatanokagami. When she gave these three objects to him, she said explicitly about the mirror “… when thou look upon this mirror, let it be as though looking on me.” Though no such explicit statement is made about the sword or jewel, it is taken for granted that they all embody the spirit of Amaterasu. It is also taken for granted that the sword is the same one that Susano-o pulled from the tail of the eight-headed serpent (yamata no orochi), which he slew in the land of Izumo. Though the Kojiki and Nihon shoki offer different versions of this legend, it is generally accepted that Susano-o sent the sword to Amaterasu as a sort of recompense for past wrongdoings (though how the sword got into the dragon, and therefore its true origin, is not stated). As I mentioned above, the sword is also called by two different names (Ama no murakamo and Kusanagi) in different versions of the story in the Nihon shoki. The sword was passed down to Ninigi, and the next we hear of it is when it turns up in the imperial palace during the reign of Emperor Sujin (r. 97–30 b.c.), along with the mirror. Here we are told that the emperor feared the power of the deities embodied in them and wanted the mirror and sword removed to another place. The Kogoshu of 807 tells us they were first removed to a place called Kasanui in Yamato, and then later to Ise (the legendary founding of Ise Jingu). The Kogoshu also records that duplicates were made at that time and that these were the sacred regalia (only two, not three as in later times, presented to the new emperor upon ascending the throne.
           Then, much later, during the reign of Emperor Keiko (a.d. 71–131), we are told that the emperor sent his fourteenth son, Yamatotakeru no mikoto, on a mission to conquer the East. On his way, he stopped at Ise Jingu and was given the sword by his aunt, the high-priestess of the shrine, in order to protect him on his journey. During this crusade, his enemies trick him several times into traps, and on several occasions the magic of the sword saves him. On one such occasion, he is surrounded by fire, but the sword cuts down all the grass around him, allowing him to escape. By some accounts, from this point the sword is called Kusanagi no tsurugi (“grass-cutting sword”), though it was already referred to in this way by in some earlier accounts. The story continues that Yamatotakeru’s mission is successful and that he goes on to marry Miyasuhime from the province of Owari. But for some unknown reason, he leaves the sword with his wife before embarking on his last mission. This time he has heard of a wrathful deity savaging the country around Mount Ibuki and goes out to meet him. Before he can return home to her, he is killed (or dies from illness), and his wife enshrines the sword first in her home and later in Atsuta, in present-day Nagoya.
            Yamatotakeru is an extremely interesting figure in Japanese mytho-history. He is the sort of tragic hero and even scapegoat figure so prized in Japan. In other words, the hero who "dies trying" is often more a hero than the one who succeeds. We are told that the prince, who is credited with conquering numerous enemies and expanding the area of the dynasty, was feared by his own father and kept at arms length battling enemies along the boarders. Though denied the throne he is said to be the father of Emperor Chuai whose consort was Jingu Kogo and whose son was Emperor Ojin. Although Atsuta Jingu was probably dedicated to him, he is not the principal kami enshrined here. I will devote further study to this fascinating figure and post it to this blog in the future.
            As the sword is also considered the body (shintai) of Amaterasu, some consider Atsuta Jingu the second most important shrine after Ise. As early as a.d. 807, Inbe no Hironari, the compiler of the Kogoshu, laments that, “Atsuta Shrine has not enjoyed any of the special privileges due its divine nature” (the Inbe were the clan responsible for court ritual, along with the Nakatomi, and the Kogoshu is considered one of the most important historical documents of Shinto). This may have been because the sword was not considered the shintai of Amaterasu, but was misunderstood to be the shintai of Yamatotakeru or another deity. It was also once thought that the other kami enshrined at Atsuta was not Amaterasu but Inada hime, wife of Susano-o. Such beliefs may have been held until the Meiji era, when recognition of Amaterasu omikami would have justified the change of rebuilding in the shinmei style and raising its rank to kanpeitaisha. However it is important to note that the combination of jewel, sword and mirror has been found in a jar-burial from the early Yayoi period at the Yoshitake-Takagi site in Fukuoka, Kyushu. It seems that these symbols may have been the possessions of at least one local chieftain, signifying his status as leader. While beads, bronze mirrors and bronze swords have been uncovered in numerous sites throughout Japan from earliest times, at some point this combination was appropriated to become the symbols of rulership solely of the imperial line.
            Another story associated with the sword is that it was stolen by a priest from Silla during the reign of Emperor Tenji. The priest was apparently captured but the sword was returned to the imperial palace rather than to the shrine. Then, during the reign of Emperor Tenmu (who waged war against his brother Tenji's son to claim the throne), the emperor was taken ill and a divination determined that this was due to the presence of the sword in the palace (curiously reminiscent of Emperor Sujin's motivation for sending it away), and it was then returned to the shrine.
            As with most shrines in Japan, Atsuta was once amalgamated with Buddhism and had a temple for worshipping the kami (jinguji), built during the reign of Emperor Ninmyo (833–50) that enshrined Yakushi Nyorai, a pagoda, and other Buddhist structures, but these were destroyed during the Meiji period. Today, Atsuta Jingu stands at the head of about two thousand branch shrines throughout Japan.

Description: The name Atsuta Jinja is said to come from an incident at the shrine’s founding. The site contained a maple tree that spontaneously burst into flame and started a fire in the adjacent rice field. The water in the rice field turned hot instead of extinguishing the flame. This is how it got its name, which translates literally to “hot rice-field shrine.” A long, broad road (sando) leads from south to north and passes through a grove of trees and under three large wooden torii before reaching the shrine. The grounds are quite large, at about fifty acres, including ancient camphor trees around a thousand years old. The grounds are also home to forty-four sub-shrines and attendant buildings. The shrine claims to receive over nine million visitors annually, with about 2,350,000 of these visiting during the first three days of the New Year.

Festival: Rei Sai (Main Festival), 5 June. Commemorates the day that offerings (heihaku) were first sent to the shrine from the imperial household. The ceremony to greet the imperial messenger is held between 10 and 11 a.m. Demonstrations of tea ceremony, Noh theater, flower arrangement, and kendo are held throughout the day. After dark, tall clusters of lanterns (makiwara) and rows of food stalls make the summer evenings pleasant and festive.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Amano Iwato Jinja                                                 UC
Amano Iwata Jinja
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date Founded: The age of the cave called Amano Iwato is undocumented. Shrine foundation dates are also unclear. Present buildings date from 1955 and 1985 respectively.
Address: 1073-1 Iwato, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusugi gun, Miyazaki 882-1621         
Tel/Information: 0982-74-8239. English translation of the myth of Amano Iwato is available.
How to get there: The directions are the same as for Takachiho Jinja until you get to Takachiho. Then take the bus from the Takachiho Bus Center (about 6 miles). Buses depart hourly (6 buses per day) to Amano Iwato Jinja-mae bus stop.
Enshrined kami: Amaterasu omikami in the western shrine, Ame no iwayado in the eastern shrine.
Prayers offered: Pray for good luck and happiness.
Best times to go: For the kagura traditional dance festivals, May 2nd to 3rd, and September 21st to 23rd. Also for the cherry blossoms in April and autumn colors in November.

A view from inside Amano Yasugawara cave
Important physical features: This shrine (and indeed, neighboring Takachiho Jinja) is located in a difficult place for the casual tourist to reach. It is in the mountains northeast of Miyazaki City. It can only be reached by bus (from Takachiko) or by car. The most important physical property of the shrine is of course the cave, Amano Iwato (“Heavenly Rock Dwelling”), where Amaterasu Omikami hid herself away, and the Amano Yasugawara cave, where the “eight-million myriad deities” (yaoyarozu) gathered along the “Tranquil River of Heaven” to plan a way to lure her back out. I go into some detail on the myth in "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion." The main, western-shrine (nishi hongu) is on the west bank of the Iwato River (a branch of the Gokase River) but Amano Iwato is on the right bank, behind the eastern-shrine (higashi hongu). You cannot approach Amano Iwato but you can look toward it (you can’t actually see it through the trees) from a deck inside the nishi hongu shrine (and taking photos is discouraged). The cave acts as the goshintai, the body of the enshrined spirit. The buildings here are new, both being from the late 90’s. The nishi hongu is entered through a 3-bay gate built in a sort of modern shinmei zukuri style, with a large gabled-roof covered in copper tiles. There are also chigi and katsuogi on this roof and the entrance is under the eaves on the non-gable side. From the right and left side of the gate, a tall, unpainted tamagaki fence surrounds the inner grounds. Passing through this gate brings you to the courtyard in front of the haiden. The haiden looks like a double of the gate except that it is raised a few steps above ground level, and it is deeper. To the right and left of the main 3-bay structure are two additional shrines, also with large gabled-roofs, this time with the entrance on the gabled side. This is a rather unique arrangement that seems to be related to the form of Takachiho Jinja—the architecture of which is older. These shrines are connected to covered corridors that emanate from the left and right sides of the haiden. To the left of the shrine is a kaguraden, built in an older style with a gabled roof with chidorihafu false dormer and karahafu in a small step-canopy.
The higashi hongu is approached up a long flight of stairs through a lovely wood. There is a series of three torii but no gate. The haiden is similar to the nishi hongu but smaller and simpler. It has an open grill front and the back is open, giving a view of the honden. The honden is shinmei zukuri surrounded by a tamagaki fence and you can walk around the entire shrine. Although Amano Iwato itself is off limits, you can freely approach the Amano Yasugawara cave—in fact, you can walk right into it. A path leads from the nishi hongu along the Iwato River and across a narrow, arched bridge. The banks along the river and the approach to the cave are strewn with an incredible number of small stone cairns or alters (iwasaka) erected by worshippers. A torii stands in front of the cave and a paved-stone path leads underneath it. Inside the cave itself is a small shrine for making devotions. The whole effect of grand nature and primitive stone offerings is one of mysterious beauty, punctuated by the sound of the swift-flowing stream.

Important spiritual features: Amano Iwato is considered by some to be the site of one of the most important stories of the Imperial Shinto epic of how the ancestor of the emperor came to be recognized as the primary kami in the heavens. I describe this legend in the introductory notes to "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion" so I will only give an abbreviated version here. The destructive rampaging of Amaterasu's brother, Susano-o, drove the sun kami to hide herself in the cave called Amano Iwato and thus deprive the world of her light. So distressing was her absence that all the kami got together to discuss how to lure her out. The myth is central because it points to Amaterasu as "first among equals" and shows the support of all the other kami for her position (vs that of Susano-o's). The myth is thus often considered a device used by the Yamato clans and their allies of the seventh or eighth century, to legitimize their rule. The plot to lure Amaterasu out of Amano Iwato, involved a number of kami who were later sent to earth with Amaterasu’s grandson Ninigi, and are considered the ancestors of some of the most powerful clans of the new state. Of course there is little in the way of evidence to connect the Amano Iwato of “the plain of high-heaven” to the Amano Iwato of modern day Miyazaki Prefecture. It is simply taken on faith. At first glance, for example, it may seem somewhat incongruous that the “heavenly rock-cave” is located only several miles from Mt. Takachiho, the place where the grandson of Amaterasu descended from heaven to rule the world. However the concept of heaven above, earth below, and hell below that does not necessary apply in the strict physical sense; especially in Shinto, where the land of the dead and the land of spirits, both good and bad, are often considered to be ever-present right alongside man.

Description: Amano Iwato has become the de facto representation of the “heavenly rock-cave” though what most visitors are able to see is actually the Amano Yasugawara cave where the kami gathered to discuss strategy. In conjunction with the nearby town of Takachiho, Amano Iwato Jinja helps to bring these myths to life with nightly performances of kagura—dances that recount these ancient legends. The kagura is said to originate with the dance of Ame no uzume, who performed in front of Amano Iwato in order to lure Amaterasu back into the world. The dance succeeded in making the “eight-million myriad kami” roar with laughter, prompting Amaterasu to take a peak at the unexpected uproar. Ame no uzume was considered the ancestor of the Sarume clan who were charged with carrying on the ritual ceremony of dancing for the pleasure of the gods. So it is that most large to medium size shrines have kaguraden on there grounds where performances are held on festival days. One might find such local accoutrements as the Disyneyesque statue of Tajiarao—the “hand-power” kami who pulled away the stone covering the cave (or pulled Amaterasu out of the cave depending on the version)—or Ame no uzume revolving on an overturned bucket a bit out of character to the solemnity one would expect of such a divine location. But maybe this too is designed to evoke a mighty guffaw, just like the one that shook the heavens and made the sun reappear, all those eons ago.

Festivals: Kagura Festival, 3 November. All-day kagura, featuring a range of performances.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Takachiho Jinja                                                                                                     UC
The haiden and wedded trees of Takachiho Jinja
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Tradition holds that the shrine was founded by Emperor Suinin between 29 b.c. and a.d. 70. The present buildings are from 1778.
Address: 1037 Mitai, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusugi-gun, Miyazaki 882-1101
Tel/Information: 0982-72-2413. A pamphlet in English entitled “Guide to Takachiho” is available at the Tourist information Center near Takachiho Station or from the Takachiho Bus Center.
How to get there: From Kumamoto Airport or Kumamoto Station it’s a two-hour bus ride to the Takachiho Bus Center and then about fifteen minutes by foot to the shrine. Alternatively, take the JR Nichiran Line from Miyazaki City to Nobeoka Station. Transfer to the bus for a ninety-minute ride to the Takachiho Bus Center.

Enshrined kami: Takachiho Sumegami and Jisha Daimyojin.
Prayers offered: Safety on the roadways, success in love or marriage, and protection from misfortune.
Best times to go: Autumn for the changing colors.

Important physical features: Takachiho Jinja is located in the mountains between Miyazaki and Kumamoto. The area is landlocked but traversed by the Gokase River that runs all the way to the ocean, with an outlet at Nobeoka City on the Miyazaki coast. Proof of civilization from the Paleolithic period (40,000–14,000 b.c.) has been uncovered at various sites along the river in Takachiho. The scenery along the river is one of the natural properties of the area that attracts tourists. Takachiho Jinja is set in a grove of old Japanese cypress trees in the city of Takachiho. The haiden is five bays wide, with three bays having folding doors and the two outer bays covered in squared lattice panels. The irimoya gabled, copper-tile–covered roof is perpendicular to the honden behind it (the entrance is on the gabled side) and has a karahafu step canopy. There is a chidorihafu behind the step canopy. The roof ridge  runs right-to-left, but the perpendicular roof ridge of the chidorihafu is actually higher. Behind this, a three-by-two–bay honden is a typical nagare-zukuri structure, also with a copper-clad roof, and an unusually high number of katsuogi (nine) on the roof ridge. But the most interesting feature of the honden is its unique carvings. One of these is a fully realized sculpture of Mikenu no mikoto (a brother of Jinmu Tenno) brandishing a sword over the head of a pleading Kihachi. The story is told that Mikenu killed a demon named Kihachi, who had been terrorizing the community. He cut him up into three parts and buried him in different locations. Even today, a festival is held every year to quell the spirit of the demon. Such sculptures are extremely rare, especially for a honden. To the eyes of a Westerner it seems to be rather Christian-influenced. But other unusual features point to a different influence entirely. There is a door in the side of the front bay, carvings of phoenixes under the gable, frog-leg struts (kaerumata) on the tie-beams, shrimp-shaped rainbow beams (ebikoryo) connecting the extended roof support-pillars to the main structure, and decorative rafter struts (tabasami). These are all marks of the zenshuyo style, a Buddhist-influenced style favored by the Tokugawa. All together they make for a very interesting honden. Both the honden and haiden are in unfinished wood, but the traces of previous polychroming are still evident. To the front left side of the haiden stand two towering Chichibu cedars, each almost two hundred feet tall and estimated to be eight hundred years old. They are growing so close to each other that they have joined at the base. Such trees (many are found at shrines throughout Japan) are thought of as a married couple and prayers for prosperity, harmony and the well being of the family, are made in front of these twin trees.
            Aside from the shrine itself, other favorite destinations in the area include hiking up the many mountain trails and enjoying the sites along the Gokase River. Lava that once flowed from Mount Aso in neighboring Kumamoto created vertical formations of rock. The river has cut deeply into the lava, exposing the pillar-like structure and creating a narrow chasm called Takachiho Gorge. There is a walking route along the river that stretches for about half a mile and rowboats can be rented at one end of the trail (1,500 yen for thirty minutes and a maximum of three people per boat). Rowing through Takachiho Gorge and past the fifty-foot Minai no taki waterfall is probably the most interesting part of the trip. This is one of the biggest attractions in the area, so expect crowds on the weekend. Boats can be rented from 7:30 a.m. in the summer months.

Important spiritual features: Mount Takachiho is where the Kojiki and Nihon shoki record that the grandson of Amaterasu, Ninigi no mikoto, was sent to earth to begin the process that led to the founding of the Yamato state and ultimately Japan. I go into some detail about this important myth in "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion." However there is some disagreement about which Mount Takachiho is meant. The prevailing opinion seems to point to Takachiho no mine in the southern part of Miyazaki prefecture. Be that as it may, this jinja enshrines Takachiho Sumegami (a combination of Ninigi no mikoto, his wife Konohanasakuya hime, one of their sons Hohodemi no mikoto, his wife Toyotama hime, and their son Ugayafukiaezu and his wife Tamayori hime). In other words it enshrines three generations of kami—beginning with the descent from heaven—as well as their wives and offspring. In addition, Jisha Daimyojin (a combination of Jinmu’s brother Mikenu no mikoto and his wife Unome hime and their eight children) is also enshrined. According to the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, Jinmu and three brothers set out from Kyushu to conquer the other clans. Along the way, the brothers were killed or went missing, with only Jinmu surviving the ordeal. The shrine seems to have a long history since a Takachiho Jinja is mentioned in the Sandai jitsuroku (written between 850 and 858). But in the premodern era it was called Jisha Daimyojin or Jishagu, reflecting the possibility that it had come under the influence of the Kumamoto shrines and Shinto-Buddhist syncretism. As of the year 1743, there were eighteen villages and 554 shrines in the vicinity of Takachiho, eighty-eight of which were considered the most important (possibly modeled on the eighty-eight–temple pilgrimage of Shikoku), of which this was one. But the Meiji government restricted each village to one shrine in 1871, and the shrine was renamed Mitai Jinja after the clan that ruled the area until 1598. In 1895, the name of the shrine was changed again, to Takachiho Jinja.

Yokagura of Takachiho
Description: Although Takachiho is known as the place where Ninigi no mikoto descended, it is also famous for the “heavenly rock-cave” (Amano Iwato) where Amaterasu Omikami hid her light from the world. The legendary site of this cave is in Takachiho, about six miles northeast of the town. Takachiho is perhaps best known for its reenactment of this and other creation myths. This is a city devoted to kagura, traditional dance and music dedicated to the kami. The particular style of kagura performed in Takachiho is called yokagura (“night kagura”). This is a series of thirty-three dances performed during the winter months from November to February, when the homes of townsfolk become impromptu stages for the dance. Once the exclusive provenance of miko (shrine priestesses) and professional kagura troupes, this dance form spread to the countryside in the Edo period. But it remains an art dedicated to the kami, and shrine priests will first purify the house where the performance is to be held and invite the kami to enter. The performers, called hoshadon, are drawn from the local population. There are currently twenty-four groups, totaling about 480 dancers. Performances begin around 7 or 8 p.m. on Saturday night and continue until the following afternoon—about twenty hours, with only one break. People bring a blanket and their own food and drink to sustain themselves during the long performances, which in some cases can only be viewed from outside the house. The performance is not designed for tourists, though tourists do attend. An offering of about 3000 yen is required. For those not privileged to join in this ancient celebration, a shortened version is held nightly at Takachiho Jinja, for an entry fee of 500 yen. Four performances are held in the kaguraden of the shrine and present the myth of the “heavenly rock-cave” featuring the dance of Ame no uzume (albeit a toned-down version), the legendary origin of kagura, and the mighty Tajikarao, who rolled away the stone covering the cave entrance.

Festivals: Shishikake Matsuri (Wild Boar Festival), 3 December. This is an ancient festival that is actually a memorial service (ireisai) for the demon Kihachi. It seems that repeated early frost was killing the crops, and it was determined that this was the curse of the demon Kihachi. One of the kami enshrined here, Mikenu no mikoto, killed the demon and cut him into three pieces, burying the parts in different places to keep him from arising again. However the frosts continued, and it was decided to make a festival for the demon and sacrifice a young maiden to him. It is said that this was done until sometime in the medieval period, when a wild boar was substituted for the maiden.

Yokagura Festival, 21 November to 10 February. Please check the schedule by calling the Takachiho Sightseeing office (in Japanese) at 0982-73-1212. A total of thirty-three performances of this special kagura are held throughout the weekends of the festival.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja (Zeniarai Ugafuku Jinja)         UC

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Tunnel entrance of Zeniarai Benziten Jinja
(all photos Joseph Cali)
Date founded: Founded around 1185 at the behest of Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99).  Present buildings from some time after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
Address: 2-25-16 Sasuke, Kamakura City, Kanagawa 248-0017
Tel/Information: 0467-25-1081
How to get there: JR Yokosuka Line to Kamakura Station. Then about 25 minutes on foot or 5 to10 minutes by taxi.
Enshrined kami: Benzaiten also known as Ugafukujin.
Prayers offered: Pray to increase your money, prosperity, success in business, success in artistic endeavors, and safety on the sea. 
Best time to go: As with many popular shrines, it is best to go early or on weekdays to avoid crowds.

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Through the tunnel and into the shrine
Important physical features: The shrine is reached after a walk up a steeply inclined road that leads to a tunnel passing through a sort of natural cliff of stone, topped with trees. At the entrance to this short tunnel stands a stone torii pressed up against the rock, and a large, stone marker with the name of the shrine carved into it. If one were not told, "It's okay to enter," not many would have the courage to do so. The shrine itself is not visible until one passes through this dark tunnel. Exiting the other side again brings you into the light and to another tunnel of sorts; this one made of wooden torii donated to the shrine by worshippers. The shrine has scores of torii concentrated within a relatively small multi-level space, surrounded by cliffs. But the next surprise in this series of surprises is the presence of a large incense burner of the type normally found at Buddhist temples, busily spouting fragrant smoke. Zeniarai Benzaiten is an example of the fusion of Buddhism and Shinto elements (Shinbutsu shūgō) that was the norm in Japan before the Meiji era forced separation of the religions. Directly behind the incense burner is a cave which is the main destination of the worshipper. Here, at a small trough fed by a stream that flows through the rock, is where people come to wash their money in hopes of seeing it grow through the blessings of the kami. In other words the most important physical property of this shrine is the natural spring water that is said to make money double after being washed here. Exiting the cave and walking to the opposite side of the clearing, one finds a small spring and pond with a small shrine accessed by a bridge. While there are a number of wooden shrine buildings, this cave is essentially the main shrine (although the small wooden shrine next to the cave is designated as the honsha). The cave itself is considered the okumiya or "inner shrine" usually thought of as the place where the kami originally manifested.There is another entrance to the shrine nearer the cave, which is the original entrance (the tunnel was built in the modern era). The map below gives a clear idea of the layout of this remarkable little shrine.

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
The cave and honsha
Important spiritual features: The god enshrined at Zeniari Benzaiten is identified as both a Shinto kami and a Hindu god brought to Japan by way of Buddhism. Shrine legend records that in 1185 (coincidentally the year that his younger brother Yoshitsune destroyed the rival Taira clan at Dan no Ura to end the Gempei War), Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199) ordered the construction of a shrine at this location after an old man—who identified himself as the kami Ugafukujin—told Yoritomo that if he would use the pure water of a holy spring that flows from among the rocks of a valley northwest of Kamakura as an offering whenever he prayed to the deities, that the country would have peace and prosperity. The dream occurred in the hour of the snake (about 10am), on the day of the snake (the 12th or the 24th), in the month of the snake (August of September) of the year of the snake (1185). The shrine was originally dedicated to Uga no kami, an obscure kami possibly derived from Uka no mitama, a spirit of grain mentioned in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, often depicted as a snake with or without a human head. This is the principle kami of Inari, originally considered the kami of the rice grain. However, for complex reasons, Inari’s animal familiar is a fox not a snake. At some point in the tenth or eleventh century, this god became identified with the Hindu goddess Sarasavarti—known in Japan as Benzaiten. Both gods were associated with snakes and water and the association—like so many others—may have first been made by the Tendai monks of Mt. Hiei. Early Benzaiten belief centered on Chikubujima in Lake Biwa. I go into detail on the history and associations of Benzaiten in entries for Chikubujima and Itsukushijima. in "Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion." Here, I will focus only on the associations at Zeniari Jinja.
Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Inside the cave with water trough
            The water was originally used to wash rice seed as a prayer for a good crop. It was only later, during the reign of Hojo Tokiyori (1227-63) that the custom of washing money in the stream as a way of gaining prosperity was begun. This is when the name zeniarai no mizu (literally money-washing water) begins to occur. It is less clear exactly when this kami came to be identified with Benzaiten, but it was probably as a result of the general identification of native and imported gods prevalent throughout the Heian and Kamakura periods. It is also perhaps the influence of one of Japan's most famous shrines to Benzaiten, the nearby Enoshima Jinja. It was also Yoritomo who invited the deity to this (much older) shrine, which was originally dedicated to the Munakata deities. As I mentioned previously, both gods were identified with water and the snake. In addition, Benzaiten who is considered a goddess of the arts, especially music and literature, also came to be identified with prosperity. This may have been partly the result of a change in the use of the characters for “benzai” from ones reflecting this meaning, to ones reflecting the bestowing of property. The main object of worship (shintai) of this shrine is a stone sculpture of a snake with a human head, said to have come from Izu. A wooden representation of it is on view next to the spring inside the cave. As with other shrines where the snake is considered a manifestation of the kami—such as Omiwa in Nara—eggs (the serpents favorite food) are on sale for offering to the deity.

Zeniarai Benzaiten Jinja
Layout of Zeniarai Benzaiten
Description: The hills that surround three sides of Kamakura—a city which is often considered the "Kyoto of the East"—contain many narrow mountain passes, old caves and waterways. The city thrives within these tight confines, culminating in a basin that faces Sagami Bay to the south. The great Wakamiya Oji Avenue that was built in imitation of Suzaku-oji in Kyoto runs from the bay to Kamakura’s most important and popular shrine; Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Of the many caves and springs  Zeniarai Benzaiten's are the most popular and the shrine to be the second most visited in Kamakura, drawing over 900,000 visitors a year (compared to Hachimangu's 8.35 million). The shrine's grounds are surrounded with cliffs, making it easy to understand the area’s ancient name kakuresato (“hidden village”). The atmosphere is somewhat akin to the “kamikakushi” of the 2001 animation “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki, where a passage through a tunnel leads surprisingly to a small, hidden town. While not exactly of the same scale there are a number of buildings including the honsha, upper and lower mizusha (dedicated to a water kami), a bridge, shrine office, etc. And then there is the cave in which the spring creates a small rivulet. The water that flows here is called one of the “Five Pure Wells” of Kamakura. The cave is lit with candles and a platform made of bamboo that stands above the water holds a number of ladles and baskets. Money is placed in a basket and water from the stream is ladled over it. While Zeniarei literally means “coin-washing” (zeni is an expression for money from a time before paper bills) worshippers will wash anything of value including bundles of 10,000-yen bills and credit cards. Benzaiten (also called Benten) is a kami known as a fukujin—a kami that bestows good luck. She is the only female member of a group known as the shichifukujin (seven gods of good fortune), a grouping that perhaps originates from the 16th or 17th century. The group is thought to be influenced by popular stories of the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove” of Chinese Taoist iconography and constitutes the most popular group of kami in Japan. The Japanese grouping is a mix of imported and amalgamated gods, typically depicted riding on a treasure boat (takarabune) and bringing good fortune.

Festivals: Benten Matsuri on the first Serpent Day of February.