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.

While you're here, any readers who are interested in having a kamidana of their own, or would like to send one to a friend or family member, please check out this post:
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.


  1. Thanks for a very informative post. I will look up your Shinto book, as I've found it very difficult to locate English-language info about Shinto,

  2. Sorry for the late reply but you are very welcome. Glad he post was of some help.