Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ichinomiya Nujisaki Jinja

Ichinomiya Nukisaki Jinja                                                                        UC
Romon of Ichinomiya Nukisaki Jinja
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Founded in 531 according to shrine tradition. Present buildings are from 1635.
Address: 1535 Ichinomiya, Tomioka-shi, Gunma 370-2452 
Tel/Information: 0274-62-2009
How to get there: Take the Joshin Line from Takasaki Station to Joshu-ichinomiya Station. Then 20 minutes by foot.
Enshrined kami: Futsunushi no kami, Hime okami
Prayers offered: The peace and well-being of Japan and anything related to weaving.
Best times to go: In late March to early April for the cherry blossoms.

Important physical features: Ichinomiya Nukisaki Shrine is an unusual and interesting shrine in a number of respects. For one, the approach to the shrine leads first uphill and up a flight of steps until one passes through the first ryobu torii. After passing through a soumon gate you then descend a long staircase to reach the romon at the entrance to the shrine. This configuration is unique as it is usually considered disrespectful that the kami should reside at a point lower than the approaching worshiper. The other unusual physical feature of this shrine is the honden, constructed in the Nukisaki-zukuri style. This style consists of a gable-roofed structure covered in cedar bark shingles and topped off with chigi and katsuogi. The entrance is on the gable side and a pent roof covers the stairs on this side. The exterior is polychromed in the gongen-zukri style. However this seemingly typical outer structure conceals a building with an upper floor accessed by a steep internal stair akin to a ladder. The goshintai of the two kami reside on this second floor. There is also a window called a raijinmado that faces distant Mt. Inafuku. The interior of the honden is thus related to the style of ancient dwellings. The original specifications for the building called for four pillars—two interior to the building and two exterior—that directly supported the ridgepole from the ground. This type of muna-bashira construction was the typical form of building before the introduction of Chinese-style structures. While the present structure (rebuilt in 1635) contains only one pillar that still supports the ridgepole, it reflects the importance of the pillar as a sacred structure that is maintained in shrines such as Ise Jingu and Izumo Taisha in symbolic form i.e. not performing any actual support of the building. A record on the back of a copy of the Engishiki held by the shrine, which was rebuilt every twelve years up until 1635, details the specifications for the first main shrine and the temporary shrine that houses the kami while the main shrine is rebuilt. The temporary structure had three ridgepoles instead of four and its first floor level appears to have been less formally finished than the main building. A record from a rebuilding in 1800 states that the temporary shrine was built of “logs, bamboo and straw rope, and both the roof and the wall were thatched.” The temporary shrine is still rebuilt every twelve years in the same basic style. Although founded in the sixth century, the first buildings date from 1025 and while the current honden dates from 1635, it appears that the existing muna-bashira sits in the exact spot of one of the original ridgepoles. It is also the case that the overall dimensions of the shrine are roughly the same as the original. However the current incarnation is decorated in the polychromed style of the Edo period, as is the haiden that stands in front of it. A roumon gate that acts as the entrance to the inner grounds is also a product of the 1635 rebuilding by Tokugawa Iemitsu, and all these structures are designated Important Cultural Properties.

Important spiritual features: The kami enshrined here are central to the myth of how the heavenly kami (amatsu kami) struggled to take control of the world from their earthly brethren (kunutsu kami). Futsunushi no kami is considered an ancestor of the Fujiwara clan but this is probably a later development. Futsunushi was closely associated with the older Mononobe clan of warriors who gathered in the vicinity of Isonokami Jinja where the sword of Takemikazuchi called Futsunomitama, is revered. Takemikazuchi and Futsunushi no kami are recorded in the Nihon shoki as having both descended from heaven and receiving the land from Okuninushi. But the Izumo no kuni Fudoki depicts Futsunushi as descending alone. The Nihon shoki relates that when Futsunushi drew his ten-handed (in length) sword and stuck it in the ground, Okuninushi no mikoto submitted. But the Kojiki relates the same action as belonging to Takemikazuchi. Futsunushi's activities were probably increasingly depicted as those of Takemikazuchi as the Mononobe clan declined and the Nakatomi (Fujiwara) clan grew in influence. For details of these clans and kami please see "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion."
            The shrine was also an ancient site of deer-scapula divination (rokuboku), whereby the shoulder bone of a deer is heated in such a way as to produce cracking, which is then interpreted to divine the answer to some question. Such rites are still performed at the shrine in the shikaru shinji ceremony on 8 December.

New Years at the shrine
Description: Ichinomiya Nukisaki Jinja is located in Gunma Prefecture in splendid surroundings. Bordered on the north by the rugged peaks of Mt. Myogi, on the south by the 4,500 foot tall Mt. Inafukumi and lying adjacent to the Kabura River that flows into the Tone River, the shrine attracts an estimated 100,000 people during the New Year season—making it the most visited shrine in Gunma. The prefecture is well known for its beautiful mountains and lakes as well as the famous hot-spring resorts of Kusatsu, Minakami and Ikaho. The shrine itself lies in a sort of gully but the location of the torii is sufficiently elevated that the view through it, looking back from the path leading to the shrine, is quite lovely.
            The name of the shrine can be confusing because the term Ichinomiya signified a shrine that was of the highest ranking in its district. This distinction was made from sometime in the eighth century and indeed Nukisaki has been the Ichinomiya of the province since that time. Such shrines were almost entirely those of eminent kami (myojin), which were reputed to be of a higher order of power. But the fact of a shrine being an Ichinomiya does not normally become part of the proper name of the shrine as it has in this case. Be that as it may, the shrine was deemed important enough that its rebuilding every twelve years was carried out from the early eleventh century until it was stopped in the seventeenth. Since then, the rebuilding rite has been preserved in a modified form. A temporary shrine is built and the kami transferred to it as before. However only some small repairs are carried out on the interior of the main shrine before the kami is re-enshrined. The last such shikinen sengu ceremony was carried out in 2004-5.
            Unrelated to the shrine but an interesting place to visit while you are in the area is the old Tomilka Silk Mill located in the same town of Tomioka. The Mill is close to Joshu-Tomioka Station, which lies on your way back to Takasaki. This huge complex of brick and wooden buildings is one of the first modern factories in Japan built in 1872 and has been preserved in pristine condition. It is a candidate for World Heritage status.

Festivals: Shikaura shinji, 8 December. This ancient divination ritual is held to predict whether there will be fires in the region in the coming year. A temporary sacred space (himorogi) is set up and bamboo skewers are planted in the center of a "diviner's hearth." A sacred fire is stoked and used to heat an awl that is then stuck into the shoulder bone of a deer (shika). The bones splits and cracks are then read to make predictions. Known as rokuboku, this divination method dates from the Yayoi period. After the divination, the priest in charge of the awl performs a sacred dance.

Haiden of Myogo Jinja
(photo from Tomioka City website
Myogi Jinja
Date founded: Founded in 537 according to shrine tradition.
Address: 6 Myogi, Myogi-cho, Tomioka-shi, Gunma 379-0201. Tel: 0274-73-2119
Enshrined kami: Yamato Takeu no mikoto, Toyouke no okami, Sugawara no Michizane (Tenjin)
Myogi Jinj is another extremely interesting shrine located in the same city. Though not easily reached from the Ichinomiya area except by car or bus (it is located on the northwest side of Mt Myogi while Nukisaki is located to the southeast), it is well worth visiting. It is more easily reached by the Shinetsu Honsen (also coming from Takasaki Station), with access from Matsuida station (or make your way from Nukisaki Jinja and then return to Takasaki from Matsuida). The shrine gives its foundation date as 537 but the impressive polychromed structures, including the honden, haiden, karamon and soumon gates, date from 1758. The use of the term soumon is often reserved for the gates that mark the entrance to a zen temple or a private estate. Indeed, this vermillion painted gate contains to nio guardian figures that, since the Meiji separation of shrines and temples, usually appear only at the entrances of temples. All the structures here are very much in the mixed Shinto-Buddhist gongen style of the Edo period, of which Nikko Toshogu is a prime example. The dominance of black lacquer and gold trimmings, and the multiple carvings that decorate the haiden and honden are representative of the “other” Japanese esthetic, which eschews the plain and natural in favor of the highly decorative, powerful and glorious. The buildings are designated Important National Properties. The kami enshrined here are the legendary hero Yamato Takeru no mikoto and the kami of food and grains Toyouke no okami. The third kami, Sugawara no Michizane was not worshipped until the middle to late tenth century which is not long after the establishment of this well-known kami of learning in Kyoto's Kitano Tenmangu. The shrine commands a view of the kanto plain to the southeast and the maple tree lined Myogi Road runs about 9 miles to Sakura no sato where 15,000 cherry trees are in blossom in early April. 

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