Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shrines of the Oki Islands                                               UC
Oki Islands
(illustration from Google Maps)
Oki is the overall name for an archipelago consisting of 184 mostly uninhabited islands of various sizes within, the Daisen-Oki National Park, in the Japan Sea. In the creation of the land tale in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, Izanami and Izanagi create the “8-islands of Japan” (oyashima kuni), of which the third island is called Oki. The Oki group of islands, consists of two main groups; the Douzen—made up of Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima, and Chiburi Islands, and the Dogo group. Farming, fishing and forestry are the main occupations of the roughly 31,000 inhabitants of these bucolic islands. The Oki Islands have a very old but somewhat dubious position in Japanese history. Located about 45 miles off the coast of Shimane prefecture, they served as a sort of Japanese Corsica from the 8th to 18th centuries. Tens of thousands were exiled there including such luminaries as ex-emperors Go-Toba (1221) and Go-Daigo (1332). Emperor Go-Toba’s burial mound is located on the island of Nakanoshima. But these islands were also an important stop on the trade route between Japan and the mainland of Asia. Archaeological evidence dates human existence on the island back to the middle Jomon period (about 3000B.C.). Between the three Douzen Islands and their larger neighbor Dogo Island, there are said to be over 160 shrines of which Yurahime Jinja, Takuhi Jinja, Hiyoshi Jinja and Mita Hachimangu on Nishinoshima, Miho Jinja, Oki Jinja, and Uzuka no mikoto Jinja on Nakanoshima, Himemiya Jinja, and Amasashihiko no mikoto Jinja (Ikku Jinja) on Chiburijima, and Mizuwakasu Jinja, Tamawakasu no mikoto Jinja, Ongyaku Jinja, and Ise no mikoto Jinja on Dogo are some of the most prominent. There are also any number of Buddhist temples (though most were destroyed in the Meiji period), and a plethora of interesting and ancient festivals and rituals. The scenic beauty of the islands is renowned with mountains, beaches and interesting rock formations such as the 600-foot cliffs along the Kuniga coast. One formation, called Candle Islet on Dogo, is a rock standing straight out of the sea. It is so named because with the setting sun aligned just above the top of the rock, it gives the impression of a burning candle. Following is a brief description of some of the many shrines in these islands. For more information, see

Yurahime Jinja
Honden of Yurahime Jinja
(Photo by Chief Hira via Wikipedia)
Date founded: Founded in 842AD according to shrine tradition. Current building dates from 1889.
Address: 922 Urago, Nishinoshima-cho, Oki-gun, Shimane 684-0211
Tel/Information: 0851-46-0950 Ama Tourist Information Center: 0851-42-0101. Shimane Tourism Office 852-22-5292 (English). The Oki Sightseeing Foundation has cell phones programmed with information about sites on the islands. The Foundation can be contacted at 0851-22-0787
How to get there: Both high-speed boat (about 5,000 yen) and regular ferry service (about 2,500 yen) are available from the mainland. Schedule varies according to season and prices depend on point of departure and arrival. Departing at Urago port on Nishinoshima, it’s a 5-minute walk to the shrine. It's also 30 minutes by plane from Izumo Airport to Oki Airport on Dogo Island and a little more than one hour from the airport by boat to Nishinoshima (or any of the other islands).
Enshrined kami: Suserihime no mikoto also called Yurahime no mikoto
Prayers offered: Pray for a rich catch, protection on the seas and a good marriage.
Best time to go: For the Grand festival in July or any of the many other interesting festivals that take place on the island chain. Winters are severe and transportation may be interrupted.

Important physical features: The torii of Yurahime stands in a small inlet in front of the shrine. This inlet is known for a phenomenon whereby large groups of squid gather here every year between December and the New Year. The squid used to be so numerous that they could be scooped up in baskets. This "squid pick up" (ikayose) is unique to the Yurahime district and continues to this day although the number of squid gathering has declined. The shrine itself is some distance from the shore with the sando leading through a plain wooden shinmon gate with a wide center bay and very narrow outer bays surrounded by a veranda. Beyond that is a 5x4-bay haiden with an irimoya zukuri style roof and a stair canopy with a karahafu. The haiden was rebuilt in 1934. Behind that, the interesting honden from 1889 sports an eclectic mix of styles. The 2x2-bay structure has a gable roof with chigi and katsuogi that faces perpendicular to the haiden, with the entrance on the gable side. This front side incorporates a pent roof with a roof canopy containing a karahafu extending from it. It is raised quite a bit higher than the haiden and the surrounding veranda is supported on bracket sets like a Toshogu shrine. The very large roof is also supported by a double row of bracket sets with zenshuyo style tail rafters extending not only from the corner bracket sets, but from the middle sets as well. It seems to be a curious cross between Kasuga and Taisha styles with pretensions to a grand style that matches its ancient status as a Myojin Taisha. It is also said to be a cross with a Hiyoshi-zukuri style but it is a little difficult to see the similarity. For more details on shrine building styles please see "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion."

Important spiritual features: Suserihime is the daughter of Susano-o and the wife of Okuninushi no mikoto. When Okuninushi took refuge in the land of Ne no kuni (the underworld) to escape his murderous brothers, he came upon Susano-o and his daughter, and soon fell in love with her. Susano-o was against the idea and tried several ways to kill the intruder but to no avail—thanks in part to a magic scarf he had received from his wife-to-be. Finally, gaining the trust of Susano-o, Okuninushi and Suserihime ran off together to Izumo, where Okuninushi became ruler of the land. Yurahime Jinja is listed in the Engishiki as a Taisha or “Great Shrine” along with three other shrines on the islands. A legend has it that Suserihime no mikoto appeared crossing the waters and led the squid ashore. In the haiden there’s a statue representing this event. The abundance of squid in these islands in days past was therefore seen as a blessing of the kami. 

Festivals: Yurahime Shrine Grand Festival (otabisai), the last weekend in July every other year in odd number years. The 2-day festival features a ritual sumo tournament, carrying of the mikoshi portable shrine and a fireworks display. It is the largest of all the island's festivals. In the evening the mikoshi is brought out and carried through the streets by the men of the town. Finally, it is put on one of three huge fishing boats tied together for the event. Spectators can ride on the boats along with the mikoshi and enjoy kagura and a fireworks display while cruising around the bay.

Mizuwakasu Jinja
Hiden and honden of Mizuwakasu Jinja
(photo by Bakkai via Wikipedia)
Date founded: According to shrine tradition, founded either in the time of Emperor Suijin (97-30BC) or Emperor Nintoku (313-99AD). Present building dates from 1795.
Address: 723 Oaza-kori, Goka-mura, Oki-gun, Shimane 685-0311.
Tel/Information: 085-125-2133
Enshrined kami: Mizukawakasu no mikoto
Best time to go: After Golden Week in May when the Rhododendron (shakunage) is blossoming.  In summer, the sea is quiet and the boat ride form the mainland is more pleasant. Winters are severe and transportation may be interrupted.

Important physical features: Located on Dogo, this is one of the most important shrines in Oki, with giant pine trees towering over the approach. The haiden is a modest 3x3-bay structure with square latticework doors all around. The tall, thatched roof honden with chigi and katsuogi and a pent roof on the gable side, is in a style called Oki-zukuri and is designated an Important Cultural Property. The gables of both honden and haiden face to the front. The shrine’s treasure house displays a large screen and ancient materials related to the island’s history. 

Important spiritual features: The kami enshrined here is thought to be a sea deity, and folklore has it that giant white snakes guard the shrine. At this jinja there is a ritualized change of the tatami mats on November 6th. This is linked to the belief that all the kami of Japan, travel to Izumo Taisha in this month, and that they are therefore absent from every shrine in the country (kannazuki, "the month of no kami"). The tradition on Oki is to send the local deities off with a festival to wish for their safe return. Stripping out the old tatami is part of this. There is a ritual replacement of new tatami to welcome them back on December 6th.

Other shrines of note on the islands:

Tamawakasu Mikoto Jinja on Dogo Island was once the main shrine in the islands. It sits in a great grove of trees, close by the ocean side, and features a 2000 year-old cedar tree. The honden is also designated an Important Cultural Property.

Takuhi Jinja on Nishinoshima was founded during the Heian period (794-1185) and is located 1,500 feet above sea level. It is interesting for its honden that is built into a cave. The shrine was a temple called Takuhizan Unjuji where the kami Takuhi Gongen was worshipped. It was said that this deity rescued the exiled Emperor Go-Toba from a shipwreck. Because of its location high on the slope of Mt. Takuhi, it was also used as a lighthouse.

Oki Jinja on Ama enshrines Emperor Go-Toba who lived in exile in Ama for 19 years before his death. It is a very large shrine in a modern version of Oki zukuri, built in 1939.

Festivals: Gorei Furyu, 5 June. This festival, held at Tamawakasu Jinja, is the biggest festival of the Oki Islands. The focus of the festival is the yabusame horseback archery.

Mizuwakasu Jinja Festival, every even-numbered year on 3 May. The festival features Yabusame horseback archery, decorated floats and shishimai lion dances. Also at Mizuwakasu Jinja, every November 3rd and 4th, the Oki Classical Sumo Tournament. Sumo has been a long-standing tradition in Oki, and even today sumo is actively discussed and practiced by people of all ages.

Kumi Kagura is performed at Ichinomori Jinja on Dogo Island on the 25 July in odd-numbered years and on the 26th in even-numbered years. An Intangible Cultural Property, dances are held from 9pm until dawn.

Every odd numbered year on 15 September at Mita Hachimangu, a kami no sumo (sumo tournament for the gods), a lion dance and dengaku (traditional dance) are held. This dance is classified an Important Intangible Cultural Asset.

Every even numbered year in October, an 800-year-old event called Niwa no Mai (garden dance), again involving sumo and dengaku is held at Hiyoshi Jinja.

The biggest festival on Dogo is the Oki Kokubunji Renge-e Mai Festival on April 21st. One of the oldest performances of its kind in Japan, this display of folk bungaku from the Heian period is especially known for its expressive masks and is designated a National Intangible Folk Property.

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