|Torii of Tenkawa Jinja|
(all photos courtesy of the shrine)
Address: 107 Tsubonouchi, Tenkawa-mura, Yoshino-gun, Nara 638-0321
Tel/Information: 0747-63-0558 A simple history of the shrine is available in English.
How to get there: Kintetsu Line from Osaka to Shimoichiguchi station. One hour by Nara Kotsu bus to Tenkawa Jinjamae bus stop (only several busses per day).
Enshrined kami: Ichikishimahime no mikoto and Benzaiten (collectively called Tenkawa Benzaiten)
Prayers offered: Both deities enshrined here are associated with water. Benzaiten is also considered a deity of “all things that flow” and as such, she is prayed to by performers, writers and artists.
Best time to go: Tenkawa has its busiest season in summer with climbers and shugendo practitioners. The Yoshino mountains offer refreshing relief from the sweltering Japanese summer. Also good to visit in April for the cherry blossoms or November for the fall color.
|Haiden with unique isuzu bell|
|Tenkawa reitaisai saitōgoma|
In one respect, it is difficult to speak about the significance of one shrine or temple in this part of Japan, which is known for pilgrimage to multiple sights. Along with the Kumano Sanzan in the south of the Kii Peninsula, Koyasan to the west, and Ise Jingu to the east, this area is now recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site called the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” Strictly speaking, Tenkawa is not included in this group. Instead, Ominesan-ji, a shugendo temple also located in Tenkawa Village on top of Mt. Omine, said to be founded by En no Gyoja and enshrining Zao Gongen, is included. In recent times, Tenkawa Jinja has been a focus of the New Age Movement, as well as musicians and performers from around the world interested in the energy perceived to be emanating from sacred sites such as this.
Description: Tenkawa Jinja (also known as Tenkawa Dai Benzaiten Jinja) is located below Mt Misen with its Okunomiya on top of the mountain. Tenkawa Village is the entrance to Omine range, parts of which are off limits to women. Some distance to the east of this range lies Ise Jingu—the spiritual home of Shinto—and to the west lies Mt. Koya, home of the Shingon sect—one of the principle sects of Japanese Buddhism. Tenkawa lies in the Yoshino-Kumano National Park at the beginning of the Okugakemichi pilgrimage route that all members of the shugendo sect (also called yamabushi) are required to walk as part of their ascetic practice. The route begins in Gojo City in Nara and continues to Shingu City in Wakayama. These men continue to walk the mountains in search of enlightenment and mystical power, as did their famous founder En no Gyoja. Tenkawa (“river of heaven”) worship is deeply rooted in the waters flowing from Mt. Misen, which is associated in Buddhist cosmology with Mt. Sumeru. From this heavenly mountain, water flows in the four directions, sustaining life on the earth below. So too these early mountains have attracted ascetics with the promise of rebirth and enlightenment. In present times, Itsukushima, Chikubushima, and Enoshima are considered the "big three" sites for the worship of Benzaiten, but Tenkawa was long considered to be included in this group. But it does not take a search for enlightenment to enjoy the environment along the Ten no kawa River. A dramatically long and narrow suspension bridge crosses the river, offering spectacular views. Or walk along the beautiful Mitarai valley with its abundant summer greenery, autumn leaves, and lush waterfalls. The current shrine buildings were rebuilt in 1989 and opened with a concert by New Age musician Osamu Kitajima and others. Brian Eno and Haruomi Hosono (of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame) have also given concerts here. Tenkawa has a long association with Noh and plays are performed on a stage near the front of the inner shrine. A popular movie “Tenkawa Densetsu Satsujin Jiken” (The Tenkawa Tradition Murder) from 1991, revolves around the killing of several members of a family of Noh actors, in a struggle over who will succeed as the new head of the tradition. This movie by well-known director Kon Ichikawa, is based on one book of a series of mystery novels featuring detective Asami Mitsuhiko, by author Yasuo Ichida. In this story the Isuzu of Tenkawa is found next to the body of one of the victims.
Festivals: Reitaisai, 16 to 17 July. This festival is famous for its Noh performances and for its Shugendo ceremonies.