Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tenkawa Jinja

Tenkawa Jinja (Tenkawa Daibenzaiten Jinja)                      UC
Torii of Tenkawa Jinja
(all photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Founded by En no Gyoja around 700, according to shrine tradition. Current buildings from 1989.
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
Important physical features: Located in the Yoshino mountains south of Kyoto and Nara, Tenkawa Jinja is located along the Ten no kawa River ("river of heaven") in Tenkawa Village, near the pilgrimage route that leads over the Omine mountain range to Hongu Taisha in Kumano. Mt. Misen, near the northern end of the range where a small shrine is located, is considered the inner sanctuary (Okunoin) of Tenkawa Jinja. The Yoshino-Omine mountains and Tenkawa Village are renown for their natural beauty, especially the area around the nearby Mitarai Ravine, featuring massive rock formations, waterfalls and clear streams. Tenkawa Village encompasses valleys and peaks from 440m to as high as 1,915m above sea level.The main shrine is accessed by several stone stairways that rise up between tall cedars and oaks. The honden of the shrine is in the nagare-zukuri style with chigi and katsuogi. It is raised well above ground level and accessed by broad and steep wooden stairs. The haiden is open sided with a tall pitched roof and a stage for Noh and other performances built into the space. Lanterns are hung under the eaves in front of the honden in a sign of one of the many Buddhist influences. In fact the design is a bit reminiscent of Kibitsu Jinja in Okayama where the haiden is a very interesting, semi-interior space.

Tenkawa reitaisai saitōgoma
Important spiritual features: This area has been closely associated with the shugendo religion that  incorporates elements and beliefs from Shinto, Buddhism (mikkyo), Taoism, and onmyodo (yin-yang), and shugenja were instrumental in the amalgamation of Shinto and Buddhist faith called shinbutsu shugyo. The aim of the shugenja is to obtain great powers for use in spiritual and physical healing, and to achieve Kobo Daishi's ideal of becoming "a Buddha in this body" or in other words, an enlightened being. Ascetic practice in the mountains is the method of achieving this goal. For a more detailed explanation of the sect, please see my book Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion. The figure considered the epitome if not the founder of shugendo, En no Gyoja (also called En no Ozunu), meditated and had many revelations in the Omine mountains where practitioners continue to walk in his steps even today. He lived in the seventh century and is mentioned in the Shoku Nihongi as living on Mt. Katsuragi well to the north of Yoshino. He is described as a practitioner of magic and as one who controlled demons and had them do his bidding. It is also reported that he was exiled to Izu under some false charge. Only in later centuries was he connected with shugendo and Mt. Kinpu in the Yoshino area, which had become an important center of ascetic training. It is from this later time that the stories of his meeting with Zao Gongen and the Tenkawa Benzaiten arose. While belief in Benzaiten is imported by way of Buddhism and mentioned in the “Golden Light Sutra”, belief in Ichikishimahime no mikoto is native to Japan. This is one of the female kami of Munakata Taisha in Kyushu, children of Susano-o and Amaterasu Omikami, associated with water and especially the protection of shipping. The three kami are also enshrined at Itsukshima Jinja, founded in 593, on the island of Miyajima in Hiroshima. That island also contains a famous Mt. Misen where Kobo Daishi did ascetic practices. Both Ichikishimahime and Benzaiten have been associated with water and this probably led to the deities being identified with each other. However after the Meiji separation of Shinto and Buddhism, Shrines were forced to disassociate from any Buddhist influence so Benzaiten worship was delegated to Buddhist temples (such as  Daiganji temple on Miyajima) and shrines were forced to substitute Ichikishimahime or some other deity associated with water. The fact that this Shinto shrine continues to worship Benzaiten alongside of Ichikishimahime, perhaps reflects the fact that the integrated religion, which was such a strong feature in the lives of the people of these mountains from the sixth to the nineteenth centuries, retains some vestige of that strength. The shrines rituals also include shugendo rites which were outlawed by the Meiji government.
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.

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