Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Taga Taisha                                                                      UC
Taga Taisha
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Unknown but mentioned in the Kojiki written in the seventh century.
Address: 604 Taga Taga-cho, Inugami-gun, Shiga 522-0341
Tel/Information: 0749-48-1101
How to get there: Take the Omi Tetsudo Line to Takamiya Station and change trains for Taga-taisha mae Station. Then 10 minutes by foot.  Or take the Biwako Line to JR Minami Hikone Station, then 10 minutes by bus. 
Enshrined kami:  Izanagi no okami and Izanami no okami.
Prayers offered: Pray for a good marriage, for protection of one's wife, protection from harm (yakuyoke), recovery from illness, and long life.
Best time to go: In late March or early April to view a particularly beautiful weeping cherry tree.

Important physical features: Hideyoshi Toyotomi prayed for the health of his wife here and donated new shrine buildings and a garden around 1588 as an offering for her recovery from illness. The long, straight sando leads to a romon gate connected to a kairo that surrounds the inner shrine. This is followed by a haiden and a shimei-zukuri style honden with chigi and katsuogi. All the roofs are surfaced in Japanese cedar. The garden is located next to the study (shoin) attached to the shrine offices. It includes a stone bridge and a sanzon seki (a Buddhist-influenced, three-stone arrangement often found in Japanese gardens). Though the shrine was either burned down or destroyed by storms several times between 1615 and 1791, it was always rebuilt in grand style by the Tokugawa shogunate or the Hikone clan. The current rebuilding was completed in 2005. Though the grounds are small, they are covered in trees and located about twelve kilometers from Lake Biwa. 

Important spiritual features: The male kami Izanagi and the female Izanami are the mother and father of all the gods after the first six generations. They were charged by these original deities with the creation of earth (Japan) and the creation of all the other deities. After the creation of the fire deity, Izanami died and went to "the land of the dead" (yomi). The aggrieved Izanagi went after her and tried to bring her back. After returning from yomi, Izanagi bathed to rid himself of the pollution of death, and from these ablutions other kami were born—including Amaterasu Omikami. When he was done, the Kojiki says that Izanagi “hid himself away in Taga of Omi.” Omi is the old name for Shiga and “hid away” is a euphemism for died. However the Nihon shoki mentions Awajishima as the place where he went to dwell and therefore both places have a claim to this heritage. In either case it infers the establishment of holy ground from as early as "the age of the gods." The existence of the shrine is first confirmed in the engishiki written in the tenth century. Taga Taisha, is the origin of over two-hundred Taga shrines throughout the country. Taga branch shrines developed due to the popularity of confraternities (ko) and the guides (oshi) who escorted visitors to shrines and temples.  
            Taga Taisha also has a long history of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism and had a jinguji (a temple on shrine grounds) from the eighth century. The monks who worshipped here were called shaso or shimbun dosha—monks specifically appointed to say prayers for the enlightenment of the kami, which were collectively known as Taga Daimyojin. At these temples, sutras were chanted in front of the kami with the goal of releasing them from their unenlightened condition. Taga Taisha still has a temple on its grounds and has been at the forefront of a new rapprochement between Buddhism and Shinto.

Description: Taga taisha is situated close to the eastern side of Lake Biwa, on the old Tosando Highway between Kyoto and Nagoya. This is one reason it was visited by nobility from ancient times. Approaching the entrance to the shrine grounds, an arched bridge crosses a small moat just inside the first torii. Like so many other arched bridges throughout the country it is no longer used, but it creates a picturesque sight especially in the snow. Passing round it to the left or right, you enter through the roumon into the shrine grounds proper. You will notice the chrysanthemum motif of the Imperial Household on the lanterns and noren hung over the entrance. This shows that Taga Taisha was designated a kanpeitaisha (imperial shrine) which means it considered an ancestral shrine of the emperor and is one of ninety-seven shrines that received offerings from the emperor in the Meiji era. Only kanpeisha and kokuheisha (national shrines) were allowed to display the chrysanthemum motif.
            The grounds are rather large at about fifteen acres. The sando leads past the teimizuya and directly to the kagura stage in front of the haiden. After paying your respects to the kami, you can continue to walk around the grounds to the left of the haiden. The grounds are abundant with tall conifers, giving the impression of a forest clearing. In the spirit of shinbutsu shugo, the grounds contain both a Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine.
            In pre-modern times, the shrine was strongly linked to other major shrines, such as Ise Jingu, through its association with Izanagi as the father of Ameterasu Omikami and Susano-o. Especially during  time when patronage of the emperor and other elite families was lost due to civil war. Buddhist organization and oshi guides became essential to the financial wellbeing of shrines. The words of one folk song went, “If you visit Ise, then why not Taga? Ise is a child of Taga.”  Another popular expression said, “Go at least three times to Kumano [Susano-o] and at least seven to Ise but visit Taga once a month.”

Taga Festival
Festivals: Korei Taisai, 22 April. (Also called the Taga Festival, Uma [horse] Festival, and the Batoshin Festival) This is the shrines oldest festival, originating sometime in the Kamakura period. It includes a procession of about 500 figures dressed in period costume, representing the procession of a feudal lord. Traditionally a koreisai was a festival to commemorate the imperial ancestors on the day of the spring equinox. A taisai was a special rite lasting a full month and presided over by the Emperor. Events leading to this festival begin on 12 April and include a sort of play/ritual with two members of the community, called the batoin (a peasant) and the otsukai-den (a samurai), who make offerings to the kami

Otaue (rice-planting) Festival, 1 June. Fifty-five rice-planting girls (saotome) in traditional garb, perform a ceremony accompanied by music and dance.

Taga Taisha Lantern Festival (Mantosai), 3 to 5 August. Probably the most visually exciting festival held here, 10,000 lanterns are lit on the shrine grounds along with drum performances and a dragon dance, as well as more popular entertainers.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Yahiko Jinja (Iyahiko Jinja)                                                                           UC
Yahiko Jinja
(photos courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded:The foundation date is not clear but at least before AD711. Current buildings from 1916.
Address: 2887-2 Yahiko, Yahiko-mura, Nishikanbara-gun, Niigata 959-0323
Tel/Information: 0256-94-3154 Yahiko Tourism Association, 0256-94-3154
How to get there: From Tokyo, take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen to Tsubame-sanjo Station. Transfer to the JR Yahiko Line to Yahiko Station. Then 10 minutes by foot.
Enshrined kami: Ame no kagoyama no mikoto.
Prayers offered: Success with new ventures
Best times to go: Early April to early May for the cherry blossoms, Late October to mid-November for the autumn colors in the adjacent Yahiko Park and on Mt. Yahiko and from 1 to 24 November for the Chrysanthemum Festival.

Important physical features: Yahiko Jinja is set in magnificent surroundings close to the Sea of Japan in the northern prefecture of Niigata. The train that takes you to the shrine crosses fertile plains, populated by small villages (the population of Yahiko Village is only about 8,500) and fields. Rising up a short distance behind the shrine is Mt. Yahiko—the original location of the shrine and the current location of the shrine's goshinbyo at 2,093 feet above sea level. A rope way takes five minutes to transport you to the summit, with its panoramic view, from Sanroku Station at the base. The station is reached by walking from the shrine along the Manyo Road, which is lined with magnificent cedar and oak and sixty varieties of plants mentioned in the eighth century poetry anthology Manyoshu. The road is part of the ground's 500 acres, most of which are covered in keiyaki (zelkova) and sugi (Japanese cedar), many between four and five-hundred-years old. The shrine is located in a clearing at the eastern edge of this forest. A kairo surrounds the flat, gravel-covered, inner grounds in front of the haiden. The entrance to this space is through a chumon with zuijin guardian figures. The haiden is an impressive irimoya-zukuri style building with an undulating bargeboard (karahafu) in the step-canopy (kouhai) over the stairs. The entrance is on the gable side but the unusual thing about this building is the additional roof surrounding an exterior portico (hisashi) that encircles three sides of the building, and connects to right and left wings toward the back of the haiden. This greatly extends the roof width and exaggerates the lifting effect of the roof above it. The honden is a two-bay wide nagare-zukuri style with a copper shingle roof. The overall effect is very elegant. The design is credited to Ito Chuta who designed many shrines in the early twentieth century. To the right of the shrine, a newer area has been built in a similar style to accommodate the shrine office and wedding ceremonies. For additional details of shrine construction, please see "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion".
            Beside the honden and haiden there are over twenty other structures on the grounds. Among them is the sub-shrine (massha) called Tobashira Jinja, founded in 1694. It is an eighteen-foot-square building with a thatched roof and carvings on the rainbow beams, brackets, and frog-leg struts. This building, like most of the other buildings at Yahiko Jinja, is designated an Important Cultural Property. Near the entrance to the shrine grounds is the Tamanohashi Bridge, a curved, red, taikobashi with an unusual protective roof. Shrine documents record that this bridge was originally built in 711 along with an early rebuilding of the shrine. This record constitutes evidence for the belief that the shrine was founded before that date. The shrine is also known for the Shida no otachi, a sword with an approximately 7-foot blade, which was given as an offering to the kami in 1415. It is considered one of the longest swords in Japan and is on display in the shrine’s Treasure House.

Important spiritual features: According to the Sendai kuji hongi, the kami enshrined at Yahiko Jiinja is a son of Nigihaiyai who descended to earth in the “heavenly rock boat.” The Kojiki and Nihon shoki call the same kami Takakuraji but imply the name represents a person not a kami. All these ancient texts agree that Ame no kagoyama (or Takakuraji) was instrumental in helping Jimmu Tenno to overcome a spell that was placed on his troops, disabling his attempt to establish a nation. This was at a time when Jimmu had advanced to the Kii Peninsula, still far south of where he eventually ended his journey in Nara. Takakuraji had a dream in which the kami Takemikasuchi sent his sword Futsu no mitama to Ame no Kagoyama (through a whole in his storehouse roof) with instructions to deliver it to Jimmu. With the sword removing the spell they went on to defeat all resistance and establish the Yamato state. The Nihon shoki ends the story there but the Sendai kuji hongi has Ame no kagoyama originally being born in heaven as the son of Nigihayahi, later taking the name Takakuraji and marrying Hoyahime no mikoto and becoming the ancestral kami of the Owari clan. However shrine tradition continues the legend with the kami being sent to the Yahiko area by Jimmu to open the land and teach people how to fish and produce salt. This may be another case of the fledgling Yamato state conquering an area and enshrining its deities there. 
            This area was once known as Echigo and the shrine was once called Iyahiko, mentioned in a poem from the Manyoshu anthology of poetry from about 759. 

"Heavenly Iyahiko,
Even on a day
Of blue clouds,
A little rain"

This is considered another confirmation that the shrine existed from the early eighth century. On top of Mt. Yahiko, there is a mausoleum said to be for the kami and his wife called goshinbyo ("a burial place"). This is rather unusual since the top of a mountain is often considered the place where the kami originally descended and therefore the place where its okumiya (original shrine) is located. It is therefore rare to have a burial place for the kami on a mountain summit.  But shrine legend states that Ame no Kagoyama came here by sea so the lack of a mountain top okumiya is constant with the legend.
            The Sendai kuji hongi is a collection of mythical tales that are believed to be the handiwork of a member of the Mononobe clan that traced its ancestry to the beginnings of the Yamato state. This clan was centered in the Nara area close to the Isonokami Jinja, which was their family shrine. They were a powerful fighting clan and closely associated with the Futsu no mitama that is enshrined at Isonokami. The Mononobe lost influence after the clan was crushed in a war with the Soga clan of Korean immigrants who ushered in an era of continental influence in government and religion—including Buddhism.
            One issue that I have come across in relation to the kami enshrined here is some confusion over the name. The Chinese characters used by the shrine (天香山命are usually read as Ame no Kaguyama however the shrine reads them as Kagoyama. The confusion is thus in two parts. First, the pronunciation Kagoyama more properly uses different Chinese characters ( 天香語山命). While at first glance this is no more than another example of the haphazard assignment of pronunciation to letters in the Japanese language, the larger problem is that there are in fact other kami named Ame no kaguyama. For example (天乃香具山) is described as a small hill in Nara, one of the "Three Mountains of Yamato," and also mentioned in the Manyoshu. In the Kojiki, in the story of Amatarasu and the Heavenly Cave, it says that the shoulder bone of a deer and hahaka wood was brought from the mountain of Ama no kaguyama to use for a divination, as well as a sakaki tree whose branches were decorated with beads, cloth and a mirror. The mountain was said to have descended from heaven. Finally, the Nihon shoki confuses matters further by offering several versions of the birth of Ninigi no mikoto's son, Honoakari or Ame no honoakari who's son is Ama no kaguyama and said to be the ancestor of the Owari clan. Although I realize further research is needed to clarify this plethora of information, I have included it here in case someone with a more complete understanding of the kami involved would be kind enough to inform me. If not, I will try to clarify it with the shrine at a later date.

New Years at Yahiko Jinja
Description: Yahiko Jinja is a very old shrine and has always been one of the principle shrines in the area that is currently Niigata Prefecture. Besides a number of Nara period texts it is mentioned in the tenth century Engishiki. It occupies a position is in an old forest at the base of Mt. Yahiko, part of a small mountain range that sits parallel to the coast of the Japan Sea, separating the village of Yahiko from the ocean and protecting it against the severe winter weather that blankets the rest of the prefecture. To be sure it does snow here but less than other places and the weather is relatively temperate. The surrounding forest is thick with tall cedar and old keiyaki trees. One such tree on the way to the shrine is called the “octopus keiyaki” because the multiple thick branches, stemming from its base, flare out like the tendrils of an octopus. This tree is believed to be about 800 years old. The cedars come right up to the shrine, forming a natural wall just beyond the kairou. Coming from Yahiko Station, Momijidani and the forty-acre Yahiko Park are on your left. Particularly splendid in autumn color it is planted with enough varieties of flowers and flowering shrubs to make any season enjoyable. Following the street straight out of the station will take you to Jinja-dori where you turn right toward the shrine and soon cross the Mitaraigawa River that runs from Mt. Yahiko. To the left you can see the Tamanohashi Bridge. Walking a little further brings you to the stone-paved sando A turn to the left leads to the shrine, while a turn to the right brings you to the Shinen Garden where the abundance of cherry trees create a delightful scene in the spring.
            I suppose the better way to begin your journey would be at the train station prior to Yahiko called Yahagi Station. This is where the ninety-nine-foot tall torii is located. Though not technically a part of Yahiko Jinja, it was built by the town in 1982 to commemorate the opening of the Joetsu Shinkansen and mimics the first torii of Yahiko. It is built in the ryoubu style that is most closely associated with shrines that have a long history of shin-butsu shugyo (Shinto-Buddhism combinatory practice). In fact, Yahiko Jinja was part of a late-seventeenth century movement to separate shrines from Buddhist control by abolishing its jinguji (a temple for the purpose of enlightening the kami). But the attempt failed and Yahiko remained a Ryoubu Shinto shrine until the Meiji period. Be that as it may, the torii is reputed to be the largest ryobu-torii in Japan but the kind of competitive monument building it represents has less to do with religion than tourism. Nevertheless, it is an impressive sight with the mountain in the background. It is possible to walk to Yahiko from here but if you choose to get back on the train to go to Yahiko Station, you will be greeted by another monument of sorts. Yahiko Station itself was rebuilt in the style of a shrine and first opened in 1916, the year the shrine was rebuilt after a major fire that devastated the town. The town itself is well know for its onsen hot springs of which there are three, each with its own therapeutic value. Finally, there is the mountain itself. The view from the ropeway and from the top of the mountain is spectacular to be sure, but even here the unfortunate tendency toward monument building manifests itself in the form of a mini-amusement park and an observation tower that slowly turns as it goes up and down its tall shaft. It gives a great view of the Echigo Plains and Sado Island to the northwest when you are inside it, but like most such monstrosities, it totally mars the view when seen from the outside.

Lantern Festival
Festivals: Yahiko Chrysanthemum Festival, 1 to 24 November. Though not a shrine festival, this is Japan's largest chrysanthemum exhibition in terms of the numbers of participants and exhibits. Every size, color and arrangement with a contest held in each category. A flowerbed, in which 30,000 chrysanthemums create a large-scale landscape, is the main feature of the festival.

Lantern Festival, 25 July. This is the main festival of the shrine when its mikoshi is paraded.
Ube Jinja                                                                                                              UC
Gate and haiden of Ube Jinja
(photos courtesy of the shrine)

Date founded: Founded in 648 according to shrine tradition. The present main shrine building dates from 1898.
Address: 651 Miyashita, Kokufu-cho, Tottori-shi, Tottori-ken 680-0151.
Tel/Information: 0857-22-5025 English omikuji fortunes are available.
How to get there: Take the JR Chizu Kyuko Line from JR Shin-Osaka Station to JR Tottori station.  Then by taxi or by the Nakagawara Line Bus to Miyanoshita Jinja-mae bus stop.
Enshrined kami: Takenouchi no Sukune no mikoto.
What to pray for: Longevity, protection of children, prosperity, and success.
Best time to go: 21 April for the Miyuki Matsuri, early November for the autumn color.

Important physical features: The honden of Ube Jinja is a modest two-bay nagare-zukuri structure of unpainted wood, with gold-colored metalwork, chigi and katsuogi and a cedar-bark roof. The haiden is an irimoya-zukuri structure set perpendicular to the honden with the entrance on the gable side and latticed doors on all sides. An equally modest, 4-legged gate with a curved roof acts as an entrance, set close to the haiden at the top of some stone steps. The twin rocks called souri seki, where Takenouchi no Sukune is said to have left his sandals and ascended to become a kami, are located on the grounds behind the honden.

Important spiritual features: The deity enshrined at Ube Jinja, Takenouchi no Sukune, is a legendary figure said to have lived for 280 years, and served every Emperor from Keiko (r. 71-130AD) to Nintoku (r. 313-99). Because of this, he is famous as a kami of longevity. He accomplished this feat by drinking from a well (shipo sui) that helped prolong his life. This miracle water is said to be the same as that which flows into the current hand-washing basin on the shrine grounds, and visitors are invited to drink their full. Takenouchi is most famed as the saniwa (spirit medium) for Jingu Kogo when she received a takusen (oracle) from the Suminoe deities that commanded Emperor Chuai to take charge of Korea. Chuai refused this oracle from the mouth of his wife Jingu, and was struck dead. Jingu, we are told by the Kojiki, went on to conquer Korea with the help of the faithful general Takenouchi who is also thought of as the first prime minister of sorts. Takenouchi was also a mentor to the son of Jingu, the young Emperor Ojin, and thus also gained a reputation as a protector of children and a connection to the “Boys Day” celebration on the fifth day of the fifth month. The story is told that when Jingu returned from Korea, she faced a rebellion from two of Emperor Chuai's children by another consort. She used a ruse of claiming the young Ojin had died and launching a funeral ship in which her troops hid. This gave Jingu's forces a chance to attack and quash the rebellion. In the meantime, Takenouchi  had spirited Ojin away to the Kii peninsula (present day Wakayama Prefecture). One generation later, the son of Ojin, Emperor Nintoku, took a granddaughter of Takenouchi as his wife, and she became Princess Iwa, the mother of three emperors (Richu, Hanzei and Ingyo).

Description: Ube Jinja is listed as one of the 353 taisha (Grand Shrines) in the Engishiki's list of 2,861 shrines, and is most important shrine in the Iwami district of Tottori prefecture. The enshrined deity is the legendary general to the equally legendary Jingu Kogo who, as the story goes, conquered Korea around 211AD. Takenouchi is one of the most often depicted figures of Japanese mythology and is the subject of many ukiyo-e. Depictions usually show him in Chinese-style robes with a long beard. He has appeared on numerous Japanese bank notes from 1 to 5 yen (from before the turn of the century). For this reason he also came to be regarded as a kami of prosperity. He is also regarded as the ancestral kami of twenty-eight clans including the ancient and powerful Soga, Ki, and Katsuragi clans, as well as a relative of Jingu Kogo. 
As an interesting if unrelated aside, one of the most well known Japanese composers of the twentieth century, Akira Ifukube, who is especially known as the composer of the soundtrack for “Godzilla”, was a scion of the Ifukube (Ihokibe). This was a powerful clan of the Inaba region (present day Tottori) who were also priests of Ube Jinja.

Festivals: Miyuki Matsuri, 20 to 21 April. This festival includes the Kirinjishi (“Kirin dance of Inaba”), a performance particular to the Tottori area begun in the Edo period. The Kirin is a mythical creature like a dragon but said to be based on the imagined image of a giraffe. This dance is similar to a lion dance but the movements are slower.

Mitokusan Sanbutsuji
Address: 1010 Mitoku, Misasa-cho, Touhaku-gun, Tottori 682-0132
Tel/Information: 085-843-2666
How to get there: Bus service is available from JR Kurayoshi Station on the Sannin Main Line to Mitokusanji-mae bus stop. Busses run almost hourly (except Saturday, Sunday and 8 thru 15 August. Admission to the mountain is 600 yen for adults, 300 yen for children. Appropriate footwear for climbing is required.

Nagerido od Mitokusan Sanbutsuji
(photo from the website
If you travel to Ube Jinja, I would also recommend a visit to another spiritual landmark of Tottori, Mitokusan Sanbutsuji temple. Though not Shinto and not very close to Ube, it is a complex of temples and hermitages on Mt Mitoku that is on the candidates list to become a World Heritage site. A steep and rocky mountain trail takes you up the side of the 3,000-foot mountain. The farther into the complex, the more the temples are built on increasingly precarious slopes, until they are against the shear rock-face of the mountain. The highest one is named Nageiredo, a small kakezukuri building from the Heian period that is designated a National Treasure. According to temple lore, En no Gyoja founded the temple in 706 by throwing three lotus petals in the air and vowing to build temples where they fell. Mt. Mitoku was one such place. The story goes that he threw the temple up from below, hence the name nageire which means, “to throw in.” This is a good example of mountain asceticism and the whole-hearted devotion of the ancients. It is a mystery as to how these perches were built on the shear rock and managed to endure the harsh winters on the Japan Sea coast. In celebration of the 1300-year  (in 2006) anniversary, the sight has undergone extensive repairs. The three Buddha images, from which the temple takes the name san (three) butsu (Buddha) ji (temple), were donated by Ennin (794-864), the fourth leader of the Tendai sect. The Tendai sect played a major role in the amalgamation of Shinto and Buddhism (shin-butsu shugo). These and a number of other wooden and ceramic statues, especially of Zao Gongen the frightening shugendo god who was revealed to En no Gyoja on Mt. Kinpu, are on display. Zao is said to be a Shinto avatar (gongen) of a combination of the Buddha’s of the past, present, and future.

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. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Oyama Jinja

Oyama Jinja                                                                                      UC
Shinmon of Oyama Jinja
(photo courtesy of the shrine)
Date founded: Founded in 1599 as the Utatsu Hachimangu shrine on Utatsuyama by order of the Daimyo (lord) Toshinaga Maeda. Moved to its present location on the site of the old Kanaya Palace in 1873.
Address: 11-1 Oyama-cho, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa 920-0918
Tel/Information: 076-231-7210 A brief history of the shrine is available in English.
How to get there: Take the bus from Kanazawa Station going to Kenrokuen. Get off at the Minami-cho bus stop then 3 minutes by foot to the shine.
Enshrined kami: Maeda Toshiie, the founder of the Kaga domain.
Prayers offered: Business success, academic success, and a happy marriage.
Best times to go: When the Japanese apricot (ume) trees are in bloom around the end of February.

Important physical features: The most striking physical feature of Oyama Jinja is its unique entrance gate, which was built in a semi-Western style in 1875. The three-story shinmon gate was designed with the help of a Dutch doctor/teacher named Holtman, and built by Kichinosuke Tsuda who also built the shrine. It is an eclectic mix of European, Chinese, and Japanese elements, made of wood frame construction and approximately 83 feet in height. The ground floor consists of a triple arch constructed in brick that constitutes the gate. Two much smaller levels stand above this, surfaced with white stucco and clad in copper sheeting. A square tower, with stained-glass work on all four sides, once served as a light tower and is said to have the first lightening rod in Japan extending from its peak. Apparently it was disliked and unpopular when it was built. It certainly makes for a startling site, sitting as it does at the top of a broad, stone stair that itself begins with a large stone torii. Though rather European looking at first glance, closer inspection reveals the Chinese influence in the curved edges of the tower's three stories (including the first, brick level), the ornamental woodwork inside the arches, the ornamental folding doors on the second level, and the roof ornament at the peak. In short, it is a genre of architecture that grew up in the early Meiji period called gyofu (sudo-Western style). It is an absolutely unique structure, worthy of its designation as an Important Cultural Property.
            The haiden that stands at some distance from the gate, is a massive 9 by 6-bay irimoya-zukuri structure in unpainted wood, with a large chidorihafu and a large karahafu over the stair. The roof is tiled and all the walls contain latticed panels with the majority being sliding doors with glass under the lattice. A statue of Maeda Toshiie astride a horse seems a bit out of place on the grounds of a shrine, but such is the respect for the man in this town.
A stroll garden that sits to the right side of the shrine was designed by Kobori Enshu (1579-1647), a Japanese “Renaissance Man” who is famous as an architect, garden designer and tea master. He studied tea under Furuta Oribe and is considered one of the most important masters in history, along with Oribe and Sen no Rikyu. Enshu is best known for his work on Katsura Rikyu, Nijo Castle, and many other landmarks of the Momoyama and early-Edo periods. This beautiful garden contains a pond shaped like a biwa (Japanese lute), with islands in the shape of musical instruments. A brick bridge spanning a small pond on the grounds contains a triple arch that may have influenced the design of the gate.

Important spiritual features: Oyama Jinja was originally founded as Utatsu Hachimangu on Mt. Utatsu. When Maeda Toshiie, the powerful warlord and founder of the Kaga domain (present day Ishikawa Prefecture) died in 1599, his son Toshinaga enshrined him there. Though Toshiie was not the founder of the famous clan descended from the Sugawara (whose most famous son Sugawara Michizane was enshrined as Tenman Tenjin), he was the most celebrated member. Maeda was a powerful daimyo and his clan was allied with and related by marriage to Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu at different periods in time. He was one of the so-called “five regents” appointed by Hideyoshi to safeguard the succession of his five-year old child Hideyori, after Hideyoshi’s death (which came in 1598). Maeda had direct charge of protecting Hideyori at Osaka Castle, but when he died in 1599, Tokugawa Ieyasu began to consolidate power in his own hands and Toshinaga sided with the Tokugawa. The Hideyoshi faction split and a decisive battle between the factions was won by the Tokugawa allies at Sekigahara in 1600. Due to the able maneuvering of Maeda’s son Toshinaga and their heirs, the Maeda enjoyed the second largest domain after the Tokugawa, and the capital of their domain, Kanazawa, was the fourth-largest city in Japan by 1700. The city that the Maeda clan built is still one of the most vibrant along the Sea of Japan coast. With the end of domain wars brought about by the rise of the Tokugawa, the Maeda turned their eye toward commerce and began to modernize the province through the use of modern mechanized looms.

Description: Oyama Jinja was built by former samurai, adjacent to Kanazawa Castle on the former site of the Maeda villa Kanaya Goten in 1873. In fact, the back gate to the shrine is one of the few parts remaining of the original castle. The old castle was also built by the Maeda clan and parts of it have been faithfully restored. The grounds are now a large park. While the shrine sits on the western end of the castle grounds, the lovely Kenroku-en garden sits on the southern side. This beautiful stroll garden is typical of the private daimyo gardens of the feudal period, many of which later became public parks. Its 1,200 square foot garden contains the large Kasumiga-ike pond, the smaller Hisago-ike pond, and a long, winding stream. Together with the castle grounds and Omiya Jinja, Kenroku-en creates a large expanse of greenery in the heart of Kanazawa City.
            Maeda was ahead of his time in the sense that he turned the province toward creative production at an early date. He brought craftsman from Kyoto to train local people, establishing the osaikusho crafts workshop, and built an economy based on the textile industry. His legacy can still be seen in such things as the Kanazawa International Design School (a branch of Parsons in New York City), Kanazawa University of Art and Design, and the city's efforts to preserve and restore traditional architecture.
            One other interesting aspect of Kanazawa is the history of the Ikko-ikki, one of the few and most long-lived revolutionary movements in Japan. This group of Buddhist monks, farmers and itinerants followed the teachings of the Jodo Shinshu monk Rennyo. He is considered the "second founder" who revived the teachings of the founder Shinran (1173-1263). Jodo Shinshu was a kind of "outlaw" form of Buddhism founded under the influence of Honen (1133-1212). Honen taught that the path to awakening could be reached by repeatedly chanting the name of Amida (referred to as the nembutsu). Both Honan and Shinran were persecuted and exiled for their heresy. Likewise, Rennyo battled the Tendai monks of Mt. Hie (who burned down the sects main temple, Honganji, in 1465. This caused Rennyo to flee and rebuild in Echizen province (present day Fukui—next to Ishikawa). The religious fervor of his followers eventually lead to an uprising in 1488. The Ikko-ikki overthrew the lords of Kaga and established a peasant government there. Eventually, Oda Nobunaga destroyed the power of the Ikki and gave the domain to one of his top generals, Maeda Toshiie. The Ishiyama Hoganji was destroyed along with Goboji where Maeda built his castle.

Festivals: Hyakumangoku Matsuri, held on the first or second Saturday of June. This festival commemorates the entry of Lord Maeda into Kanazawa Castle in 1583. A large parade of people dancing and singing, and a procession of people dressed in period costume, fireman acrobatics, and Noh drama.