Monday, January 14, 2013

Shoin Jinja (Tokyo)                                                                      UC
Shin Jinja haiden
(photos by Joseph Cali)
Date founded: Founded in 1882 The current building is from 1927.
Address: 4-35-1 Wakabayashi, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 154-0023
Tel/Information: 03-3421-4834. Open from 9am to 4:30pm. Website in English:
How to get there: Tokyu Setagaya Line to Shoin Jinja-mae or Wakabayashi Station, then 3 minutes by foot.
Enshrined kamiYoshida Shoin (sensei).
Prayers offered:  Success in studies.

Reproduction of the famous Shoka Sonjuku
Important physical features: Shoin Jinja is not only a shrine but the burial place of one of the most important figures of pre-modern Japan, Yoshida Shoin. Yoshida was excited by beheading in 1859 at the Kozukappara execution grounds in the minami-senju area of Tokyo, after he was arrested during the Ansai Purge ordered by Ii Naosuke. He was reburied here three years after his death by some of his former students including Takasugi Shinsaku and Ito Hirobumi. According to the shrine's website, the grounds were once the villa of the lord of the Mori clan who was the daimyo of Choshu (present day Yamaguchi-ken). The shrine itself was erected in 1882 and part of this original shrine is currently the naijin of the newer honden which, along with the haiden, was built in 1927.
            As you enter the grounds, the sando takes you diagonally past the unexceptional mikoshi-ko on the right which houses the shrines mikoshi. Just beyond this on the left is the kaguraden donated to the shrine by the Mori family in 1932. Taking a path that branches off to the left, you arrive at one of the more unusual parts of this or any shrine; a graveyard. Shinto generally views contact with death as a sort of pollution and very few shrine grounds contain graves or grave stones. Of course, there are exceptions. Most notably perhaps is that of Yoshida Kanetomo (no relation to the Yoshida enshrined here), the founder of Yoshida Shinto, who is interred on the grounds of Yoshida Jinja in Kyoto, with a shrine built above the tomb where he is worshipped as a kami. In fact, Yoshida Shinto tried—unsuccessfully—to reclaim the burial ceremony from Buddhism which had always performed rites for the dead. But here, we have an entire graveyard with around twenty tombstones. These are all men related to Yoshida Shoin or to the early fight to overthrow the Tokugawa and restore the emperor to power. Men such as Nakatani Masasuke and Fukuhara Otonoshin who were students of Yoshida at the famous Shoka Sonjuku school in Hagi. It is also said that such illustrious figures as Ito Hirobumi and Takasugi Shinsaku are "reburied" here but I have yet to confirm the circumstances of their reburial. Nevertheless, the tombs clearly show that Shoin Jinja is a monument to the revolutionary spirit of those men who brought about the modern era in Japan.
            One more building of some importance here is a reproduction of the Shoka Sonjuku school, located at the right side of the shrine. This one-story, two-room structure is based on the original that is currently located on the grounds of the other major Shoin Jinja in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture. For several years from 1857, Yoshida lived and taught in the school that was begun by his uncle in 1842.
            Although not part of the shrine, the Wakabayashi Park next door is worth a quick peek. It is a small (3.5 acres) but very unusual space in that it is basically a forest of tall red pines, many of them leaning precariously toward the left (from the direction of the entrance).

Grave markers at Shin Jinja
(Yoshida Torajiro a.k.a. Shoin in the center
left to right: Fukuhara Otonoshin, Kuruhara Ryozou,
Yoshida, Kobayashi Yoshisuke, Raimiki Saburo)
Important spiritual features: As a kami, the worship of Yoshida Shoin can be seen in the light of the deification of extraordinary humans that makes up a very large group of kami in Shinto. In my book, "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion," I have characterized this as being akin to sainthood in the Roman Catholic faith. However, unlike the spirit of self-sacrifice, often resulting in martyrdom that characterizes that tradition, deification in Shinto is a more casual and unregulated affair. Those deified are often less religious figures than they are powerful men who lived and died by the sword. In Yoshida Shoin however, (though he was a samurai willing and ready to die for the Emperor, as well as a swordsman who taught in the Ono-ha Itto-ryu style as transmitted by the Yamaga clan), we have a great teacher and pivotal figure of the late Edo era. As a writer and teacher his influence was widely felt, and he is often seen as one of the shining lights of the era—though that light was prematurely extinguished at the age of twenty-nine.

Shoin Jinja about 100 years ago
Description: Shoin Jinja is one of the two main shrines dedicated to this early leader of the Meiji Restoration. As I mentioned above, the other is in his native Hagi where he lived, wrote and taught at the famous Shoka Sonjuku. The Tokyo location is originally the site where some of his most prestigious students and admirers reburied him and then built the shrine in his name. Though Yoshida only taught a few short years, he managed to influence the future leaders of the Meiji government out of all proportion to the time he actually spent with them. One of the reasons for their great respect was that they saw in him the kind of man who his own mentor, Yamaga Soko (1622-85), described in his writings on the "the warrior's creed" (bukyo) and the "the way of gentleman" (shido), which later came to be defined as bushido in the early-eighteenth century classic Hagakure. Yoshida was not only a man of letters but also of action. He was one of those who realized that the only way to protect Japan was to learn as much as possible from foreign countries. His desire to protect his country from subjugation by the Western powers of the day caused him to attempt to violate the shogun's laws against foreign travel. He tried several times to leave the country, including on a Russian ship, before attempting to leave aboard one of Commodore Perry's ships, the Powhatan, in 1853. Having just signed a treaty with the shogun, Perry felt bound to observe the provision that prohibited aiding nationals from leaving the country. Perry returned Yoshida and a companion to the authorities who arrested him. After a lengthy imprisonment he returned to his native Hagi where he taught for several years. However his zeal to overthrow the bakufu persisted and in 1883, he wrote a goodbye letter to his father and set off to Kyoto to assassinate Mabe Jensho, a minister of the shogun's government. The plot failed and he was arrested and sent to Edo. He confessed to the plot and proceeded to denounce the Tokugawa and lecture his jailers on Japanese history. An observer of the events summed up Yoshida's life with the words, "He failed in each particular enterprise that he attempted; and yet we have only to look at his country to see how complete has been his general success." Men such as Ito Hirobumi, one of the architects of the restoration and its first prime minister, Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922), the first Minister of War and modernizer of the Imperial Japanese Army who went on to become Japan't third prime minster, and numerous others such as Takasugi Shinsaku, who helped bring the Edo period to an end but did not live to see the dawning of the modern age. It is as much for these men and their achievements as anything else, that Yoshida Shoin and the jinja that enshrines him take their place in history.

Festivals: Ishin Matsuri (Bakumatsu Festival), 22 to 23 October (dates vary each year). Features the shrines mikoshi and a parade of people in period costume.

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