Monday, September 12, 2016


As readers of this blog know I released "Shinto Shrines; A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion", coauthored with John Dougill and published by the University of Hawaii Press, in December of 2012. The desire to continue my research into shrines led me to launch this blog in August of the same year. In addition to ongoing research, the blog contains excerpts from the book and a number of entries that didn't make it through the final edit. I believe the combination of book and blog presents a comprehensive overview of Japanese shrines in English, unlike that found anywhere else. Whereas much of the blog contents have not been verified with individual shrines—as the contents of the book have—I am rather conservative about including information from unreliable sources. One finds that misinformation is picked up and repeated to such a degree that it becomes perceived as fact. This is especially true in Japanese history/myth and equally true of Internet content. I make every effort not to add to the noise. I have also tried to make available on the blog some of the sources I have consulted in writing the book—particularly where they are readily available on the net—with a summary of each. Please let me know if there is some information related to shrines which you would like to see posted.

Here is a recent review from the website Patheos at

From the "About" section of the website comes this: Founded in 2008, is the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality and to explore and experience the world's beliefs. Patheos is the website of choice for the millions of people looking for credible and balanced information about religion. Patheos brings together faith communities, academics, and the broader public into a single environment, and is the place where many people turn on a regular basis for insight, inspiration, and stimulating discussion. Patheos is unlike any other religious and spiritual site on the Web today.
The review is reprinted here by permission of the author, Megan Manson — with my thanks! You can read a short interview with Megan here:

Pagan, Shinto & Spiritual Book Reviews

Joseph Cali & John Dougill, Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion
(University of Hawai’i Press, 2012)
This book is by two of the most generous and enthusiastic non-Japanese specialists on Shinto. Joseph Cali is the creator of Shinto Shrines of Japan Blog Guide, a very useful website for those looking for information about specific jinja (Shinto shrines). John Dougill is the author of Green Shinto, which I consider an essential resource for international followers of Shinto and especially those approaching Shinto from a Neopagan perspective. I’ve therefore had Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion on my wishlist for some time, and I’m really glad I’ve finally got to read it. I was not disappointed.
Booksellers would not be wrong for putting Shinto Shrines in their “Travel” section. It looks and feels very much like a Lonely Planet-style guidebook – one that covers, in considerable detail, 57 prominent jinja (shrines) located all over Japan. Like a Lonely Planet book, Shinto Shrines is packed with full-colour photographs and the entries for each shrine all feature a table of useful information.
What makes Shinto Shrines stand out from Lonely Planet, and in fact many other books on Shinto, is the attention given to details about the shrines – there’s information here that you just won’t find elsewhere, at least in English. The key information about each shrine not only includes its contact details, but also information on which kami are enshrined there, what kind of prayers are usually offered, and key dates in the shrine’s calendar. Perhaps the most attention is given to the shrine’s architectural features, so if that interests you in particular you’ll be in heaven (and if you don’t, you can just skim-read these parts). This, coupled with the excellent introduction to Shinto (with some really helpful illustrations) at the beginning, means that Shinto Shrines transcends being a mere travel guide and is in fact a solid resource for more serious students of the Shinto religion and its shrines.
Friendly, detailed and clearly written with a lot of love, Shinto Shrines is a reference book for a new generation of Japanologists and other enthusiasts of Japan and Shinto – those who are not content with simple armchair research, and want to go out there and experience Shinto for themselves.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Photo Tour of Usa Jingu
In Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, my focus was on delivering as much information as possible about as many shrines as possible. The original goal was 100 shrines but this would have necessitated a massive book at a massive price (as well as an irate publisher). Since I was unwilling to compromise the information for each shrine, I compromised on the number of photos. In this blog too, I have followed the style of the book and therefore images are again minimal. But in the assumption that readers of the book and of this blog might also be interested in seeing more of the places being written about, I am presenting a series of Photo Tours.  Here then is the principle shrine of the kami often referred to as the "God of War":Hachiman.
Usa Jingu
       Hachiman shrines are one of the most numerous types, having 30,000 individual shrines by some reckonings. This is likely an inflated figure given that the total number of shrines in the country is said to number about 80,000. However there is little doubt that Hachiman is one of the most common shrines, and Usa in Oita province, Kyushu, is probably where the cult began. Hachiman is an extremely interesting and thoroughly combinatory kami containing distinct Buddhist elements and origins.

Top photo shows the left ichi no goten, bottom the san no goten. Both pictures also show the nii no goten in the center back and the moshiden in front of it.
       Hachiman is itself a combination of Emperor Ojin, Himegami (a consort kami which varies according to the shrine but is here considered to be the three female Munakata deities), and Jingu Kogo. This is why there are three individual buildings. These are enclosed within a kairo covered walkway with a two-tiered roumon entrance. It is the roumon and kairo painted in cinnabar that represent the Hachiman style to most visitors. The same style can be seen at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura and others. What is not so apparent is the double gable roof which is even more indicative of the style though, in fact, the double gable is now to be seen in only four Hachiman shrines that I know of. Not all Hachiman shrines have three deities or three buildings either. Some enshrine Ojin alone and some Ojin and Jingu who are child and mother. Some include Ojin's sons.

Gegu of Usa Hachiman, front and right side
        While the grounds of the shrine are extensive and the structures number more than 20, the two principle groupings are the jogu (at the top of the page) and the gegu. Although the terminology is slightly different, as with Ise Jingu, the kami of the gegu are said to provide food to the kami of the jogu. Interestingly, I have been told that the gegu (or in the case of Ise, the geku) was likely built before the jogu (or in the case of Ise again, the naiku) since a place to prepare food offerings would be needed before the principle kami could be enshrined. The structure is similar to that of the main shrine except that the kairo does not surround the entire compound, there is no roumon, and the three individual shrines within do not sport a double gable as can be seen clearly from the right side photo. 

Covered bridge of Usa Jingu
        Another distinctive structure at Usa is this covered bridge called the kurehashi which is thought to exist since the thirteenth century. It is one of several bridges that cross the Yorimo River bordering the shrine grounds. The ceremonial bridge is used only once every ten years when an imperial messenger, bearing offerings from the Emperor, crosses it. Modifications have been made over the years, such as the closed gate and the concrete pilings. Such a long covered bridge is quite rare in Japan and I would love to hear from readers if anyone is aware of any others.

Map of he grounds of Usa Hachiman