Thursday, November 20, 2014

Iya Inari Shrine


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Off to one side of the main Iya shrine is a line of torii leading to an Inari Shrine. Each of the different torii , which can sometimes be so many that they literally form a tunnel, are donated by different worshippers.

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As is typical of traditional Japanese religious practises, there are numerous identities and attributes of Inari though in the Meiji Period when many kami had their identities changed or fixed by the government it became mostly associated with Ukanomitama.

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Inari is often associated with rice as an agricultural deity, but in time its "wish-fulfilling" properties became associated with success in business and many other endeavors, even becoming the patron deity of prostitutes.
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Often referred to as a Fox God, the fox is actually just a messenger of Inari

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kappa Manholes


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The Kappa, one of many mythical creatures classified as "Yokai", is often translated into English as "water sprite", though that does not convey much of the character of these creatures. Stories of Kappa can be found all over Japan, but some areas have a stronger connection to them. The design above is from Tsuyama in Okayama, where the creature is known as Gongo. A Gongo festival is held every year.

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South of Tsuyama, though connected by the same river system, is the town of Kumenan. The toen mascot is "Kappy". There were several different designs incorporating Kappa, but I passed through in the dark so the only photo that turned out well was the one above.

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Tanushimaru along the Chikugo River in Fukuoka claims to be the original source of all Japanese Kappa. There are many Kappa shrines in the area and statues of Kappa are everywhere. The railway station is also shaped like a kappa.

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The photo below is from further south in Kyushu, Satsumasendai in Kagoshima.

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The best manhole design of Kappa though is the one from my town, Sakurae, where it is known as "Enko". It can be found here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Iya Shrine


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Iya Shrine is a very ancient shrine, said by some sources to be the oldest shrine in Izumo. It is listed in the Izumo Fudoki, menstioned in the Nihon Shoki, and listed in the Engi Shiki. It is one of the "Six Shrines of Ou", Ou being the old name for the district and the site of government in the Nara Period.

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The primary kami is Izanami, and near here is the entrance to the underworld (Yomi) where her husband/brother Izanagi fled from after visiting her there. Also enshrined here are Okuninushi, his son Kotoshironushi whose main shrine is across the lagoon at Mihonoseki, and Sukunabikona a sidekick of Okuninushi who "built" the country with him.

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The third layer of kami enshrined in the main honden is Takeminakata, the son of Okuninushi who didnt't want to cede the land the the emissary of Amaterasu and who is the main kami of Suwa shrines, and Futsunushi, the ancestor of the Mononobe who was the emissary from Amaterasu.

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There are some secondary shrines in the grounds including two Ebisu shrines and a Tenmangu, but the most interesting is the Karakuni shrine. Karakuni means "Korea", and there are quite a few of them in the Izumo area, and they enshrine Susano and his son Isotake. According to Izumo mythology they both came to Izumo from the Korean Penisula and also made visits back there, something that is widely ignored by the nationalists here.

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There is also an altar to Kojin and an Inari shrine, but I will post on them next.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Inside Diamond City


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Diamond City are a chain of "cathedrals to consumption" located across Japan. This one in Hiroshima is named Diamond City Soleil.

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It was built on the site of the former Kirin Brewery and elements from the old brewery can be found inside and outside.

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I personally find such places rather bizarre, not only because shopping is among my least favorite activities, but they remind me so much of the settings of so many SF movies from my youth that are set in such gleaming, sterile, environments.

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However, such places do offer me the opportunity to take the kind of photographs I like best, minimal, and geometric....

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chikuyo Shrine


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Chikuya Shrine is a very ancient shrine near Iya in HigashiIzumo near the shore of the Nakaumi Lagoon. It is listed in the Izumo Fudoki which means it was in existence before the eighth Century. It is also listed in the 10th Century Engi Shiki which means it received offerings from the central government. It was moved to its current location in 1666 following a massive flood at its previous location about 1K south.

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The primary kami of the shrine is Kotoshironushi, the son of Okuninushi who suggested that Okuninushi cede the land to the Yamato envoys. His main shrine is Miho Shrine not far from here on the Mihonoseki Peninsula. Nowadays he is equated with Ebisu.

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The secondary kami enshrined here is named Hayatsumujiwake, and I can find absolutely no reference to him except that the Izumo Fudoki lists a Hayatsumuji Shrine, so I suspect that stood here originally until the Chikuya Shrine was relocated here.

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As well as a covered sumo ring there are numerous secondary shrines within the grounds including a Tenman Shrine enshrining Tenjin, an Ise-gu enshrining Amaterasu, an Akiba Shrine for protection against fire, a Munetada Shrine, a Meiji era shrine with connections to the Kurozumi-kyo sect, an Inari Shrine, a Kizuki Shrine, Kizuki being the old name for the area where Izumo Taisha is located, a Konpira Shrine, and a Sumiyoshi Shrine.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage Temple 26 Kongocho-ji


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Kongoch-ji is the third of a cluster of pilgrimage temples near the tip of Cape Muroto where Kukai practised austerities as a young man.

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The Nio are particularly impressive and seem to have been carved out of a single piece of wood.

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The temple was founded by Kukai. The main deity is Yakushi Nyorai. It belonbgs to Shingon.

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In the temple grounds is a small museum of whaling artifacts and the temple also owns many objects reputed to belong to Kukai, though these are not usually accessible to visitors.

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There are great views down towards the cape.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sacred Grove


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By mid afternoon I was almost to Iya and passed this grove of sacred trees. It is not marked on the map as a shrine, but it most certainly is a shrine. 100 years ago every single hamlet would have had a similar shrine, but around 100,000 of them were destroyed by the governments aggressive campaign to promote their new Amaterasu and Emperor centered "national" religion.

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Some places resisted the government campaign which is why shrines such as this still exist. There was one small structure and several of the trees had an altar in front.

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Thge biggest and most used altar was to Kojin, by far the most common kami in the Izumo region. With links to the kami of the hearth, the kami of the rice paddy, and the rough kami of the land, it is represented as a serpent made out of rice straw.

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Most literature on "shinto" makes little mention of this kami, probably because it has no links to the national kami. I really need to spend some more time in Izumo asking people about Kojin. In my area the similar kami is called Omoto and is female.

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I had known that nearby northern Hiroshima had a similar representation of the land kami, but I was really surprised last week as I was walking the back roads of southern Hiroshima to find a tree with a rope snake wrapped around it.....
All across Japan, from Kyushu to Tohoku, rope serpents are representative of the land kami. Why is it so unknown?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Autumn Matsuri 2014 part 3


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On the sunday morning all signs of the previous night had disappeared and ceremonies were held. The first took place in front of a side altar. There was no musical accompaniment. After reading out a norito, the priest then read out the names of the handful of us who were taking part. We were then purified with an onusa and one by one called up and given a drink of omiki and a part of the mochi that had been used as offerings to the kami. The folded paper also contained some grains of the rice that had also been on the altar.

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The next ceremony was a much grander affair with taiko and flute accompaniment. The village elders set offering upon the elder and norito were read, Once again there was purification. At the end of the ceremony the kami was transfered into the mikoshi which had been brought into the shrine.

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When I first moved to the village I asked about the mikoshi and was told that there were not enough men nowadays to be able to carry the mikoshi. A recent survey of villagers showed that the villagers wanted the mikoshi procession to be revived. This was the first time in 14 years.

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The mikoshi was really heavy as we carefully manhandled it down the steep steps. From the shrine it was then carried around the village. The roads where we passed were lined with a simple shimenawa. In the middle of the village another short ceremony was performed. The priests and musicians followed along.

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Many of the older people who came out of their houses as the mikoshi passed were really pleased to see the mikoshi again. Once acrried back up the shrine steps and deposited back in the shrine we all shared some more omiki.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Autumn Matsuri 2014 part 2


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When we arrived at the shrine at 10:30 the Shioharae was in progress. This is usually the second dance of the night and purifies the dance area for the rest of the nights performances. It is a shinji, a ceremonial dance as opposed to a theatrical dance. There was a TV crew from Tokyo filming the visiting American "dancer" and I found the performance of the audience a little disconcerting.

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Next up was Yumi Hachiman, a 2 man dance featuring the hero Hachiman, the patron kami of the shrine, defeating a demon.

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It is a standard fighting dance where good triumphs over evil and featuring a spectacular smoke and firework entrance of the demon.

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Our local kagura troupe are really good. They are all amateurs, but their performances are always tight and professional. The next dance was Kakko-Kirime. The first part involves Kakko, somewhat of a fool, who steals a sacred drum from a shrine and attempts, unsuccessfully  to activate it. I like the dance because it allows the dancer to incorporate a lot of his own moves and sequences. In the second half of the dancer the kami Kirime descends and teaches kakko the correct way.

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I left then, past midnight. There was to be 6 more hours of dancing, but I was feeling out of sorts and I needed to be fresh for the final part of the matsuri, a series of ceremonies tomorrow morning followed by the carrying of the mikoshi.....

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn Matsuri 2014 part 1


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Last weekend was my villages annual Autumn Matsuri. The rice has been harvested, time to kick back and party. Though our village, like many others, has shifted away from using the traditional lunar calendar to set the date, it has also, like many others, shifted the date of the matsuri to fall on a saturday, so that many people have tomorrow off.

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We arrived about 10:30, and things were in full swing because traditionally matsuris were all night affairs, and most villages in my area still continue with this tradition. There were fires to keep everyone outside the shrine warm, though it was still warm weather..... by 5 or 6 in the morning it will be cooler.

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There was plenty of food and drank available. Made by local people, not the itinerant vendors who are a feature of city festivals, and the food was for sale, not free. I prefer the smaller villages up in the mountains that still provide free food and drink.

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There were plenty of people milling around outside the shrine, but most were inside watching the kagura.....

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