Category Archives: Shrines

HAPPY NEW YEAR! WINTER SOLSTICE 2020

Map of Japan showing latitudes. The three main islands lies approximately 30 to 40 degrees north latitude. Image credit

FUYU ITARU HI:  WINTER SOLSTICE and THE SIX-SEASON SOLAR CALENDAR 

In the Wosite language of Jōmon Japan, the winter solstice was termed, fuyu itaru hi, the day that winter (fuyu) arrives. In modern Japan, this same meaning is pronounced tōji. Yet in haiku over the years, the older indigenous fuyu itaru hi frequently appears.

As we have shown in other articles, the Jōmon certainly had used a solar calendar of their own making. The solar-tracking megaliths of Kanayama are evidence of this. This is natural in an early civilization so attuned to the life-giving sun.

Hiyomi and Koyomi

The solar calendar is confirmed in the Wosite writings of the same period, circa 5,000 years ago. They name a brilliant man named Achihiko Omoikane as its creator, for which he received the title, Hi-yomi-no-miya, Master of the Solar Calendar. Until that time, calendars were called koyomi (ko-yomi), meaning to read the trees for the seasons. Even though Japan now uses the Gregorian solar calendar, the word for calendar is still koyomi!

Achihiko showed how to read the sun for more accurately knowing the seasons of the year. For practical reasons in a rural landscape without electricity or flashlight batteries, indigenous people relied on lunar phases to mark the days. However, the lunar calendar does not match well with the solar year; too many adjustments are needed. The people of Wosite times wanted to know the solar year which tells the seasons for practical purposes such as fishing, hunting, and agriculture. 

One might speculate that the earliest shrines in the form of standing megaliths or grove of sacred trees were oriented toward the east, and we have seen many cases of this. Later, perhaps, their astronomical knowledge enabled them to place shrines solsticially. 

Winter Solstice Sunrise

In the land of Japan, between 30 to 40 degrees north latitude, the winter solstice sun rises and sets 30 degrees south of the east-west line. In field trips to hundreds of old shrines, we have found a predominance of shrines facing either the sunrise or the sunset of winter solstice. This implies that ancient people knew how to determine these solstice directions. And they found it significant to orient their sacred places to honor the sun’s return to the north. 

One of the oldest shrines in Japan is the Asadori Jinja. Its origin is unknown. Yet, the local Shinto priest conducts a ceremony starting just before dawn on winter solstice morning. The villagers have assembled to greet the sun as it rises. At first light, they shout “ka-kee kō!” Thus the name of the shrine, Asa-dori, which means the Bird of Morning, the rooster. 

Solar Observations of the Kanayama Megaliths

On the Higashinoyama (Eastern Mountain) of Kanayama are a grouping of lying megaliths some 9 meters long. They point to the sun as it clears the terrain on the morning of the winter solstice. 

Moreover, observations can be made 60 days before and after this date. (Solar observations can be made more accurately when the sun is not near solstice). The earlier date gives advance notice of the day that winter solstice will arrive so that they could prepare their ceremony. As well, this is an important date in their solar calendar as we shall shortly explain.

By careful observations over long periods of time, the Jōmon people knew the four-year leap-year cycle as well as the longer 128-year cycle. Theirs is an observational calendar, always true to the actual movement of the sun.

In the Wosite literature the winter solstice marked the beginning of the new year. Our own Gregorian calendar begins the new year on January 1, ten days after the winter solstice. Was this choice deliberate? The Solar calendar of the Jōmon was deliberately designed “from scratch,” so to speak.

Kanayama Solar Calendar with Six Seasons 

The Kanayama solar calendar is noteworthy for its six-part symmetry. Each season is approximately 60 days long. In this chart, we have placed winter solstice at the bottom, when the sun is lowest in the sky, furthest south. The calendar reads clockwise. Let’s approximate the year as having 360 days. Then the 60 days before winter solstice may be considered to begin the early winter season, and 60 days after winter solstice marks the end of late winter and the beginning of the 60-day spring season. Spring lasts, on this calendar, from 30 days before to 30 days after the vernal equinox. And so it goes for the rest of the year until the calendar and the sun cycle back around. In this chart from the Kanayama Research Center, the dates shown in red are actual dates when multiple solar observations are made at the megaliths.

On wall calendars in the U.S., the winter solstice date is labelled the “first day of winter.” In the U.K., this day is termed “midwinter day.” It’s interesting that the U.K. custom matches the six-season calendar.

Asanoha Sacred Symbol

The six-fold symmetry of the solar calendar is reminiscent of the sacred symbol of the asanoha motif. Asanoha represents the vigor of the asa hemp plant, sacred to the people. The asanoha pattern is often found in children’s clothing and dishes to wish good health and longevity. The asanoha pattern shown here on the left in woodwork is the Japanese version of the flower of life. The diagram on the right is a copy of the flower of life pattern in stone of the Temple of Abydos in Egypt. 

Hemp is known for being long used in making ropes for its strength and durability. While growing hemp was banned for a period of time in certain countries when it was thought to contain THC, the hallucinatory chemical in marijuana, the hemp plant is now making a comeback to legality and is serving for health and medicinal purposes, as it was meant to do. It is also a sustainable plant and is being more widely used in ecofriendly fabrics.

Astronomical Cross Quarters of Space

We find that the four dates which delineate the boundaries of the 120-day summer and winter seasons are known to astronomers as the cross-quarter dates. These dates do not divide the temporal year into four parts of 91 days each. Rather, they divide the times of the year when the sun’s path in the sky moves into another of the four zones. With the solstices marking the extreme borders, there are six calendar dates dividing the Jōmon calendar into six seasons. This is very interesting, since the ancient Vedic calendar of India has the same six seasons. However, the Vedic calendar is based on stellar observations and will gradually cease to match the solar year as the star patterns in the sky change due to a precessional cycle of around 26,000 years.

In this NASA chart , the zone occupied by the sun in the sky is bordered by the red arc for summer solstice and the green arc for winter solstice. It is divided into two parts by the path of the sun during the equinoxes, shown in blue. The cross-quarters are the further division of each half again into half, thus forming four quarters of the sun’s zone. By this, we mean the angles are divided into half. For example, for latitudes around 35 degrees the red and green arcs are separated by 60 degrees; the half-way angles are separated by 15 degrees. 

Summary

In conclusion, we have discussed the Jōmon indigenous solar calendar. We have pointed out some aspects of ancient calendars and how the sun is observed on certain days of the year, including the winter solstice. The winter solstice has served as the start of the new year in many indigenous cultures as well as in Japan. 

The return of the sun on the winter solstice is certainly a cause for celebration!

P.S. A related winter solstice post on Iwakage, the blog site of the Kanayama Megaliths is here.

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Hokura Shrine 保久良神社(ホクラジンジャ)and Katakamuna

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Katakamuna in Rokkosan

In about the year 1950, the Katakamuna scroll was seen in the mountains of Rokkō (六甲山 Rokkōsan) of Hyogo prefecture by Narasaki Kogetsu. During his engineering work on Kincho-san mountain in the Rokkosan range, Narasaki met a hunter named Hiratōji whose father he said was the “Guji of Katakamuna Shrine”. Hiratoji showed him the makimono scroll, the shintai (sacred object) of the shrine. The Katakamuna Shrine has never been found. However, there is a Hokura Shrine that some associate with Katakamuna.

What we call Katakamuna is connected with the Ashiya tribe, an ancient culture that was known to Taoists in Manchuria, according to Narasaki.

Look at the above map of the Rokko mountains with Ashiya to the southeast and Nishinomiya to the northeast. At Nishinomiya is the Hirota Jinja of Kanasaki Kami who raised Wakahime and is one of the enshrined kami, along with Amaterasu. Wakahime and Mukatsuhime, principal consort of the male Amateru/Amaterasu lived in the Rokko area during Wosite times. The Rokko mountains were originally named Mukoyama after Mukatsuhime. For more about Wakahime and Mukatsuhime, please see WoshiteWorld.

See our other posts on Rokkosan and on Katakamuna by using the Search box.

Reporting on MysterySpot blog

http://mysteryspot.org/report/hokura/hokura.htm

The MysterySpot blog reports on their visit to Hokura Shrine. After showing photos of the many megaliths on the shrine grounds, they propose that the megaliths are arranged in a spiral connected in some way to Katakamuna. This is our interpretation of the final sections of the above blog.

In 1949 or 1950, at Kinchozan, where the Hokura Shrine is located, 楢崎皐月 Narasaki Satsuki (aka Narasaki Kōgetsu) is shown a document called Katakamuna by an old man named Hiratōji at Katakamuna Shrine. The Katakamuna literature is written in iconographic characters consisting of geometric circles and straight lines arranged in spirals. 

Earlier, when Narasaki was stationed in Manchuria (in 1941 or so), he had heard from the priest Lu You San, about the 八鏡化美津文字(ハッキョウカミツモジ) (Hakkyo Kamitsu-moji) of the アシア(Ashia) tribe. So, later when he saw the Katakamuna documents, he thought it might be the characters of Katakamuna and succeeded in translating the documents.

By deciphering, Narasaki found that this Katakamuna document is a science book that describes the view of the universe by ancient people who built a high degree of civilization expressed in the form of poetry. Based on this, Narasaki is developing a unique discipline called 相似象学sōji zō-gaku “similarity pattern science”

It has astonishing contents such as atomic transmutation, principle of positive and negative superposition, uncertainty principle, limit saturation law, landscape engineering, medical method, farming method.

Excerpt from “Nihon no butsurigaku yokō”  Japanese Physics Proceedings by Narasaki Kōgetsu on MysterySpot blog:

Ama is a latent state in which the amount of space-time is degenerate, and it is the original state of Ma before the manifestation and activation of matter and life quality, to be correct, the latent state behind the objective. And it is infinite outside the universe. According to the intuition of the ancients, the universe that we have in concept is a finite universe (Takatama), and there are several universes (Takatama) in the unlimited Ama. In addition, infinite Ama is also an integrated latent state of differential infinite quantity Ame, and there are various latent pattern energy protectors (Nushi) who occupy the unlimited limit of Ama. This is called Ame-no-Minakanushi, and it is said that Ame-no-Minakanushi exists in the unlimited differential quantity.

For those who are interested in another ancient writing system, please visit WoshiteWorld.

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2020 Spring Festivals in Kyoto Postponed

Aoi Matsuri, May 2018

The Aoi Matsuri, the so-called Hollyhock Festival of Kyoto, is one of Kyoto’s finest events. Around 500 people participate in the procession in Heian period dress. The photo above was taken by Okunomichi on May 15, 2018.

Green Shinto has posted a timely article on festivals in Kyoto that are postponed this year because of the pandemic. They include the Aoi Matsuri of May 15, 2020.

In Japan the emergency has coincided with the flowering of cherry blossom, symbolic of life’s brief beauty. 

Green Shinto informs us that this festival began in the 6th century to appease the kami.

The festival is claimed as one of the oldest in Japan, with its roots in the sixth century according to the Nihon shoki (720). It may have been that an epidemic had spread through the country at a time of famine and earthquake.

An earlier post on Okunomichi mentions the Aoi Matsuri along with other ancient festivals. According to the Wosite documents as reported by WoshiteWorld, there were from Wosite Jomon times these seasonal festivals:

In the annals of the Wosite documents of Jomon Japan, annual festivals of the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth lunar months are mentioned as follows:

1/1     Hatsuhi, New Year’s Day

3/3     Momo no Sekku Peach Festival of Girls Day (Hinamatsuri)

5/5      Aoi Matsuri, Hollyhock Festival of Kyoto

7/7     Tanahata Matsuri, Star Festival

9/9     Kiku-kuri Matsuri, Chrysanthemum-Chestnut Festival

There is a wonderful video of the Yasurai Festival at Imamiya Jinja, in the same Green Shinto post.

We look forward to the resumption of the traditional observances next year.

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Kusihiko’s Yorogi in Awaumi: Hiyoshi Jinja

Hiyoshi Jinja

Our series on Yorogi shrines continues. Hiyoshi is another name for Hie, as in the nearby Hie Taisha and Mt Hie-zan. When searching for Yorogi forest, we found two Hiyoshi Jinja. Let’s call them Hiyoshi Jinja A and B.

Hiyoshi Jinja A

This Hiyoshi Jinja enshrines Ninigi no Mikoto. There are several sha on the shrine precinct. There is a sacred spot marked as the original site for Ise Jingu, and there is a small mound of sand.

Original site of Ise Jingu

Hiyoshi Jinja B (Nishi-Yurugi Hiyoshi Jinja)

This Hiyoshi Jinja is affiliated with Yorogi Jinja, as this signboard explains. This Hiyoshi Jinja has a main shrine with the three kami: Ayakashikone no Kami, Ichikishimahime no Mikoto, and Tachibanahime no Mikoto. This shrine is known as 西万木日吉神社(にしゆるぎひよしじんじゃ)Nishi-Yurugi Hiyoshi Jinja.

Three other shrines located on these premises are: Akiba Jinja, Tenmon Jinja, and Inari Jinja. Off-premise affiliated shrines are: Ota Jinja, Yorogi Jinja, and Hachiman Jinja. We would next visit Ota and Yorogi Jinja.

Photos by Okunomichi 2019

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Kusihiko’s Yorogi in Awaumi: Imamiya

Kusihiko and Yorogi

Kusihiko was an important advisor to Amateru Amakami. As the eldest son of Ohnamuchi, he helped with the unification of Ohnamuchi’s land of Izumo. His service earned him various titles, among them Kotoshironushi and later he became known as Ebisu, the laughing kami. Kusihiko was granted land in the Takashima area of Awaumi (Omi) which is present-day Shiga-ken. Upon this land, he planted thousands of medicinal plants and trees. He called it Yorogi (Yoroki), where yoro means ten thousand and ki means trees.

Yorogi is also pronounced Yurugi, and there is a place called Nishi-Yurugi in Takashima County. Some people remember when Higashi and Nishi-Yurugi were a vast forest. Higashi-Yurugi is now Aoyagi, and Nishi-Yurugi is Adogawa. We went to Adogawa in search of Kusihiko’s Yorogi forest.

And it was some search! We first inquired at the tourist information office at the Adogawa michinoeki. We were given a map of the local area and vague information about nearby shrines. We began walking in the general direction but we were not sure where we were going. We almost stumbled onto a shrine called the Imamiya. This was not the Yorogi Jinja we sought. We would have to rely on a knowledgeable taxi driver. Fortunately the driver who turned up knew all about shrines.

We found five shrine sites in the immediate area, and one of them is still called Yorogi Jinja. We report our findings in three reports:

  1. Imamiya
  2. Hiyoshi Jinja (2)
  3. Yorogi Jinja and Ota Jinja

Imamiya Jinja

The enshrined kami of Imamiya Jinja is Ōyamakui no Mikoto. Genbu says: 大山咋神は大年神の御子神, Ōyamakui Kami is Ōtoshi Kami’s son。Ōyamakui is the kami of Mount Hie in Shiga prefecture. This deity is commonly known as Hie-no-kami. Imamiya is associated with the Hiyoshi Jinja group.

We next visited two Hiyoshi Jinja sites.

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Iizuna Jinja

First torii of Iizuna Jinja Oku no miya on Mt Iizuna

Mt Iizuna 飯縄山

Mt Iizuna straddles Nagano’s northern city of Nagano. 1,917m tall, it is one of Nagano’s Hokushingogaku Northern Five Peaks. Mount Iizuna​ is a mountain located ten kilometers north-northwest of the heart of Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture. Together with Mount Reisenji, Mount Menō, and others, it forms the Iizuna range. This mountain is a sacred site for mountain-based religious sects such as Shugendo.

About the name of Mt Iizuna 飯縄山. When Iizuna is written as 飯砂, the first character is cooked rice, and the second is sand. It refers to a complex of microorganisms such as fungi and algae found locally in Shinshu, “Tengu-no-mugi meshi” (Tengu boiled rice). In other words, people going into these mountains may have found some edible fungi.

GPS coordinates: Latitude: 36° 43′ 59.99″ N, Longitude: 138° 07′ 60.00″ E

Iizuna Jinja

Iizuna Shrine History. This shrine dates to 270 CE, 15th year of Ōjin emperor. It enshrined Tenjin ōdomichi mikoto on the summit of the mountain, and it was originally called īnawa Daimyōjin. 

Satomiya 里宮 of Iizuna Jinja. The Satomiya of Iizuna Shrine is 10km south of Okumiya. The village shrine of Iizuna Jinja is reported on by Genbu who says, although the shrine’s kami is Ukemoti, it is really Inari Kami. Genbu further describes Ukemoti as a kami of food in general, and is the Inari kami in the many Inari shrines around the country. The Inari shrines are readily identified by the pair of guardian foxes which protect the rice crop.

奧宮 Okumiya of Iizuna Jinja. The inner shrine of Iizuna Jinja is located at the top of Mt Iizuna. From here you can see Mt. Fuji and Mt. Asanami 浅聞山 in the southeastern part, Togakushi mountain peaks, Otozuma-yama 乙妻 and Nishidake in the northwest, other mountains of Shinshu in the north, mountains in the Hida Japan Alps in the southwest, literally 360 degrees. 

Seeking Iizuna Jinja. We were recommended to visit Iizuna Jinja since we would be at Mt Togakushi and Mt Iizuna would be nearby. We were already embarked on our journey when the cryptic message came in: Iizuna shrine may be the origin of the Inari shrine system. We had no time to do preliminary research, so after visiting Togakushi Jinja, we started to look for Iizuna Jinja.

Our navigation system took us to a paved parking lot in the forest on the slopes of Mt Iizuna. Right in front of us stood a torii and beyond it was a narrow trail over exposed tree roots. A foray up the trail led to a second torii but the rest of the way was obscured. This was the trail to the okumiya which we never reached, and we almost got lost on the way back.

We tried two other Iizuna sites but they were in non-descript locations (that offered no clue as to a nearby shrine) and yielded nothing. Later, our friend confessed to being taken to sha at these three locations  by a local resident. Unfortunately, we did not have a knowledgable guide. However, we did have an adventure on the mountainside of Mt Iizuna before departing Nagano!

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Togakushi and Togakushi Jinja

Opening of the heavenly door by Tajiikarao as Ame-no-Uzume dances and myriad of kami welcome the emerging Amateru

Togakushi

Togakushi Village and the nearby Togakushi Shrine are situated in the north of Nagano within the Joshinetsu National Park, a 45-min drive from Nagano City. This volcanic area is at an altitude of 1,200m at the foot of the two volcanoes, Mt Togakushi 戸隠山 (1,904m) and Mt Iizuna 飯縄山 (1,917m).

Deeply steeped in mystery, Togakushi is part of the Ama-no-iwato Hirake myth, the opening of the Heavenly Cave Door. Ama-no-Uzume danced and Tatikarawo (Tajikarao) opened the Amanoiwato, and the door flew to Shinano/Nagano. Togakushi means hidden door.

Togakushi Jinja 戸隠神社 N 36.76, E 138.07, Alt 1289m 

Togakushi Jinja consists of five shrines at three shrine locations: the lower, middle, and upper shrine areas. The lower area has shrines 宝光社 Hōkō-sha  (Treasure of Light) and 火之御子社 Hino-miko-sha. The middle site has the 中社 Chū-sha (Middle Shrine). The upper area consists of the 奥社 Oku-sha (Deep Sanctuary) and 九頭龍社 Kuzuryu-sha.

Togakushi Jinja may have originated at Achi Jinja in southern Nagano. Togakushi’s Chū-sha and Achi Jinja both enshrine Omoikane.

Oku-sha 奥社

First torii to Oku-sha; map showing route from first torii through path of cedars up to Oku-sha; arrival at Zuishinmon gate before the upwards climb

Oku-sha, the oldest of the five, is the sanctuary of the shrine high up in the mountains. The Oku-sha enshrines Amateru and Tatikarawo (Tajikarao). The map shows the long path from the first torii to the Oku-sha. We went as far as the Zuishinmon Gate. The rest of the way would be all uphill. This site is considered a power spot and is immensely popular with those visiting the shrine as well as the walking-impaired who could enjoy the smooth walkways through nature.

Genbu.net has this to say about Oku-sha. The original kami of this sha were nine dragon-kami who dwell in rock caves. Dragons are associated with water and will relieve tooth decay problems if one prays to them. The legend of Tajikarao was introduced later.

Zuishinmon Gate of Togakushi Oku-Sha

Chū-sha 中社 Center Shrine

Chū-sha
Haiden of Chū-sha
Sazare-taki

Chū-sha means middle or center shrine. It is physically located in the center of the array of five Togakushi shrines. The second Togakushi sha (after Oku sha) to be establlished was Hōkō-sha, and Chū-sha was created midway between the two. Chū-sha enshrines the kami Omoikane. It is commonly said that Omoikane is “the kami who organized the kagura dance performance in front of the cave”. We have yet to find this reference in the Hotuma Tutaye Wosite document. However, the document tells us that Omoikane is the father of Tatikarawo who opened the cave door. Also known as Achihiko in Wosite history, Omoikane is a great-grandson of Toyoke Takamimusubi and he held the post of Hiyomi-no-miya, Master of the Solar Calendar, for Amateru. Omoikane is generally considered to be a kami of wisdom. The full story of Omoikane can be found in the Wosite documents.

Sacred tree

Hinomiko Sha 火之御子社, 日之御子社

Hinomiko Sha enshrines Ame-no-Uzume, the female kami whose dancing lured Amateru out of the cave. Also enshrined are Takamimusubi, Oshihomimi (son of Amateru), and his daughter Takuhatachichihime. In Wosite history, the best-known Takamimusubi is the grandfather of Amateru. It is said that the name Hinomiko refers to a kami of fire (hi), which seems rather out of place here. If the word Hinomiko were written with the character for sun (hi) instead of fire, 日之御子社, Hinomiko would mean the son of the kami of the sun, namely Amateru. This would make more sense.

Genbu.net has a comment on the name and the enshrined kami. Based on Oku-sha’s kami Tajikarao and Chu-sha’s Omoikane, Genbu says that Hinomiko sha’s kami Ame-no-Uzume is in error and she should have been named elsewhere.

Hōkō-sha and Kuzuryu-sha

We were unable to visit two of the five Togakushi sha. Hōkō-sha enshrines Ama-no-Uwaharu (another son of Omoikane) and a guard in the tenson korin myth. Kuzuryu Jinja Nine Dragon Shrine enshrines a water kami known as Kuzuryuu no Ookami from ancient times, or Benzaiten from later Buddhist times. In Japanese thought, dragons are associated with water, as is Benzaiten. We missed these two because we were unable to park the car at the Hōkō-sha, and the other is located at the top near Oku-Sha.

Kuzuryusha sits next to Okusha, and has been the central deity for the Togakushi worship as the local deity since the old time. As the deity who presides over the water, it is worshiped by the people engaged in agriculture in the wide area along Torii, Kusu and Susobana rivers, as well as the Echigo region, which is connected through the underground water.
Though the date of foundation is unknown, it was enshrined as the local deity before the enshrinement of Ame-no-tajikarao-no-mikoto. It is worshiped for its divine virtue of realization of wishes. It is also worshiped as the god of [dental] caries as well as of matchmaking.

From http://en.nagano-cvb.or.jp/modules/sightseeing/page/376
Togakushi Jinja plaque at Chū-sha

The comment about the original deity of Togakushi being a dragon-water being can lead one to regard the Togakushi shrines as being ancient sacred places honoring kami of nature such as water and fire. Later, historical figures were added, and even later some Buddhist elements were incorporated. There is still much that remains a mystery about Togakushi.

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Suwa Taisha Harumiya and Akimiya

Harumiya kagura-den in front of heihaiden

Harumiya and Akimiya, Lower Suwa Shrines

The Lower Shrines are on the north side of Lake Suwa. They are the Harumiya and the Akimiya, whose enshrined kami is said to be Yasakatome, spouse of Takeminakata.

Harumiya, Spring Shrine

Harumiya means Spring Shrine. It is in a shady location, and it has a sugi tree as goshintai. It has a haiden prayer hall but no honden containing a sacred object. The lack of a honden and having a sacred sugi tree indicate that this is an exceedingly old shrine, pre-Shinto, related to nature reverence. Having learned that this is where Yasakatome resides in the spring, we could feel her serene presence. It is said that she moves to Akimiya in the autumn. In the previous post we had learned that Takeminakata comes to visit her in wintertime.

Heihaiden prayer hall

A guide to Harumiya precinct can be found here.

Akimiya, Autumn Shrine

Temizuya with hot spring water

Akimiya means Autumn Shrine. It has the ichii tree as goshintai; there is no honden containing any sacred object. Akimiya has an exceptionally hot water temizuya for hand washing. Beware!

Heihaiden of Akimiya

When we approached the heihaiden prayer hall, the priest was performing a ritual (photo left below). After that, just before 5 o’clock, the priest conducted an additional ritual. There was chanting and the heavy beat of the taiko drum. We realized that this was a closing ceremony when we turned around to visit the shrine office to buy an amulet and found the windows being closed. We felt it was a privilege to be at the shrine at that dusky time of day. Somehow the kami seemed to be nearer…

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Suwa Taisha Honmiya and Maemiya

Suwa Region

The Suwa region surrounding Lake Suwa lies at the foot of the Yatsugatake mountains in Nagano. It is steeped in mystery and legend from prehistoric times. The presence of kami and nature spirits can still be felt today. Suwa is dominated by the presence of Suwa Taisha, the grand shrine of Suwa, noted for its exciting Onbashira festival. The four shrine locations of Suwa Taisha each have four of these giant pillars.

Wosite and Lake Suwa

We wanted to visit Suwa because it connects with our Wosite research of Jomon Japan through the son and grandsons of Sosanowo (Susanoo), brother of Amateru. After Sosanowo, his son Onamuchi governed the land of Izumo. Although his people lived well, Onamuchi ignored the unification sought by Amateru in the central land. Onamuchi, popularly called Omononushi and Okuninushi, had two sons of note in this story. Kusuhiko received the title Kotoshironushi and he became the second Omononushi.

When Kusuhiko advised his father Onamuchi to give up Izumo to unify with Amateru, Onamuchi didn’t comply right away. Kusuhiko’s brother Takeminakata resisted on their father’s behalf, and was chased by the central force led by Takemikazuchi from Izumo to the umi (lake) of Shinano. There, Takeminakata surrendered, saying Suwa! Alas! Thus this umi is known as Suwako, Lake Suwa; it is the largest lake in Nagano prefecture.

Suwa Taisha 諏訪大社

Suwa Taisha is ichinomiya first shrine of Shinano. Gosaishin enshrined kami are: Takeminakata, his wife Yasakatome, and Yaekotoshironushi (Kusuhiko, Takeminakata’s brother).

Wikipedia has something curious to say about Suwa Taisha: “Although these [Takeminaka and Yasakatome] are the official identities of the shrine’s gods, most of its rituals are actually not so much concerned with their identities but with their character as Mishaguji , local agricultural and fertility deities. The name ‘Takeminakata’ in fact does not appear in historical records of the Upper Shrine’s religious rites; rather, the focus of worship in these rituals are often identified as the Mishaguji.”

And about Mishaguji:  “Believed to be spirits that inhabit natural objects like trees or rocks that could also be called upon to possess  humans or objects during religious rituals, Mishaguji are also thought to be god(s) of boundaries and protector(s) of communities. Worship of the Mishaguji occupied a central place in the religious beliefs of the Suwa region in Nagano prior to the arrival of the Yamato state iin the area. “

There are four Suwa sha shrines, two north of the lake, two south. These are ancient shrines; i.e., they were sacred places to the ancient people long before Shinto shrines were built. Honmiya has Mt Moriya itself as its goshintai sacred object. The Maemiya or earlier shrine has a honden containing a sacred object within. These two sha on the south side of Suwako are called the Upper Shrines. The kami is Takeminakata.

The other two sha are called the Lower Shrine; they are on the north side of Lake Suwa. Their enshrined kami is Yasakatome, spouse of Takeminakata. The Harumiya Spring Shrine has a sugi tree as goshintai,  and Akimiya Autumn Shrine has the ichii tree; they indicate prehistoric nature reverence.

Suwa Taisha Honmiya

The Honmiya is the main shrine with large grounds and is immensely popular. It is comprised of a number of halls.

Suwa Taisha Maemiya 前宮

Maemiya means former shrine, and it must be the first of the Suwa shrines. It is much more modest and charming. On a hillside, the Maemiya felt cool and refreshing.

There is a lovely brook at the base of this shrine where people can fill up their plastic bottles with cold, pure mountain water.

Our report on Suwa Taisha continues in the next post on Harumiya and Akimiya.

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Suimu Jinja

Suimu Jinja 水無神社 35°50’55.2″N 137°42’32.5”E

Not far from Kisofukushima station is a small shrine called Suimu Jinja 水無神社, consisting only of haiden prayer hall and honden behind it. The Suimu Shrine is one of the branch offices formed from the Hida Kuni no Ichinomiya-Minashi Shrine in Gifu Prefecture . The names Suimu 水無 (すいむ) and Minashi 水無(みなし)both refer to the divide of the waters of the river system. In the case of the Minashi shrine in Hida, it is the MiyaRiver/Hida River, and in Shinano it is the Kiso River. 

Kiso Town (center), Mt Ontake (left), Kisofukushima Station and Suimu Shrine (center), Kisokomakogen Heights (right)

According to the local tradition, long ago there was a war in Hida, and the Hida Ichinomiya Minashi Shrine was about to get caught up in the war. Two timbermen who were from Kiso wished to return to their Kiso hometown. They hurriedly constructed a mikoshi to carry their kami back to Kiso. With difficulty enroute, they finally came to Kiso Fukushima with the mikoshi. As they crossed the mountain peak on the dark road, they accidentally dropped it. Tradition says that this is the site of the shrine. 

Haiden prayer hall with mountains in the east

Gosaishin: 高照姫命(たかてるひめのみこと)Taketeru-hime-no-mikoto. She is said to be a daughter of Onamuchi, Sosanowo’s son.

In this green forest, it is easy to believe that Taketeru is watching over the waters of the Kiso River.

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