Lake Suwa

Lake Suwa  N 36.05, E 138.11, Alt. 769 m

Lake Suwa (諏訪湖 Suwa-ko) is the largest lake in Shinano. It is fed by the small rivers of the Kiso Mountains. Lake Suwa is the primary source of the Tenryu River. The Tenryū River (天竜川 Tenryū-gawa) has a length of 213 km; it is the ninth longest river in Japan. The Tenryu flows through Aichi and Shizuoka prefectures.

“According to Shinto legend, the male god Takeminakata would cross the lake to visit the female god Yasakatome at her shrine on the other side. The crossing was evidenced by the god’s footsteps on the ice that left a sinusoidal ice ridge, known as the omiwatari in Japanese.”  [From National Geographic]

We stayed at the Saginoyu Hotel on the road around the lake (sagi, heron; yu, hot bath). The water of the onsen hot spring was the color of coffee. There were ashi reeds growing at Suwa lakeside. We wonder if these are similar to the ashi of Lake Biwa which are the namesake of Ashihara no Nakatsukuni, the so-called Central Land of the Reed Plains. We will explain this in relation to the Naka-Kuni of Isanami and Isanagi at Oumi Lake Biwa in the Wosite documents.

Yatsugatake Mountains

The Yatsugatake 南八ヶ岳 mountain range extends for 30 km north to south on the east side of Lake Suwa. We found the following story here.

The following story is in ancient mythology.
Yatsugatake compared heights with Mount Fuji. And Yatsgatake won.
But Mount Fuji gave a kick at him. Then Yatsugatake had broken into many mountains. So Mount Fuji became the highest mountain.
Yatsugatake’s sister, Mount Tateshina (the northernmost peak, 2,530 m), wept at his broken figure.
And her tears created Lake Suwa.

Here is an alternate version.

According to legend, Yatsugatake was once higher than Mount Fuji,, but Konohanasakuya-hime, the goddess of Mount Fuji, tore it down out of jealousy, leaving the collection of peaks we have today.

View of Yatsugatake from Lake Suwa

All photo credits: Okunomichi 2019

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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…

A guide to Akimiya precinct can be found here.

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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.

You can read about Suwa Taisha here. Our report on Suwa Taisha continues in the next post on Harumiya and Akimiya.

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Togariishi Jomon Museum

Togariishi Jomon Museum

The Togariishi Museum of Jōmon Archaeology is a municipal museum located in the city of Chino, Nagano prefecture, in the foothills of Yatsugatake mountains (2,899 m) on the east on the border with Yamanashi prefecture. The Yatsugatake Mountains 八ヶ岳連峰 are a volcanic mountain range. Thousands of Jomon people lived in these highland areas around 5,000 years ago. In this area of rich deposits, they mined obsidian for making sharp tools, and they traded and prospered. 

This museum specializes in artifacts of the Jōmon period found at nearby sites. Amongst its holdings are the famed Jomon Venus (middle Jomon ca. 3,000–2,000 BCE) and the Masked Goddess (late Jomon 2,000 BCE) doki (clay) figures. There is a multitude of vases and other artifacts, as well as a mineral collection. It is adjacent to the Togariishi (togari-ishi, pointed rock) archaeological site where you can see reconstructed Jomon houses. While it seems out of place in the woods, it is an impressive modern museum. It is not far from Suwa Taisha’s Maemiya.

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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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SHINANO: Where Earth and Spirit Meet

Shinano

2019 May found us on a field trip to the Kanayama Megaliths in Hida (Gifu Prefecture). After, we visited the adjacent former province of Shinano, now known as Nagano Prefecture. We had several reasons for our visit. We wanted to see the other, Eastern, side of the Hida mountains which border Hida and Shinano, and which form the Northern Japanese Alps. There is a map of provinces in time of Ieyasu. The map above is cropped from the insert and it shows Hida and Shinano separated by the Hida mountain range. We are interested in the watershed river systems and the cool lakes. We wanted to pray at Shinano’s ancient shrines, which were sacred places before they formally became shrine sites. And we had heard about the museum which houses the Jomon Venus and the Masked Goddess clay figures unearthed from the Jomon Period thousands of years ago. Although the two prefectures are adjacent on a map, they are not easily crossed from one to the other because of the mountains which separate them. For example, it takes five hours to travel from Hida Kanayama to Nagano City by limited-express train via Nagoya (348 km), compared with only 95 min from Tokyo (222 km) via Shinkansen. Below is the route from Nagano station to Kyoto station.

Nagano – Kyoto route by Google Maps

Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps run through the center of the main Japanese island of Honshu. They are comprised of the mountain rainges:

Northern Alps: the Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈 Hida Sanmyaku), containing such important mountains as Ontake ( 3,067 m), Norikuradake (3,026 m), and Tateyama (3,015 m).

Central Alps: the Kiso Mountains (木曽山脈 Kiso Sanmyaku), including Mt Ena (2,191 m).

Southern Alps: the Akaishi Mountains (赤石山脈 Akaishi Sanmyaku).

Map centered on Lake Suwa in Nagano prefecture, shows the mountain ranges in shades of red. From Japan Atlas, A Bilingual Guide, Kodansha International, pp 20-21. Hida range NW of Suwa, Akaishi SE, and Kiso range between.

View of Mt Ontake from N36.03, E 138.05, Alt 815 m

We wanted to see Mt Ontake 御嶽山, Ontake-san, which straddles Gifu and Nagano prefectures. The elevation of this mountain is 3,067 m, the second highest volcano after Mt. Fuji. Indeed, this mountain is partly the reason why the prefectures are divided this way along the mountain ridges. The peak of Ontake could be seen from the lookout at a michinoeki, a good place to stop for lunch of the local kamameshi steamed mixed rice (1080 yen).

Mt Ontake, 3,067 m

Kiso River System 木曽川流域

The Kiso River (木曽川, Kisogawa) is 229 km long, flowing through 長野県 Nagano, 岐阜県 Gifu, 愛知県 Aichi, and 三重県 Mie prefectures into Ise Bay. The source of its waters is Mt Hachimori (2,191 m) in Nagano prefecture. It is the main river of the Kiso Three Rivers together with the Ibi-gawa and Nagara-gawa. The source of the Ibi is Mt Kanmuri in Gifu, and that of the Nagara is Gujo, also in Gifu. In our post at Yamanomiya, we showed the whirlpool in the Kiso-gawa at Kawakami Jinja in Yaotsu town in Minokamo. The Kiso River basin (including Shiga prefecture) is 9,1000 square km, the fifth largest in Japan.

Kiso River, viewed facing west at Michinoeki
Kiso River System. The Kiso River (blue line) flows through Nagano (upper right), Gifu (yellow), Aichi (lower right) and Mie (lower left) before pouring into Ise Bay.

Kisokoma Highlands  N 36.85, E 137.76, Alt 1036 m

Mt Komagatake ( 2,956m)

We started our visit at the Kisofukushima station in the southern part of Nagano. Kisofukushima is well-known through Hiroshige’s woodblock print, Fukushima-juku, in the series Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Road, the Kisoji. The seventeenth century daimyo took this scenic road to Edo, the capital.

We learned that this region is called Shinshuu, in the highlands of Kisokoma . The name 木曽駒高原 Kisokoma Kougen is a composite of 木曽 for Kiso River, 駒 for Komagatake Mountain, and kougen 高原mountain pass. In case you’re wondering about the word 駒 koma which means small horse, the Kiso uma are famous. The tall mountains were still capped with snow in late May. Yet here at the Morino Hotel on the slopes at 1,000 m altitude it was a warm spring day with many wildflowers and green all around. It was hard to believe we were less than a half hour away from the station. Dinner was a gourmet treat of trout, tempura, chawan mushi, artisan tofu, misoshiru, and the tender Shinshuu gyu beef with hoba miso on a tabletop grill. We added a clear Kisoji sake. Dessert was a light raspberry-mango cream cheese. We would head out the following morning. We next present a series of reports on the places we visited.

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Kototama and “Now” — An Izumo Taisha Shinto Perspective

Izumo Taisha

KOTOTAMA

Okunomichi and WoshiteWorld are deeply interested in the study and practice of Kototama. This is another in the Kototama series of expository articles. Here, we share a Shinto view of Kototama. We received the statements below from a representative of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. 

Introduction

Izumo Taisha (Izumo Ōyashiro) is one of the oldest and largest Shinto shrines in Japan. The taisha enshrines Ōkuninushi no Ōkami, kami of earth and spiritual world.

Shinto is the native Japanese religion which is based on traditional nature worship and animism. It does not have a particular founder, doctrine, or scripture. This is similar to old Hawaiian and Native American religions.

Nakaima, The “Now”

The word Nakaima comes from a national history book, Shoku Nihongi, Sequel to Chronicle of Japan, 797 CE [sequel to Nihon Shoki, 720 CE]. Nakaima is made up of two words, naka and ima, where the former means middle and the latter means now, the present time.

As Shinto does not have concepts about heaven and hell in the hereafter, “this world” is considered the most valuable and important time for all lives. It is the “middle” between the past and the future. “Now” is the precious time to reflect the past and expect the future.

Kototama of Norito

Shinto prayers, norito, are based on Kototama, the worship to words and language itself. From ancient times, it is said that, “The words can move the heaven and the earth” especially in the Japanese poems (waka, tanka). Traditionally, people use and choose words very carefully when they compose the poems because of Kototama, especially yamato kotoba (ancient Japanese classical words). This is why norito is composed only from yamato kotoba. When the words are pronounced, Kototama is involved — with its vibration toward the world.

Kototama and Nakaima

In Shinto cosmology, Kototama is the basic tool to affect Nakaima.  

Experience Kototama and Nakaima

To experience Kototama in Nakaima, recite Ōharae no Kotoba, the prayer for Great Purification, one of the most famous norito. 

HARAE NO KOTOBA, PRAYER FOR PURIFICATION AND BLESSING

The Harae no Kotoba below is an invocation often recited at Izumo Taisha asking Ōkuninushi no Ōkami, and all the myriads of Kami to join in the ceremony. There are three basic types of harae purification and blessing:

  • the body (to maintain health and well-being, to heal or avoid illness;
  • the soul or spirit of the living and the dead;
  • our surroundings and natural environment.

The last three lines can be recited as a short prayer for purification and blessing.

Harae no Kotoba

kakemaku mo kashikoki Izanagi no Ōkami

Tsukushi no Himuka no Tachibana no Odo no

Ahagihara ni misogi harai tamaishi toki ni

narimaseru haraido no Ōkami tachi

kamunagaranaru Ōmichi no naka ni umarete

arinagara sono mikage woshi fukaku omowazute

sumekamitachi no mimegumi wo oroka ni omi

tarishitoki ni ayamachi okaseru wa saranari

ima mo tsumi-kegare aramu woba harai tamai

kiyome tamae to mousu kotowo yaoyorozu no

kamitachi tomoni kikoshimese to

kashikomi kashikomi mo mousu



harai tamai kiyome tamae

harai tamai kiyome tamae

harai tamai kiyome tamae

References

Izumo Taisha, Izumo Ōyashiro, website:  http://www.izumooyashiro.or.jp/’

Izumo Taisha: https://yamanomiya.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/eleven-shrines-in-izumo-izumo-taisha/

Norito and Oharae:  [https://japanshrinestemples.blogspot.com/2015/09/norito-incantations.html]

Kototama on Okunomichi and WoshiteWorld: Type the word “Kototama” in the Search box.

This post also appears on WoshiteWorld.

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