Kato Shrine in Kumamoto

Kato shrine (加藤神社) is located in the territory of Kumamoto Castle (熊本城). The enshrined deities are, as name of shrine says, Kiyomasa Kato (加藤清正), as well as Kaneyoshi Ohki (大木兼能) and Kinkan (金官).

Kiyomasa, born in 1562 in current Nagoya city, Aichi prefecture, was distant relative of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (AD1537-1598). Kiyomasa served for Hideyoshi till Hideyoshi passed away, in return, Hideyoshi cherished Kiyomasa. In 1586 when  Kiyomasa was 24 years old, he was granted Higo Province (current Kumamoto prefecture) by Hideyoshi and settled in Kumamoto castle (隈本城). Later on he reconstructed the castle and changed the character of "Kuma" from "隈" to "熊" and the castle was described as current one, "熊本城". Kumamoto Castle is considered one of the three premier castles in Japan, along with Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle. Thirteen structures in the castle complex are designated Important Cultural Property.

Torii Gate
Owing to Kiyomasa's talents as politician, he ruled Higo province by irrigation, cultivation and trading. He was worshipped by locals and hence he was buried in the prestigious temple called "Honmyo-ji temple" (本妙寺)". In 1868 the shrine was separated from Honmyo-ji and was initially called "Nishikiyama shrine (錦山神社)". In 1909 the name of shrine is changed to "Kato shrine".

Main Hall
His spirit was transferred to 90 shrines located all over Japan. In the past there used to be Kato shrines even in Hawaii and in Korea!

Inside of Main Hall
Kiyomasa was said to be unusually tall guy that his height reached over 190 cm! Besides, he wore tall helmet called "Nagaeboshinari kabuto (長烏帽子形兜)" that made him to look even taller!

Statue of Kiyomasa. Image from Wiki
When he was little, his nickname was Toranosuke (虎之助). Tora means tiger in Japanese.

Statue of Tora
He had two emblems. One is Chinese bellflower/Platycodon (桔梗) and the second "Snake eye" that was frequently used in his body armor.

Chinese bellflower (left) and Snake Eye (right)
When I visited, Kumamoto castle Kiyomasa constructed was heavily damaged by earthquake in 2016 and many places in the castle were off-limits.



Amanoyasugawara in Takachiho

This is the 200th entry in this blog that was launched in October, 2010!!!

One of my dreams came true! I've been so desperate to visit Takachiho (高千穂), a town of Japan myths.

Takachiho district in Miyazaki Prefecture is said to be the place where, Ninigi (ニニギ), grandson of Amaterasu (アマテラス), descended from Taka-amahara (高天原) to the peak of Takachiho to govern the world. The mission is called "Tenson Kohrin" 天孫降臨" -天孫(Tenson: grandchild of AmaterasuNinigi降臨 (kohrin: descending from heaven).

It's still controversial where Takachiho is. In fact, there are numerous places (self-)proclaiming "Takachiho as the place where Ninigi descended" all over Japan. Surprisingly candidate exists even in Korea!!! Among them, Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture is widely recognized as highly likely the place...

To support Ninigi, several deities accompanied to complete his mission. That includes : Amano-koyane (天児屋命- ancestor deity of Nakatomi clan) , Futodama (フトダマ- ancestor deity of Inbe clan/忌部氏 and a son of Takami-musubi/タカミムスビ), Amano-uzume (アマノウズメ- ancestor deity of Sarumeno-kimi/猿女君), Ishikoritobe (イシコリトベ- deity specialized in mirror-making)

When Ninigi was commanded by Amaterasu to rule (= conquer) the world, Amaterasu bestowed him the three Sacred Treasures of Japan (Imperial regalia of Japan) that consist of Yata kagami/八咫鏡 (mirror), Ameno-murakumono-tsurugi/天叢雲剣 (sword) and Yasakanino-magatama/八尺瓊勾玉 (jewel). Then a couple of more deities are appointed to support Ninigi that are Omoikane (オモイカネ- a deity of intelligence), Ameno-tajikarao (アメノタヂカラヲ- deity of power) and Amano-iwatowake (あまのいわとわけ - a son of Futodama).

Let's assume that Takachiho in Miyazaki is the place of "Ninigi-descending" and move on to the other chapter in Japan myths, named Iwato Kakure (岩戸隠れ). 

Amano-iwato shrine (天岩戸神社), as the name says, is believed to be the place where Iwato Kakure took place. Amano-Iwato (天岩戸) literally means "The cave of the sun goddess" or "heavenly rock cave".

As a result of ritual celemony called "Ukei" (see more in detail in my old entry) made between Amaterasu and her younger brother, Susanowo, that Susanowo claimed himself to be the winner with no clear justification... Susanowo, a winner of a game, plunged himself into a series of unbearable, reckless and rowdy acts in Amaterasu's territory. Japan myths denote that Susanowo buried irrigation ditches along rice fields (causing rice drought to death), scattered his excretions (shxts) in Amaterasu's Palace (disgusting!!!) and so on. Amaterasu, however, didn't blame him and that stirred Susanowo's acts even worse.

One day when Amaterasu was in the weaver's building and knitted the robe to dedicate to the deity, Susanowo made a hall in the ceiling of weaver's building and threw the flayed (skin-peeled) horse through the hole. One of weavers is terrified with that and she passed away.

That was beyond Amaterasu's mercy. Instead of punishing him, Amaterasu decided to hide herself in the Ameno-Iwato cave named Gyoboga-iwaya (仰慕窟). The darkness and disasters overwhelmed an entire world because Amaterasu is considered to be a deity of the Sun(light).

Gyoboga-iwaya (仰慕窟)
Millions of deities got together at the Amano-yasugawara (天安河原) to solve the problem.

Omoikane (オモイカネ), a deity of intelligence, raised several ideas and asked other deities favors to performed several ritual ceremonies.
(1) Naganakidori (= long crowing roosters 長鳴鶏) are gathered.
(2) Find Amatsumara (天津麻羅: a specialist in metalsmith) to support Ishikoritobe to make Yata kagami (Imperial regalia. See above) from rocks and irons found in the upper stream of Amano-yasugawara.

Amano-yasugawara - a place to supply rocks and irons
(3) Tamaoya (玉祖命: literally means "ancestor deity of jewel") made Yasakanino-magatama (another Imperial regalia).
(4) Amano-koyane  and Futodama performed "Futomani (太占)", a traditional Shinto system of divination.
(5) Dig sakaki (Cleyera japonica tree/サカキ) in the soil, cut branches and hang Yata kagami, Yasakanino-magatama and fuhaku (= weaving/布帛) up on branches of sakaki tree. Futodama used this decoration as Gohei (=wooden wands/御幣)

Sakaki tree branches
(6) Amano-koyane addressed Norito (祝詞/= liturgical texts or ritual incantations). 
(7) Ameno-tajikarao stood by the side of Amano-iwato.
(8) Amano-uzume (female deity) performed an explicit dance that bursted all the participated deities into laughter. 

Her performance caught Amaterasu's attention!

Amaterasu opened the gate of Amano-iwato just a little bit and wondered. 

"What's going on outside of the world without me (sunlight)???"

Amano-uzume replied to Amaterasu that even superior deity have appeared at last since you've hidden yourself in the cave and we are grateful for that.

Amano-koyane and Futodama brought the mirror in front of Amaterasu. When Amaterasu saw her own face on the mirror, she misunderstood that what she sees in the mirror is the superior deity they mentioned. She, then, opened the door further to gaze superior deity. Now the space Amaterasu made is wide enough for Ameno-tajikarao to drag her out from the cave to outside of the world.

As soon as Amaterasu came out from the cave, Futodama fastened shimenawa (= enclosed rope/注連縄, meaning "Keep OUT") and begged Amaterasu not to hide herself again.


Eventually the world is lightened. 

When thinking about the cause of the disaster, it was all due to a series of unbearable misbehaviours of Susanowo. Numerous deities sentenced him a guilty to force him to shave his beard (a symbol of the power then) and tear all of his nails off from hands and feet as punishment. He was, eventually, exiled from Amaterasu's homeland (heaven).

Omoikane (思兼神) and numerous deities (八百萬神) are enshrined there
Whew!!! This is the introduction and background info about Amano-iwato.

In 1970 two shrines are combined and collectively called Amano-iwato shrine. It is comprised of two palaces - East (東本宮) and West Palace (西本宮).

Needless to say, the enshrined deity in Amano-iwato shrine on both palaces is Amaterasu, however, they employ different names of Amaterasu - Amaterasu-ohmikami (天照皇大神 - ancestor deity of the Sun in Japan Royal family) in East and Oh-hirume in West. Oh-hirume,大日孁尊, means 大/great, 日孁/noble miko serving to the Sun.  孁 is considered to be the same as 巫 in the past, meaning miko (巫女).

The West palace started its history as a place to worship Amano-yasugawara and the cave where Iwato Kakure took place.

Torii and hall in the cave
It's not clear when the shrine was launched but they say that the history started when Ninigi, who recalled what happened to Amaterasu there (Iwato Kakure), visited there and enshrined his grandmom, Amaterasu there.

Amano-yasugawara lied by the Iwato river - 500 meter away from the West Palace of Amano-iwato shrine. When there is a heavy rain, it is not accessible due to the increased mass of Iwato river. That happens from time to time, especially when typhoon arrives.

Visitors build a pile of pebbles there. Based on Wiki in Japanese, such custom started spontaneously after the World War II.

That really gives mysterious vibe there.

Thank you for reading (or scrolling down) to the end of 200th entry made by Shinto otaku!!!


Takahashi Inari Shrine In Kumamoto

Takahashi Inari Shrine (高橋稲荷神社), located in Kumamoto city, is considered (or self-proclaimed) to be one of the five main Inari shrines in Japan. The other include Kyoto Fushimi Inari-taisha (京都伏見稲荷大社), Toyokawa Inari (豊川稲荷 - it belongs to Myogenji Temple/妙嚴寺) in Aichi Prefecture, Saijo Inari (最上稲荷 - again it belongs to Nichiren sect temple, Myo-kyo ji/妙教寺) in Okayama Prefecture and Yuutoku Inari shrine (祐徳稲荷神社) in Saga Prefecture. 
Jinmon Gate/神門
The history of Takahashi Inari shrine dated back to 1496 when the first owner of Kumamoto castle, Chikagazu Kanokogi (鹿子木 親員), built the Jodai castle (上代城at the Mt. Inari summit. The shrine was founded for safe-guarding the castle by transferring the Inari deity spirit from Kyoto Fushimi Inari-taisha. The original shrine was burnt into ashes in 1541 when Jodai castle was destroyed in the war...

Haiden Hall
When Ieyasu Tokugawa founded Tokugawa shogunateHosokawa clan (細川氏) was appointed to be the owner of Kumamoto castle. In 1661, the priest in Kaizoji temple (海蔵寺) where spirits of Hosokawa clan's ancestors were taken care of, was inspired in his dream to re-build Takahashi Inari shrine shrine at the current place.

Since then, Hosokawa clan worshipped and supported the shrine.

The enshrined deity is Ukanomitama (ウカノミタマ). Inari shrines are said to exist around 3,000 in Japan and an additional 30,000 Inari shrines exist as as auxiliary shrine (sessha/摂社). 

Although Ukanomitama is enshrined in such a great number of shrines, we  know very little about this shinto deity. The name of Ukanomitama, indeed, appear in the myths but no depictions as to who she is (Ukanomitama is thought to be a female deity) and what she's done can be found in mythologies- Kojiki and Nihon shoki.

Big torii gate
"Uka (ウカ/倉稲)" in Ukanomitama is thought to mean "cereals or foods" and Inari (稲荷) in Inari shrine is considered to mean "ripening rice". People come to visit the shrine hoping for bumper crops (五穀豊穣) and success in business (商売繁盛). Alternatively, another Kanji,鋳成 (いなり), is applied to "Inari", meaning "casting iron". Several hypothesis have been raised to explain Inari shrine based on the production of iron. I'd love to exhibit several facts about it but I'd refrain from it here in this entry...

Note the "五穀豊穣" flag
Ukanomitama is a daughter of Susanowo (スサノオ) and Kamu-ooichihime (カムオオイチヒメ). Kamu-ooichihime, a daughter of Ohyamatsumi (オオヤマヅミ), is alternatively called Ohtoshi-mioya kami (大歳御祖神). Brother of Ukanomitama is Ohtoshi/Toshigami (トシカミ) - a deity (kami) of the year (toshi/), who appears in New Year's day. The traditional ritual ceremonies in New Year's day in Japan are originally to welcome the "Year of deity, Toshikami", BTW.

Countless number of red torii gates
Inari shrine is easily recognizable by it's characteristic of multiple red torii gates and foxes. 

Gold foxes in Haiden Hall

The highest ranking, Sho-ichii (正一位), is bestowed to the Inari shrine. 

正一位- the ultimate ranking bestowed. Photo is taken elsewhere... 
Due to Kumamoto earthquakes in 2016, several places (such as stone lanterns) are still damaged.


Hakozakigu Revisited

This is part three entry of Hakozakigu (筥崎宮)  in Chikuzen Province (current Fukuoka Prefecture). Please visit part one entry for background info.

Red torii
Why did I visit again?

It was raining when I visited for the first time and couldn't see the second and the third Torii gates.

Guide map from their HP
The God of weather blessed me this time! 

Based on their website, the Torii gates are numbered from the closest one and in April 2018 the 88-year-old-and-16-meter-tall third tori, located adjacent to stone lantern, was removed for safety reason (in case of falling apart). Instead of removing, it could have been renovated... Pity, isn't it?  

Stone lantarn
What intrigues me is that the current 3rd red Torii stands at the shore named Oshioihama (お潮井浜), which looks like entrance is wide-open to the sea for welcoming visitors from the sea. Well, that might be the case in the past when there was no subway or bus to get there. People in an ancient time used to sail by boat, I assume. Currently, the red 4th torii is in the territory of Fukuoka prefecture Shinto ministry bureau and it was not accessible when office is closed.

Red Torii
The second torii is made to imitate the first one. They look alike in shape but you have quite different impression most probably due to the color - the second one is marble-alike and the first one obsidian looking. A title “Hachimangu (八幡宮)” is written in the frame. Hachiman is a nickname of Emperor Ohjin, who, along with his mom Empress Jingu and Princess Tamayori (玉依姫), is enshrined at Hakozakigu.

The 2nd Torii
Their torii has their own characteristic features in its shape. When you take a close look at it carefully, pillars are composed of three blocks and get thicker toward the bottom. The top rail (Kasagi/笠木) is curled upward on margins. Both of top and bottom rail have the same width. Due to its unique features, their tori is called “Hakozaki torii”

The current first torii is built in 1609. When I got closer and closer to the shrine, something caught my eyes. Three flags were hang-up in front of Romon gate (cherry gate/桜門). As described in the first entry, this shrine is politically controversial sort. Two flags are familiar to me and easily recognizable but the one to the left was…. Belgium flag???

First torii
The right flag comprised of two black, yellow and red triangles is a semaphore flag of Imperial Japan Navy. It is called Z flag.

First torii and Romon gate
How come???

Controversial display at Romom Gate
There is a reason. The answer is in this entry. May 27 is the opening fire day with Russo-Japanese naval war in 1905 (Battle of Tsushima) and preparation for the ceremony was ongoing when I visited there (although it wasn’t May 27 when I was there). 

Blue sky!!!
As you already noticed, the sky was utterly blue!!!!

If you are curious about this shrine, here is an official pdf in English!!! It's very well-documented and you are strongly encouraged to check it out.


Koinobori - Carp Streamers in Breeze

Koinobori (鯉のぼり) - a carp kites fit well in the blue spring sky in Japan!

A tradition of hanging carp-shaped windsocks up in Children's Day, May 5th, was originated from Chinese mythology. 

In an ancient China, the Dragon's gate (登龍門) is believed to be the swift stream of Yellow river located at Shanxi province.  The gate was made through excavating the legendary mountain, Mt. Dragon (龍門山). The construction was ordered by "Ye the Great", a founder of Xia dynasty (2070-1600 BC), according to Wiki in Japanese (Chinese Wiki says Mt. Dragon is located at Luoyang).   

Numerous fish tried to leap such devastating rapids of the Dragon's gate, however, none of them were successful.

Except carp! 

A carp that can accomplish the mission eventually turned into the Dragon, according to Chinese myth. Dragon is a symbol of power, strength, fortune and so on. It also represents imperial power. The image of a carp jumping over Dragon’s Gate is an old and enduring Chinese cultural symbol for courage, perseverance, and accomplishment. 

In Japan, May 5th (called Tango no sekku/端午の節句) is one the five annual ceremonies that were traditionally held at the Japanese imperial court. Interestingly, in ancient Japan, May 5th was the one for women but around Edo period, it became what it is in present time (for boy's ceremony).

When I visited Yodohime shrine (與止日女神社), the most prestigious shrine in Hizen Province (current Saga Prefecture), the spring festival (第40回川上峡春まつり) took place in Kase river (嘉瀬川) that runs by Yodohime shrine.

Rescued black carp

The weather was nice and the sky was blue. But not much wind... They don't look like a triumphal carps transforming into dragon... 

Rather they look gasping:(((

Gasping for breath...

Thanks to an occasional breeze, they looked alive... a bit.

"Boys be ambitious" by William S. Clark.


Big O in Tokyo

You may wonder why this it is called "Big O". 

Yes, it is indeed big wheel with 60 meter diameter and "O" is named from a "centerless" non-rotating structure. In 2006 it is listed as the world's largest centerless Ferris wheel by Guiness World Records!!!

The rail of roller coaster called "Thunder Dolphin" goes through the "O-ring" of Big O! 

It's located very close to Tokyo Dome.