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.


Miyajidake Shrine

Miyajidake Shrine (宮地嶽神社) is located in Fukutsu city, Fukuoka Prefecture. Based upon Japan chronicles, Kojiki/古事記 and Nihon-shoki/日本書紀, the shrine is said to be founded around 1,700 years ago when Empress Jingu/Okunagatarashihimenomikoto (神功皇后/息長帯比売命) stopped by at Mt. Miyajidake for praying a victory of conquering the southern part of Korea (although there is no historical evidence supporting her reign in Korea. See this link for more detail). The deities to whom Empress Jingu prayed for triumph were Munakata three sisters, "Tagirihine (タギリヒメ)", "Ichikishimabine (イチキシマヒメ)" and "Tagitsubine (タギツヒメ).

Currently, Empress Jingu is enshrined as a main deity and Katsumura-ookami/勝村大神 (藤之高麿) and Katsuyori ookami/勝頼大神 (藤之助麿) are also enshrined as supporting ones. The two supporting deities are considered to be the local clan reigning around Mt. Miyajitake who went to Korea to support Empress Jingu. However, enshrined deities varied with eras...  

At Miyajitake shrine, there are three objects that are ranked the first place in Japan.

The first one is the biggest shinenawa (注連縄). It is 11 meter long with a diameter of 2. 6 meters, weighed at around 3000 kg. It is replaced annually.

The biggest shimenawa in Japan
The second one is the biggest drum/taiko (太鼓) with a diameter of 2.2 meters. Well to be strictly precise, there is drum that is even bigger than this but the shrine claims that their taiko is the biggest that is made of all Japanese materials.
Image from Miyajitake shrine HP
The third object is the biggest bell, weighed at 350 kg that is donated by an ardent believer.

Image from Miyajitake shrine HP

Below is copy&paste the text from shrine's HP. When you have a chance to visit the shrine, why don't you try to find "shining rubbing black cow?"

In Japan, there’s a folk belief that if you stroke a statue of a seated cow, your illness will be cured. This statue is called “nade-ushi (stroking cow)”. It’s believed that your illness will be cured by stroking a nade-ushi statue at the same part of the body where you have the illness. While many shrines across Japan have this nade-ushi, our shrine’s nade-ushi is tiny and cute. It sits quietly in a special place in the vast premises of the shrine. Please try to find our nade-ushi!

The precinct of shrine is quite vast. I spent more than 2 hours there, although there was a constant rainfall there. To be honest, I didn't care above-mentioned three No.1 objects in the shrine... What I wanted to see there was the ancient grave (Kofun/古墳 in Japanese), named Miyajitake Kofun (宮地嶽古墳) that is presumably made in 6th century. I will post part two entry in the future... so stay tuned!

To be continued...

P.S. Official English shrine booklet is available here!


Munakata Taisha Nakatsu-Gu In Ohshima Island

This is the entry inspired by the decision made by The World Heritage Committee held in Krakow in July, 2017. "Sacred island of Okinoshima and associated sites in the Munakata" is now in UNESCO's world heritage site list!

Okinoshima Island (沖ノ島) is located midway between the Kyushu island and the Korean peninsula. The sacred island, along with three nearby reefs and four other related sites were given world heritage status at the UN body’s annual summit in Krakow, Poland.

Okinishima is 97 hectares (240 acres) island invisible in the scale of this map...

In principle, Okinoshima is owned by Munakata Grand shrine (宗像大社) and only the shinto priest can reside in the sacred island. No women are ever permitted to land Okinoshima. It could be due to the fact that enshrined deity, Tagirihime (タギリヒメ)" is a female deity who are jealous at the same gender... If you are a man, there is a only one way to land. Until this year, only 200 jackpod "male" winners are permitted to land for attending the annual ritual ceremony that takes place on the 27th of May. The chance is only once a year!!!!

You may wonder why on 27th of May???

Because it's one day after my birthday...  


Tsushima battle in 1905 (Image from Wikipedia)

The data is set based on the fact that in 1905 the then-shinto priest eyewitnessed the battle of Tsushima (or Naval Battle of the Sea of Japan), a major naval battle fought between Russia and Japan during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). 

On my birthday, 26th of May, 200 lucky men who are blessed by Tagirihime female shinto deity get together in Ohshima island (大島), located between Okinoshima and Kyushu, and stay one night there. Everybody can land on Ohshima island and all the photos I posted here were taken in Ohshima island where Munakata Taisha Nanatsu-gu (宗像大社中津宮) is located. Next day, they head for Okinoshima island. Before they go ashore, they must observe centuries-old rituals, including taking their clothes off and undergoing misogi ()– bathing naked in the sea to rid themselves of impurities (see video above!!!). 

They are prohibited from taking home mementoes, including small objects such twigs, pebbles and blades of grass, according to the island’s websiteThe objective of permitting 200 men in sacred island is to honour sailors who died in a nearby naval battle during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war.

After visiting Ohshima island, landing on Okinoshima sacred island became one of my "must visit" destination list.

However, Takayuki Ashizu, the chief priest at Munakata Taisha, said the ban on tourism – and women – would stay in place, despite a flood of inquiries from travel agencies.

We wouldn’t open Okinoshima to the public even if it is inscribed on the Unesco cultural heritage list, because people shouldn’t visit out of curiosity.” Ashizu told the Japan Times last year... 

Oh, well. One of my dream's over.... 
Hang on. There are two ways to land Okinoshima. One is to be a shinto priest at Munakata shrine and the second is to be a scholar in shinto history and land for research! 

It takes 15- 25 min to get to Ohshima island by ferry from mainland Kyushu island (time table is available only in Japanese here). It costs ¥560 JPY one way (adult).

To be continued...