Saturday, March 20, 2010

Omiwa Shrine


Omiwa Shrine is the major shrine at the base of Mount Miwa in Nara Prefecture. Known as Mount Mimoru in the ancient chronicles, Miwa is generally considered to be where the Yamato established themselves and eventually formed what became the Japanese state.

Much emphasis is placed on Omiwa Shrine not having a honden, the inner sanctuary where the shintai (god-body) of the kami resides, as the mountain itself is considered to be the honden. There are though plenty of other buildings of typical Ryobu shinto design.


The kami is considered to be Okuninushi, the Izumo kam who ceded the land to the Yamato. He took up residence here along with other kami from Izumo to protect Yamato. Not long afterwards Amaterasu was moved to Ise.


Omiwa shrine became marginalized as the center of power moved north, first to Nara and then to Kyoto, and as the courts focus switched to Amaterasu and Ise. However in the middle ages Omiwas declining fortunes were reversed as it was revived by Buddhism. Until the Meiji eras seperation of buddhas and kami (shinbutsu bunri) the area was home to a lot of temples. After shinbutsubunri the temples were mostly destroyed or converted to shrines. There is an excellent paper on this subject The Separation of Gods and Buddhas at Omiwa Shrine


Snakes have been important elements in the mythology surrounding Omiwa shrine and mountain, and the most well-known story concerns a Princess Yamato Totohi Momoso. The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki both give different versions of who she was, but the story is essentially the same. She slept with the Kami of Miwa everynight and asked to see him during the daytime so she could see him in light. He agreed as long as she promised not to freak out. Next morning she saw him in his form of a white snake, and she freaked out. He got angry and disappeared into Mount Miwa and she became so distraught she killed herself by stabbing herself in the genitals with her chopsticks. She was buried in the nearby Hashihaka (chopstick grave) Kofun. Historians tend to believe this is the kofun of Queen Himiko.


  1. Hi:

    I just want to let you know how much we (my boys and I) are enjoying this blog. Your photographs and stories are thought-provoking, inspirational, and keep us coming back for more. What an education you are giving us!

    Thank you!

  2. that story is funny...why the genitals with chopsticks?
    I love your blog and it makes me happy to see nippon

  3. Great blog - very interesting detail. Would so love to be able to travel around Japan and see all these things... keep up the good work, and lots more info on the Shinto shrines/stories.

  4. I just read the paper on the separation of gods and buddhas - so interesting. I suspect it's a part of their history that even most Japanese are not very informed about. Your blogs are an education, as well as an entertainment - please keep up your great work.

  5. Those places in japan are very nice and mysterious, I wonder how much peace you can feel in a place like this.