Monday, September 30, 2019

Kirishima Jingu

Kirishima Jingu is a large Shinto shrine on the lower slopes of the Kirishima Mountains, a group of volcanoes in northern Kagoshima.

The current buildings date back to 1715, though the shrine used to be located higher up in the mountains where it had been destroyed by volcanic activity multiple times.

The main kami enshrined here is Ninigi, the grandson of the "sun goddess"Amaterasu and ancestor of Jimmu, the mythical first emperor. The shrine was originally located at the foot of nearby Mount Takachiho, according to the ancient myths the site where Noinigi and his heavenly entourage descended.

There is another Takachiho, much further north in the mountains of Miyazaki, that is now considered to be the site where Ninigi descended. When the Meiji government decided that it was a great shock to the people of Sastsuma, present day Kagoshima, home of the "other" Takachiho.

National myths in Japan largely came about by government decree in the late 19th Century. Prior to that the imperial family had a set of myths, but so did the major clans of ancient Japan as well as the myriad tribes that inhabited the Japanese isles. Basically the imperial families versions of the myths are the ones now touted as national.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Tengu Masks in the Kirishima Mask Museum

Kirishima Mask Museum

The mask museum in Kirishima was called "Tengu-kan", and obviously there were a lot of masks of tengu on display. Most of which were the red-faced long nose variety.

Probably the earlier version of Tengu was more birdlike in appearance, like the one in the top center of the photo below. The long nosed version is probably derived from Sarutahiko, the earthy kami who helped lead Ninigi and his entourage from the High Plain of Heaven. he later married Uzume and a mask of Sarutahiko and Uzume are often found together at shrines, often linked to fertility.

Tengu are often connected to Yamabushi, the mysterious mountain monks who practised austerities and magic in the remote sacred mountains. A distinguishing feature is the tokin, the small black headgear worn on the top of the forehead. It is said this was to protect the head while walking through the forest. It was also used as a drinking vessel.

The museum is located near the entrance to Kirishima Jingu Shrine up in the mountains of northern Kagoshima and if you are visiting the area and like masks then is a must see.

Buy Handmade Masks From Japan

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Kirishima Mask Museum

Being a mask maker myself, I have a great interest in masks and am always on the lookout for them on my walks. Ive visited a few small mask museums, ut the absolute best was in Kirishima.

Located close to the entrance to Kirishima Jingu Shrine up in the mountains of Kagoshima, it called itself Kirishima Tengu-kan, and there were plenty of tengu masks on display, but there were also hundreds and hundreds of other masks from all over Japan.

There were Noh masks, Kagura masks, new masks, old masks, and I even found some examples of my local Iwami Kagura masks. Apparently, it was the private collection of a local man.

Most of the masks were Japanese, but there were also collections from Africa and Asia. A delightful surprise and not a well known place, well worth stopping by if you are in the area.

Buy Handmade Masks From Japan

Monday, September 16, 2019

Not the Village of Dolls

Not the Village of Dolls

On my first day walking the Kyushu Fudo Myo Pilgrimage I left Taizoji Temple and the Kumano Magabutsu and started north along the road. The first few days of the pilgrimage I was going to be roughly following the old shugendo pilgrimage route around the Kunisaki Peninsula. Not far along the road I came across these figures by the side of the road dressed as pilgrims.

I thought the figures were just connected to the pilgrimage, but then a bit further up the road I spied this female figure with an old couple back at the abandoned building.

The group of skiers made it clear that these were another example of the kinds of "dolls" that are appearing all around Japan in depopulated areas, the most famous of which is Nagoro in Tokushima that has received masses of international media attention.

While Nagoro is the most famous, I have seen such figures in amny places on my walks around the hinterland. They have been developed out of scarecrows. I remember about 18 years ago walking in the mountains in my home area and coming across a big group of brightly decorated figures in some small rice paddies by the side of the road. It was called a scarecrow festival.

Buy Jinei & Samue from Japan

Friday, September 13, 2019

An Icon of Metabolism: The Miyakonojo Civic Center

While in Miyakonojo I stopped by a strange piece of architecture, the Miyakonojo Civic Center.

It was built in 1966 and was designed by architect Kiyonori Kikutake.

Kikutake was part of an architectural movement called Metabolism that operated in the 1950's and 60's, and was almost a purely Japanese movement. It claimed to be a reaction to Western modern architecture that it said was too much based on the machine.

Quite a few of the top architects of late 20th Century Japan were part of, or influenced by, Metabolism, but in reality not a lot got built, rather utopian designs for cities and towns were the main focus.

World Expo 70 in Osaka was perhaps the peak of metabolism with many of the architects and designs being featured there.

I'm sure that when it was constructed, with fresh white concrete, it must have looked quite impressive.......

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Shitennoji Temple Osaka

Shitennoji Temple Osaka

Shintennoji Temple is one of the oldest temples in Japan, having been established in 593, and is located in Osaka, a place not too many associates with ancient Japan, but which was the capital for a while.

According to the legend, it was Shotoku Taishi who established the temple, although there is a lot of scholarship that suggests much of the myth and lore of Shotoku Taishi was made up long after his death. What is clear, however, is that it was builders from the Korean Peninsula that constructed the temple and that it was descendants of Korean immigrants that were settled in the area of what is now Osaka.

Though rebuilt many, many times over the centuries, the original design is somewhat adhered to. It is a large complex with many buildings and also gardens. Shitenno are the 4 Heavenly Kings who guard the Buddhist world.

I was here for the first time as Shinteenoji is the first temple on the Kinki Fudo Myo Pilgrimage

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Tanokami, Eggs, A Church, a Giant Torii, & A Dragon

On the 26th day of my first walk around Kyushu I headed directly north from Shibushi towards Miyakonojo where I had a room for the night. As usual I stopped in at any shrines I passed, and after leaving one that was down a track I noticed a statue in the corner of a rice paddy.

This turned out to be a statue of Tanokami, the god of the rice paddies, and though I had come across this kami before, this was the first time I had seen one in statue form. I had heard that southern Kyushu had plenty of these statues and hoped to find lots more over the next week or so.

One thing Japan is renowned for is the huge number of vending machines, and in the countryside you can find some strange ones. Vending machines for fresh eggs are actually not all that unusual.

Walking through the outskirts of Miyakonojo I came across this church. It's a real church, a Catholic one built in 1933, not a fake wedding chapel, which incidentally I saw a little later. The fake wedding chapels are usually much bigger and grander, with plenty of soaring spires and elaborate gothic decorations.....

After checking in to my room I went for a walk and couldn't miss a huge torii straddling the road. This led to the towns main shrine set in a big park. Kamibashiragu Shrine seems to be connected to the arrival of the Shimazu Clan in southern Kyushu, though now it has plenty of imperial kami enshrined.

Monday, September 2, 2019

When a Tree is a Shrine. Oyama Shrine on Dogo

That a natural phenomenon or an object like a mountain, a rock, a spring, or waterfall could be sacred  or home to something sacred is not at all uniquely Japanese, but a fairly universal occurance. However such things are commonly found throughout Japan. This is Oyama Shrine in the mountains of Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands that are part of Shimane.

There is a torii and a couple of lanterns, but no buildings. The shrine is a giant tree. It is a sugi, commonly called Japanese Cedar but it is not actually a cedar. It is estimated to be over 800 years old.

In April villagers from Fuso, a fishing village on the coast at the base of the mountains, come here with a long vine and wrap it around the base of the tree seven and a half times. I am unsure if there is a significance to that number. Ritual objects that carry prayers and requests are then inserted into the wrapped vine.

There are quite a few sacred trees on Dogo, a nearby one being the Chichi Sugi. Being remote and isolated the Oki Islands have kept a lot of traditions.

To get a sense of the size of the tree you could see the cover photo on my facebook page