Saturday, June 3, 2023

Yasaka Shrine Itonaga


Itonaga is located in a narrow valley that runs up to Mount Futago in the middle of the Kunisaki Peninsula in Oita. It is one of 28 valleys that radiate out from the centre. It is now included in Akimachi.

The main shrine for the village is a branch of the famous Yasaka Shrine in Gion, Kyoto.

Like many of the shrines in the Kunisaki area, a pair of Buddhist Nio  statues stand guard.

Most Nio are carved in wood and range from being well- carved by experts, to being kind of chunky and funky, made by local artisans. When carved out of stone they tend to be less detailed.

This pair were quite unusual and "chubby"

The main building of the shrine had lots of intriguing relief carvings.

Yasaka Shrines enshrine Susano, his wife Kushinada, and 8 children. However, prior to 1868 the shrine was called Gion-sha and enshrined Gozu Tenno, known as an "Ox-Head King".

probably from India originally, and with some of his identity being picked up in Tibet, China, and Korea, Gozu Tenno was a curious, and complicated, mix of many different religious traditions,  protection against disease was a major attribute, and as such was instrumental in the now famous Gion Matsuri. The connection with Korea seems strong, maybe as the area around Kyoto was settled by Korean immigrants before it became the capital.

The previous post in this series documenting my 5 day walk exploring the Kunisaki Peninsula was on the Autumn Colours at nearby shrines.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

A Brief Guide to Takehara


Takehara is a small city on the coast of Hiroshima about halfway between the major stations of Hiroshima City and Fukuyama, whose old town is a well-preserved slice of architectural history with the nickname "Little Kyoto". The city limits also include the small island of Okunoshima which in recent years has achieved fame as "Rabbit Island" but which is also home to the ruins of a former WWII poison gas factory.

Takehara grew up around the production of salt and also sake, and the main street of the old part of town is lined with merchant houses, warehouses, and wealthy farmers properties, enough of which remain for the area to be a registered Preservation District.

Some of the larger properties are open to the public as a kind of museum of former times, with some having quite delightful gardens.

The former Morikawa Family Residence is large enough to be classed a  mansion, and it has the largest gardens. Also worth a visit is the Kasai Residence and garden.

Many of the merchant properties are still in operation as stores, shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafes. Bamboo crafts are a specialty of the town as is sake. There are a few sake breweries still in operation, with one having a sake museum.

The town does have a Local History Museum with displays covering many aspects of the towns history, and a whole floor devoted to locally born Taketsuru Masatake, considered to be the father of Japanese whiskey. A 2014 tv drama series made "Massan" and his Scottish wife household names in Japan.

As with every town in Japan, there are a fair number of shrines, temples, and wayside altars. The biggest and most important shrine, Isonomiya Hachiman,  is just outside the historic district. One of the larger temples in the historic district, Saihoji, has a picturesque hall built on a platform. Fumeikaku has great views over the town.

Other Historic Preservation Districts Ive posted on include Obi, Chiran, Kitsuki, Kiragawa, Taketomi, Omori, Hita, and Izushi.

Other recent "Brief Guides" I've posted on smaller, less well-known towns and cities in west Japan include Kurume, Yamaga, and Hita, all in Kyushu.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

A Stroll Though Omori


Omori is a major part of the Iwami Ginzan World Heritage Sites in the mountains of western Shimane. Before it became a World Heritage Site it had been listed as a Preservation District because so many historical buildings were still extant.

It is a 40 minute drive from my home, and for many years a good friend lived in the town so I have spent a lot of time there.

This was the administrative headquarters for the silver mining operation. This is where the samurai who controlled the mine lived and worked. It was also home to the many merchants and other trades, but it was not the home of the actual miners. They lived in hovels up in the mountains at the actual mines.

It is actually one of the better preservation districts because it is so extensive and not marred by aboveground powerlines. There are a couple of shops and places to eat but by and large, it is not so very commercialized.

On this visit I was on the 4th day of my walk along the Iwami Mandala Kannon Pilgrimage and there was a small a cluster of temples here. Historically it was the starting point for the pilgrimage, but the modern version follows a different route and has a little different set of temples. Recently discovered documents at an old samurai home near my house also show another Kannon pilgrimage just covering the territory of the silver mine and not the whole of the Iwami Province.

There are a couple of homes open to the public, and an enormous number of temples, necessary for the many funerals that resulted from the brutal life of a being a miner, though many have closed down now.

The previous post in this series on the Iwami Kannon Pilgrimage was Kanzeonji Temple in the lower part of town. Two earlier posts on the preservation district of Omori, and the facades of the preservation district, if you are interested.

This final photo is a great example of kote-e, plaster relief, found on the "treasure house" of one of the temples.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Ishizushi Shrine Nankoku


Ishizuchi Shrine is located in Nankoku near the southern coast of Kochi in Shikoku. I stopped in while walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage between temples 31 Chikurinji, and 32 Zenjibuji.

In the 9th Century the shrine was added to the Engi Shiki, a government document that listed shrines that received offerings from the imperial government.

Behind it is a small shrine built at the mouth to a small cave called Ishido. Ishido Shrine enshrines Zao Gongen, the primary deity of Shugendo mountain worship. The famous Ishizuchi mountain and shrine in northern Shikoku, a Shugendo centre,  is said to be the okunoin.

The entrance to the cave is so small that humans have not ventured inside, but a local story tells of a dog, conveniently with a wooden nametag, chased a rabbit into the cave and seven days later the dog and rabbits corpses were found in a cave far across on the other side of the island suggesting that the cave system extends vast distances.

The three primary kami enshrined here are Ishitsushi no kami, Akatsushi no kami, and Soktsushi no kami. They are now read in the same way as the kami of the famous Ishizuchi Shrine, ut a source I consult a lot regarding Engi Shiki shrines suggest that in earlier times they were read as the three kami enshrined in Sumiyoshi Shrine. Different written sources "read" names in different ways and so give different meanings as do/did different commentators throughout history. The kami now said to be enshrined in many shrines are different from those in historical times,with most shrines taking the Meiji era readings and classifications as the "established" ones.

The previous post in this series that looks at the many sites and sights found between the temples of the Ohenro Pilgrimage was the Makino Botanical Gardens.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Worldly Benefits at Tsubakido Temple


There is a cluster of three related temples called Tsubakido in a small side valley in the mountains of the Kunisaki Peninsula, and they are very popular for the practice of a fundamental aspect of Japanese religious activity called genze riyaku, which translates as praying for benefits in this world rather than for any future world, paradise, heaven etc.

Benefits would include all kinds of success, in health, business, school, sports, love, childbirth, etc etc, as well as protection from disasters and misfortune like disease, traffic safety, fire, angry ghosts and demons, etc.

Many temples, and shrines, specialize in particular benefits, and some have a wide range of deities, altars, statues, etc dedicated to many different benefits. Tsubakido is one such temple.

According to the temple's origin story, Kobo Daishi himself visited this spot after returning from China. He struck the ground inside the small cave that now constitutes the okunoin of the temple, with his staff made of camelia wood and the sacred spring burst forth.

The water is considered healing water and bottles of it can be purchased and taken away. Piles of canes, casts, splints, braces, etc. attest to the miraculous healings that have taken place. Most curious are collections of black hair, said to be more than a thousand, that have been left by people healed by the waters.

There are numerous Kannons enshrined here, including a cancer-cutting Kannon, a Kannon for "mercy to all creatures", pictured at the bottom of this post, a kind of Japanese-Buddhist St, Francis, as well as Kannons for matchmaking, safe childbirth, and so on.

Outside, next to the bell tower is a newer Kannon, one that slows down the effects of senility..... a Kannon that is becoming more widespread as Japan ages rapidly.

As well as Kannon, the other very, very popular bodhisattva in Japan is Jizo, of which Tsubakido has many examples including the modern Mizuko Jizo, and an Osasuri Jizo that you rub on the part of the statues that you desire healing for your own body.

There is a branch of Fushimi Inari Shrine which is for prayers for business success. There are a couple of historical examples of onigawara roof tiles that are used to protect the temple buildings from evil.

Shamoji, the flat wooden spoons or rice scoops are used, like ema, to write prayers upon. This seems to have derived from an early 20th-century practice of praying for military victory.

The temple (s) are part of several pilgrimages, though not part of the Kyushu Fudo Myo Pilgrimage that I was on my second day of. I was also following the Minemichi Long Trail which roughly follows the old yamabushi pilgrimage route around the peninsula.

Worldly benefits temples like Tsubakido are usually very festive and colourful and often offer a staggering number of statues to experience. I suspect they are not hard up for money.

The previous post in the series on my walk around Kyushu on the Kyushu Fudo Myo Pilgrimage was devoted to the many statues of Fudo Myo found here at Tsubakido.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Yokota Folk Museum


Sometimes referred to as a folklore museum, sometimes a local history museum, the Yokota  Museum is housed in a traditional thatched farmhouse that was moved to its current location and re-assembled.

It is located in the south of Yokota, a small town in the Chugoku Mountains of Okuizumo in Shimane.

The farmhouse was originally built in the very early 20th century, but was built in the traditional way. It now has glass windows.

It belonged to a relatively wealthy land-owning farmer and has 4 large tatami rooms.

Outside is a small Izumo-style garden.

The interior of the house is decorated in traditional style, and various everyday items, including clothing, is on display and the kitchen area has both a kamado, traditional cooking stove, and an irori, sunken hearth. The room is also filled with traditional utensils.

In the ancillary building are lots of traditional farming equipment, tools, machines, and clothing.

There are occasional workshops on making a varirty of things out of straw. While I visited there were no staff on hand to explain anything, and the signage was only in Japanese.

Entry is free, and while it might not be worth making a journey just to see it, if you are in the area visiting some of the other attractions, it is worth checking out.

The previous post in this series exploring the remote Okuizumo region was Inada Shrine and the Myth of Princess Kushinada. For a post on another traditional farmhouse, check Nagaoka Family Farmhouse.