Showing posts with label yamanobenomichi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yamanobenomichi. Show all posts

Friday, April 23, 2010



The Yamanobenomichi (the road along the base of the mountains) has the distinction of being the oldest road mentioned in Japanese historical records, the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, as well as being mentioned in many poems in the Manyoshu. What is left of it runs from approximately Tenri to Sakurai in Nara Prefecture.

Sections of the route are footpaths, and sections are on quiet village roads. There is no real up and downs and so it can be walked pleasantly in a day.


There are masses of historical sites along the way. Many of the shrines I've already posted about here, including the major shrines of Isonokami and Omiwa, as well as lots of interesting smaller shrines including the Sumo Shrine where legend has it the first human sumo match took place.

A lot of the temples in the area were razed in the early Meiji Period, but there are several along the way including Chogaku-Ji.


There are also many burial mounds including some large ones like the Hashihaka Kofun. In the Meiji period the government went around and ascribed Imperial ancestors to all these tombs and built torii on them as part of the new State Shinto, but historians generally have differing histories to them. Many now believe that Hashihaka is Himikos Tomb.


You would probably want to bring your own lunch/picnic as there are not a lot of facilities along the way,... some vending machines and maybe farmers stalls selling fruit. The small settlements are very quiet and rustic, in fact the whole route is a very pleasant, quiet, relaxing break from the buzz and hubbub of nearby Nara and Kyoto.


Not actually on the route, but at one of the places you would leave the route to head back to the station in sakurai is the biggest torii in Japan. Built in 1986 to commemorate a visit by the Emperor, the black steel torii rises 32.2 metres, eclipsing the previous biggest torii at Yasakuni.

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.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sai Shrine


The full name of Sai shrine is Sainiimasuomiwaaramitama Shrine. It enshrines Omiwa Aramitama, the spirit of the sacred mountain Mount Miwa. It is an affiliate shrine of the great Omiwa Shrine, and is located right next door, close to the southern end of the Yamanobenomichi in Nara Prefecture.


Mount Miwa has been sacred since ancient times, and is an example of a "kannabi", a mountain where the kami resides IN the mountain, rather than descending onto the mountain. After ceding "Japan" to the Yamato, Okuninushi settled in Mount Miwa, and 5 of his relatives from Izumo inhabited other mountains surrounding the Yamato Basin, and it seems most likely that the concept of kannabi is from Izumo


It is possible to go up on the mountain, though there are many restrictions. There are about 6 periods during the year when it is forbidden, but the rest of the time you pay a fee of 300 yen, put on a white sash and begin the climb here. No photography or eating is allowed, and you can only spend 3 hours.


The spring at the shrine is renowned for its healing qualities.


Kotoshironushi, Okuninushi's son, is also enshrined here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010



Suise -en is built on a strip of land dividing two ancient ponds at the base of Mount Miwa in Nara. It is on the yamanobenomichi. I can find almost no information about the place.


Is it a shrine? or is it a temple?.... it has the trappings of both, which is how most religious sites were until the Meiji government "separated" Shinto and Buddhism. Here is an Inari shrine. (or is it Dakiniten, the buddhist manifestation of Inari?


In my original notes I have the names Benzaiten and Hachidai Ryu. hachidai Ryu is the Eight Dragon Kings, and is also sometimes equated with Benzaiten. Both have a strong association with water, so that makes sense.


There are also lots of buddhist statues. It was here that I found this tableau of lucky gods.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Almost the 7 Lucky Gods of Japan


I found this eclectic tableau at the entrance to Suisei-en on the yamanobenomichi.

The figure on the far left is Hotei, one of Japan's 7 Lucky Gods (Shichi Fukujin), and is associated with abundance and good health. He came from China where he is named Budai, and is also known as the laughing Buddha, which is the name I associate him with as I had a small statue of him when I was young.

The gentleman in the middle back is Fukurokuju, another member of the Shichi Fukujin, and he is associated with wisdom and longevity and probably derives from a Chinese star God, Shou.

To the right stand 2 tanuki, who are not gods or kami, but have existed in Japanese folklore since ancient times as shape-shifters. They are also associated with good fortune.

In the center are Daikoku and Ebisu, both members of the Shichi Fukujin and often equated with Okuninushi and Kotoshironushi. Daikoku is the god of wesalth, commerce , and trade, and is derived from the Hindu God Shiva. Ebisu is the god of fishing and merchants, and is usually believed to be the only one of the Shichi Fukujin not from India or China.

The 2 snakes in the front I'm not sure about. Snakes have many connotations in Japan, especially water, so they may be representations of Benzaiten, one of the Shichifukujin associated with music, art, and eloquence. Based on a Hindu River God, Saraswati.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hibara Shrine


Hibara Shrine lies on the Yamanobenomichi at the base of Miwa-san. It is an affiliate shrine of Omiwa Shrine, and like it, enshrines the kami of the mountain, now reckoned to be Okuninushi.

There are no buildings at Hibara Shrine. Buildings at shrines only began after the introduction of Buddhist temples.


Amaterasu was worshipped here but it seems that after Okuninushi was installed from Izumo there were problems between the two of them, so Amaterasu was moved to Ise.


This small shrine was added in 1987. Called Toyosuki-iri-hime no miya. Toyosuki iri hime was an imperial princess who was the "priestess" in charge of the mirror that was the shintai ( god body) of Amaterasu.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Anasenimasu Shrine


Anasenimasu Shrine, or Anashiniimasu in its alternate reading, is one of the oldest shrines in Yamato, and yet little is known for sure about it,... most references to it include lots of "maybe"'s.

It's located up the valley a little behind the Sumo Shrine, just off the Yamanobenomichi, and seems to be connected to Emperor Suinin.


The 3 kami housed in the unusual triple honden are Hyouzugami, Wakamitama, and Daihyouzu. Each is associated with the imperial regalia, the sword, mirroe, and jewels.

Some sources equate the 3 with Susano, Kushinadahime, and Onamuchi, 3 Izumo kami.


The main kami, Hyouzu is believed to be the ancient Chinese god, Chi-You, considered to be the ancestor of the Han chinese as well as the Koreans. He was a god of war with associations with metal and weapons, and to have had an Ox's head. Interesting that Susano, in Izumo at least, is associated with metal and weapons, and came to be equated with Gozutenno, the Oxhead king originally a Hindu god, but brought into Japan through Korea. Gozutenno is the original kami at the shrine now known as Yasaka in Gion.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sumo Shrine. The legendary origin of Sumo


This small shrine, located a little off the yamanobenomichi in Sakurai, Nara, is the legendary site of the first Sumo match between humans. The mythical origin of Sumo is in a contest between kami in Izumo. Izumo features in the legendary origin too, as the Sumo Shrine enshrines a man from Izumo, Nomi no Sukune, who was the victor in this first bout.

The story is set during the reign of the Great King Suinin who ruled over Yamato during the early 4th Century. There was a braggard named Kuehaya who lived over in Taima, across the Nara Plain at the northern end of the Katsuragi Mountains, who claimed that he was the strongest man in the world. Suinin heard that in Izumo was a man who was stronger, so Suinin invited Sukune to come and fight Kuehaya.


Sukune easily defeated Kuehaya, who died by having his ribs broken and his testicles smashed. I would guess that if contemporary Sumo went back to the traditional rules it would probably reverse its decline in popularity. In return for victory Sukune was given Kuehaya's land and invited to stay in Yamato and serve Suinin. Kuehaya and his fellows became the first makers of Haniwa.

Postscript: It seems there is some kind of unwritten law in Japanese media that forbids the use of the word "sumo" without prefacing it with the phrase "Japan's ancient sport of...". I guess that is to distinguish Sumo from the really, really, really, ancient sports of Roman wresting or Greek wrestling.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Minakuchi Shrine, Tenri


This small shrine, located just off route 169, next to the settlement of Shibutanicho on the Yamanobenomichi, was known as Tenno Sha until the Meiji period. It enshrines Susano and Homuda Wake, who is more commonly known by his posthumous name of Emperor Ojin, the primary kami of Hachiman shrines.


The shrine lies between 2 of the many keyhole kofun that lie in this area. Just to the south is the tomb attributed to Emperor Keiko, and this seems to be an accurate attribution based on the Nihon Shoki. To the north is the much large moated tomb officially attributed to Emperor Sujin, but most historians place his tomb some distance away.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Izanagi Shrine, Tenri


Izanagi Shrine is located just across from the Sujin Kofun on Route 169 in Tenri, just a little off of the Yamanobenomichi.


The shrine is mentioned in the Engishiki of the tenth Century, but at that time it was located in Yamada, southeast of its present site. It was moved here in 1641.


Enshrined here along with Izanagi is Sugawara Michizane, commonly referred to as Tenjin.


As often happened in the early years of Meiji, the shrine was renamed, but reverted to its original name after the end of WWII.


There is also an Inari Shrine in the grounds.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yatogi Shrine, Tenri


Yatogi Shrine, sometimes pronounced Yatsugi, is a delightful shrine located on the Yamanobenomichi a little south of Isonokami in Tenri. The main hall has a fine thatched roof, and behind it the line of seven hondens have cedar-bark roofs.


The seven kami are quite an eclectic collection. The main kami is Futsunushi, a kami of swords and lightning, and possibly the personification of the main kami at nearby Isonokami Shrine. Also enshrined is Takemikazuchi, a main kami of the Fujiwara clan. The myths have either or both of these kami descending to Izumo and convincing Okuninushi to give Japan to Amaterasu's descendants. As the Fujiwara (known earlier as the Nakatomi) wiped out the Mononobe, it is believed that gradually the Fujiwara kami usurped and replaced the Mononobe kami.


Another enshrined kami here is Amenokoyane, one of the kami who performed rituals to entice Amaterasu out of her cave, and another ancestor of the Fujiwara. Another kami is Kotohira, a variation of Konpira.


Strangely, Susano is enshrined here, though that may be connected to local legends that pertain to the spirit of the eight-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi slain by Susano. It is believed that its spirit became associated with lightning, and in the hills behind nearby isonokami Shrine are rocks said to be it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hakusan Shrine, Tenri.


This small wayside shrine is located just of the Yamanobenomichi a little south of Isonokami Shrine in Tenri. I believe it is a Hakusan Shrine, sometimes read as Shirayama Shrine. Shirayama is the older reading. The head Hakusan shrine is up in Ishikawa Prefecture. Nowadays the main kami is said to be Kukurihime, a kami who mediated between Izanagi and his dead wife Izanami, so sometimes eithe of these two are claimed as the main kami.


The shrine may well have been part of a huge temple complex that existed near here before being destroyed in the early years of Meiji when the government dramatically altered the religious landscape of Japan.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Isonokami Shrine, Tenri.


Isonokami Shrine is located in the hills east of Tenri, Nara Prefecture. In the early days of the Yamato State it was a center of power as at least 2 emperors lived in the vicinity, and 2 princes hid here during the succession disputes that occurred after every death of an Emperor.


It was the treasure house of the Mononobe clan, one of the king-making powerful families, along with the Soga, Nakatomi, etc, whose support determined which prince became Emperor. Often described as Armorers or Imperial Guards, the Mononobe looked after ritual/political "treasures", many of which were swords.


The main kami of the shrine is Futsunomitama, a divine sword used by the mythical first emperor Jimmu. Another sword, the Shichishito, in the shrines treasury was made in 369 by the King of Paekche and given to the Yamato. Legend has it that the sword used by Susano to slay Orochi is also stored here. Amenohiboko, according to the ancient Yamato myths was a prince from Korea who settled in Japan. He brought with him ten "treasures" that are also thought to be stored at isonokami.


There is a secondary shrine to Izumo Takeo here that unusually for a secondary shrine is on higher ground than the main shrine leading some historians to suggest that maybe the Izumo shrine was here first.


Isonokami is at the northern end of the famous Yamanobe no michi, the oldest road in Japanese recorded history, and the shrine is a good starting point to walk the patyh south to Sakurai.