Sunday, June 2, 2024

Kurokamizan Saikomitsu Temple 69 Kyushu pilgrimage


Mount Kurokami is a more than 450-meter high mountain between Takeo and Arita in Saga that has been a site of mountain worship since ancient times.

Just below the peak is Saikomitsu Temple, and from it steps lead up to Kurokami Shrine connected to the defeat of a giant serpent.

The temple is very small now and normally unmanned but the day I visited was the day before a ceremony was to be held and so a cleaner was busy preparing.

Before Kobo Daishi left from nearby Hirado on his journey to China he climbed the mountain and prayed for a safe journey. On his return in 806 he came back to the mountain and carved a small Fudo Myo statue and established the temple.

The temple became very important and in its heyday had 80 temples under its control and was a major Shugendo site.

However, in 1878 a major fire burned down almost all the structures and it was decided to move the temple to Sasebo.

The Kobo Daishi Fudo statue, said to be carved using his fingernails, is now the honzon of .Daishi-in Temple in Sasebo. which I had visited a few days earlier.

The honzon of the current Saikomitsu temple is a Yakushi, an Amida, and a Kannon, all hidden.

There are numerous statues around the small building including several Fudo's. They all had plenty of fresh-cut flowers obviously getting ready for the next day.

However, the best was yet to come as a little further down the mountain was another small statue and an enormous Fudo Myo carved into the cliff face......

The previous post in this series on my first Kyushu pilgrimage was a .Brief Guide to Arita.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Saburo Iwa Rocks


Saburo Iwa is a spectacular rock formation in the sea off the coast of Ama, one of the four inhabited islands of the Okis in the Sea of Japan near Shimane.

Visible from a couple of the islands, I took a tour boat, the Amanbow, to view them close up. The reason behind the unusual appearance of the boat will become apparent later.

The boat leaves Hishiura, the main port on the island and heads out into the channel between Ama and Nishinoshima, the neighboring island.

The three towering rocks are named Taro, Jiro, and Saburo by locals.

Technically they are termed sea stacks. The most famous sea stack in the Okis is  Candle Rock.

The Oki Islands have plenty of interesting geological sights and have been made a UNESCO Global Geopark.

Once the boat reaches the rocks it stops and the passengers go below where the hull is mostly  huge windows enabling a slow cruise among the undersea forests....more of that next time

The previous post in this series on the Oki Islands was on the Nishinoshima Seashore.

Friday, May 31, 2024

A Brief Guide to Arita


If you have any interest in Japanese ceramics then Arita in Saga would be great to visit. If your interest is in Japanese porcelain then Arita is a must-visit.

In the area around Arita are numerous kilns, some still operating and some closed down.

Just outside town is the Arita porcelain park, a theme park with a German theme and an amazing replica of a Baroque German palace. It used to have exhibitions of historical ceramics but those have closed.

In the southern part of the town, near Arita station, is the large Kyushu Ceramics Museum which covers a lot of topics but is heavy on local porcelain. In the middle of town the Arita Ceramics Museum is much smaller but well worth a visit. To the north of the town next to the historic quarry where Japanese porcelain originated is yet another museum.

The main street of the town is lined with shops selling local porcelain, some more gallery-like and pricey, but many featuring "bargain bin" warehouses.

The whole, long street is a preservation district of traditional architecture, though as it almost all dates from the late 19th century following a major fire, there is a lot of western influence in the architecture.

As usual for me, I try to visit as many of the local shrines as I can, and in Arita the most popular is the Tozan Shrine featuring porcelain komainu and torii. You will also see Ebisu statues along the local roads as Hizen, the former name for Nagasaki and Saga prefectures, the Ebisu cult was very popular.

There are no particularly interesting temples in the town, though one does have some nice nio.

In the upper part of the town there are lots of working kilns and the  back streets have walls made out of recycled kiln bricks.

Kami Arita Station is at this end of town. The previous post on day 70 of my walk around Kyushu was on .a couple of local shrines.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Wakanoura Bay of Poetry


Wakanoura, which roughly could be translated as  Poetry Bay, is in the southern part of what is now Wakayama City.

Where the Wada River and Waka River enter the sea a long sandbar has created a wide area of tidal mud flats that have been the inspiration for millennia of poets.

Poems set in the area were included in the ancient Manyoshu and subsequent major collections of verse, and Emperor Shomu ( 701-756 ) issued an imperial edict to protect the area in perpetuity.

Modern development has encroached significantly on the views now available, but there are enough sites of interest to make it an area worth a half-day visit.

The closest train station is Kiimidera (photo 3 above), in front of a major temple with a giant Kannon statues. It is a major tourist site and the second temple of the Saigoku pilgrimage, and if you are visiting it, it is not too far to walk to the Wakanoura area.

The place to head to is Imoseyama, a small island connected by a bridge. (photo 1 above)

On the island is the Kankai Kaku Pavillion (photo 4 above), originally built in the Edo period, it  was destroyed by a typhoon and replaced by a concrete replica. This has now been demolished and is being replaced with a wooden replica.

Also nearby is a small two-storey agoda, the remains of Kaizen-in Temple. It was renovated in 1653 by Tokugawa Yorinobu as a memorial to his deceased mother. To reach Imoseyama you cross the Sandankyo bridge, said to be the oldest stone bridge in Wakayama,  built by Yorinobu.

There are several shrines in the area. Shiogama Shrine ( photos 8 and 9 above) is located in a small cave and is very popular for visitors seeking safe childbirth and fertility although originally the kami here were connected to the sea and especially salt production which was important in this area. In front of the shrine is the Furobashi Bridge, built in the Edo period. )photo 12 below)

Nearby is Tamatsushima Shrine, (photo above)which as the name suggests stands on what was an island in former times. Numerous kami are enshrined here but the most notable is Princess Sotoori. Sources differ on her chronology but she seems to have been a particularly beautiful imperial princess of the 5th century.

Deified as one of the Three Gods of Waka Poetry, after appearing in a dream to Emperor Koko in the 9th century reciting a poem about Wakanoura. The shrine has an important collection of ancient manuscripts and is visited by those seeking literary and academic success.

The sandbar in the bay is a popular summer beach spot, and the area around Wakanoura has several small fishing harbors still operating.

Not far away are two major shrines on the mountainside with great views over the Wakanoura area.

Wakaoura Tenmangu Shrine ( photo above), and Kishu Toshogu Shrine are both well worth a visit and feature colorful and detailed architecture.

Also nearby is the Yosuien garden, (photo below) and Minato Goten Palace.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Yodohime Shrine & Yabusa Shrine: Statues as Shintai


In the immediate vicinity of Hoko-in Temple near Arita I visited two small, local shrines that were interesting because they both had statues as shintai.

Shintai are the objects, usually hidden inside the honden of a shrine,  into which the kami "descend". In some cases, possibly the original form shintai took before the introduction of Buddhism brought the notion of sacred architecture, shintai are trees, large rocks, and even mountains.

I have often read that shintai must be mirrors, but that is a State Shinto rule meant to elevate Amaterasu. In roadside hokora most of the shintai I have seen have been largish stones. Until the separation of Buddhas and kami in early Meiji, many shintai were in fact Buddhist statues.

These first four photos are of a Yodohime Shrine. There are quite a few in this part of Kyushu, and as you can see the honden is actually just a hokora with its doors open showing the statue. Yodohime was the grandmother of Jimmu, the mythical first emperor, but around here she is considered a water deity. The statue looks very Buddhist to me but because of the bib some details can't be seen.

The second shrine is called Yabusa Shrine and I can find no information about iit or who is enshrined here.

Like the Yodohime Shrine it is really just a stone hokora with a small worship hall in front.

As you can see, the statue of the "kami" looks very Buddhist, and the hands are even doing mudras.

The previous post in this series was on the .Yasaka Shrine in Arita.