Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tombo. Japanese Dragonflies


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There are about 200 types of dragonfly in Japan, each with its own name, and I have absolutely no idea which ones these photos are of, so I use the generic "Tombo"

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Associated with late summer and early autumn, the Tombo has a deep and rich relationship with Japanese culture, not least of which is an ancient name for Japan meaning Dragonfly Isles.

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Found as an artistic symbol as far back as the Yayoi Period, the dragonfly was adopted by samurai and appear on helmets and swords. It also appears much in Haiku.

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With the heavy use of chemical pesticides the tombo no longer appear in the numbers they used to.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sanematsu Hachimangu


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Within sight of Nogi Shrine is the local village shrine Sanematsu Hachimangu. While being a fairly common village shrine in many areas of Japan, there are surprisingly few hachimangus in Izumo.

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Like most shrines in Izumo there are a couple of altars to Kojin, the rope serpent. By far the commonest kami in the region, he/she is relatively unknown. I am not sure of the gender. In my area the equivalent kami is Omoto and she is female.

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The shrine also has a Zuijinmon with a fine pair of zuijin and wooden komainu. When I first walked this valley many years ago I was struck by the fact that every single shrine had a zuijinmon.

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The other thing that struck me is that none of the shrines in the area had a toilet. Most shrines I visit have a simple, pit toilet in the grounds. But in this valley not a single shrine does.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Iyadani Kannon


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On the ninth day of my walk along the Shikoku Pilgrimage, after leaving temple 22, Byodo-ji, I took the main road heading for the coast of Tokushima. After spening 100 days on Mount Tairyuji Kukai must have taken the same route because a sign pointed to Iyadani Kannon, a little detour off the main road and a site supposedly founded by Kukai.

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Apparently he left "7 Wonders", one of them being this large rock that is supposed to be balanced in such a way that a single finger can cause it to rock.

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There were some interesting old statues and some rock carvings.

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Everything was moved to this current location when the nearby dam and reservoir were created.

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Well worth the little detour, and a nice break from the main road. The sign pointing to it is a couple of kilometers past Awafukui Station on Route 55.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nogi Shrine


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This Nogi Shrine has absolutely no link to the more famous Nogi Shrine in Tokyo. That one is a twentieth century creation enshrining the "patriotic" General Nogi who committed suicide following the death of Emperor Meiji.

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This Nogi Shrine is named after the ancient district of Nogi in Izumo, and is much, much older being listed in the Izumo Fudoki and the Engi Shiki. It was one of the top three shrines of Izumo, along with Kumano Taisha and Sada Shrine, up until the 11th Century when Izumo Taisha was promoted.

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The main kami is Amenohiho, the first emissary sent from Amaterasu to convince Izumo to cede their land to Yamato. The Yamato say he joined Okuninushi and didn't report back. The Izumo say he did report back and his son came down to pacify the local kami. Amenohiho is considered the ancestor of the high priests/ governors of Izumo.

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There are numerous smaller shrines within the grounds as well as a couple of altars to Kojin, the local land kami represented as a straw snake. Also enshrined here is Onamuchi (Okuninushi), Kotoshironushi, Hachiman, Futsunushi ( the tuteary kami of the Mononobe who played a part in subduing the local kami).

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Also enshrined are Kuninotokotachi one of the primal kami of creation, Kuninosazuchi, an earth kami, Izanami, Tamayorihime, Juntoku a thirteenth century Emperor, kamusubi, Ayakashikone... a kami produced before Izanami and Izanagi who I had never heard of before, an Atago shrine, and an Inari shrine.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kada's Forest


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Umi Hachimangu, like many shrines, is set within a grove of trees. The grove at Umi is called Kada's Forest, after the original name of the area, Kata. It is composed of huge, ancient Camphor trees, Kusunoki in Japanese.

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The Kusunoki is the largest species of hardwood in Japan and is found in the warmer western part of the archipelago, especially Kyushu, where many shrines will have them in their grounds.

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The wood contains a natural insect repellant and is used as moth balls. It is also made into incense and was used to make Buddhist statues in the early Nara Period until a switch to mostly Nutmeg and then later Cypress.

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The two largest trees at Umi Hachimangu are registered as National Treasures and are reputed to be 2,000 years old. The biggest is over 18 meters tall and with a spread of similar width. The circumference around the root base is 24 meters.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Birth Stones at Umi Hachimangu


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According to the ancient myths, Emperor Chuai and his consort Jingu travelled to Kyushu to fight the Kumaso people of southern Kyushu. Jingu was known as a shamaness and she received a message from the kami that they should attack and subdue the countries on the Korean Peninsula. Chuai scoffed at the idea and was promptly killed by the kami. Jingu took over and organized a military invasion of the peninsula. She was pregnant with the child of Chuai and in order to stop the child being born before she returned she placed 2 smooth, round stones "in her loins".

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Jingu was gone 3 years and when she arrived back she safely gave birth to the child who would become Emperor Ojin. The name of the place she gave birth was changed to Umi, and now a Hachimangu shrine stands at the place.

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Behind Umi Hachimangu is a large container filled with stones, koyasunoishi, safe birth stones. A woman who prays at the shrine for a safe birth for her child will take oe of the stones home with her. Upon the safe birth of the child the woman must then find another stone and write the new childs name and birthdate on it before returning both stones to the shrine.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Umi Hachimangu


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Umi Hachimangu is located a little to the east of Fukuoka City. Like all Hachimangu, it enshrines primarily Ojin, the posthumous name of the "emperor" Homuda Wake.

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What is unique about this Hachimangu is that it is built on the site where, according to the ancient myths,  Homuda Wake was born, and the place name was changed to Umi, derived from the Japanese word for birth.

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Along with Ojin, his mother Jingu is enshrined. Often Hachimangu will have Ojins father Chuai and Ojins wife Himegami enshrined, but here it is Tamayorihime, who is sometimes considered to be an individual, and sometimes considered to be a generic word for Miko.

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While I was there a ceremony was going on. It may have been a Purification ceremony, but I suspect it more likely to be a ceremony to pray for safe childbirth, something this shrine is particularly known for.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Izumo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage Day 8


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Day 8 started on top of the mountain at the ruins of Gassan Toda Castle. My route today is down the mountain then north along the river before turning East.

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I will head towards Daisen over in Tottori before reaching temple number 20 Chodaiji, close to the border with Tottori.

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Then a little way north to Kiyomizudera and then hopefully Unjuji.

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Most of the route will take me into areas I have never visited so I look forward to discovering some interesting shrines.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Takada Aragami-sha


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This little shrine is located between Tokoji and Shoin Shrine in Hagi, Yamaguchi. It was founded in 771 and so precedes the establishment of Hagi as a castle town by almost a millenia. It is the shrine that protects the local area.

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Aragami is most often translates as "Rough Deity", though some say it means "evil deity". I prefer "Turbulent Deity". Most instances I have come across the aragami is nameless, but here it refers to Susano. I have heard Susano referred to as aragami elsewhere in Yamaguchi too.

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Also enshrined here are Okitsuhiko and Okitsuhime, a male/female pair that are often called the Kami of the Hearth or Kitchen or  sometimes the kami of the cauldron and the pot.

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They are both descendants of Susano, through his son Otoshi.

East along the coast is a town called Susa, and when I was first researching Susano I made a trip there to see if there was any connection with Susano, but coulod find none. recently however I can across a local story west of here at Omijima that says Susano used to leave from Omijima on his journeys back to the Korean Peninsula, which makes sense as that is the closest point of Honshu to the peninsula.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Sunset and Sunrise from Gassan Toda castle


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The view from the ruins of Gassan Toda Castle make it clear why the site was chosen for the castle.

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To the north the Hirose River runs into the Nakaumi at Yasugi.

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It must have looked quite different at night when the castle still stood, before the advent of electric light.

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This was the second time I had slept out here, though since my first visit a structure had been built so I could sleep under a roof.

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Time to head down the mountain and begin day 8 of my Izumo 33 Pilgrimage....

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