Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sword Dance Extraordinaire


I am a huge fan of kagura, and have seen hundreds and hundreds of dances over the years, most, but not all, Iwami kagura from my local area. While it is still fascinating seeing the variations of dances that different groups perform, it is nowadays rare to see a dance that I had not see before.


So it was with great anticipation I saw something at a performance by a kagura group from down near Masuda. There are basically two types of dance, masked-theatrical which was in earlier times performed by the villagers as entertainment in between the shinji, ceremonial dances, usually performed by the priests. There is a lot of crossover between the two, one being the use of torimono, objects carried by the dancers. Swords are often used as torimono.


I had never seen this kind before, 2 groups of 6 blades, crossed over and held together with material so they could be held. These are real blades, maybe not razor sharp, but still dangerous. At first the solitary dancer performed with these blades in his hand. later a shorter, double pointed blade was held between his teeth while he danced.


The finale to the dance was completely unexpected as the dancer started doing somersaults on the floor while holding all the blades. The roots of the dance is obviously with the shamanic, trance dances that are ultimately the origin of modern Iwami Kagura.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Daimonzaka


Daimonzaka is the slope that leads up from the valley floor towards Nachi Taisha Shrine, Seigantoji, and the Nachi Falls. Most people now take the modern road.


Daimonzaka means "Great Gate Slope", though the gate has long since disappeared, the path is flanked by huge trees, some 800 years old.


The stone staircase is 600 meters long and comprises of 267 steps. Near the base is shop renting Heian period costumes for cosplay photo ops.


For those unable to walk the Kumano Kodo it offers an opportunity to experience the pilgrimage route. At the top the road heads down to the right towards the Falls or a further series of steps carry on up to the shrine and temple.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Diverse Statuary at Jingo-ji


Jingo-ji Temple was a very pleasant surprise. Number 21 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage, it is/was a Shugendo center based around 2 small waterfalls. There was a lot of statuary, and while I am no expert, I have gotten better at identifying the myraid deities that inhabit the spiritual sphere of Japan. This first one, riding a peacock, is I think Amida, though I am not 100% certain.


This is Enma, the head judge of Hell, sometimes known as the King of Hell.


In premodern times the deity Inari took many forms, but a common one was as an old man accompanied by a fox or foxes.


I believe this is a pair of Jizo.


Statues of the reclining Buddha are relatively rare in japan compared to other Buddhist countries. This one is about 9 meters in length and carved in situ.


Almost certainly this is Kannon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Over Umadachi Pass


For the first day of my walk along the Shodoshima Pilgrimage I chose to walk the small peninsula that jutted out into Sakate Bay. My guesthouse was there and temples 4,5,& 6 were all on it.


From number 5, Horikoshi-an, my plan was to walk a narrow road that went round the south side of the peninsula. A couple of years ago it had been closed by a landslide but I figured it would be open by now. However at Horokoshi-an the signs pointed to a trail that headed up the hillside and over a pass. The most direct route, but involving a 160 meter climb. I am glad I took it as as I reached the pass the woods were filled with golden shafts of sunlight piercing the last of the morning mist.


At the pass was a small wayside Jizo, and then the path descended quickly. Part way down and right next to the bubbling stream was a small structure containing two small statues of Fudo.


The trail carried on down through some thick stands of bamboo before coming out of the forest above the fishing village of Tanoura.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Fudo Myo at Jingo-ji


Jingo-ji is temple 21 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage and is located on Mounbt Hachimen south of Nakatsu.


There is a lot of statuary on the mountainside including a rather unusual reclining Buddha, and I will post some of them later, but for now some of the many Fudo Myos statues there.


It was a Shugendo site for mountain ascetics, and in the shrine below was a massive Tengu mask. There are several small waterfalls where ascetics would practise austerities.


So of course there were Fudo statues.....


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shizutani School


On the first day of mny walk along the Chugoku Pikgrimage I had visited temple number 3, but rather than take the most direct route to the next temple I chose to take a detour so I could visit a couple of sites unrelated to the pilgrimage, the first being the Shizutani School.


Fronted by an unusual Chinese style wall, the school was founded at the end of the 17th Century by the lord of the domain Ikeda Matsumasa as one of his schools of Confucian studies.


The main lecture hall/auditorium is registered as a National Treasure, and other buildings include a shrine to Confucius and a shrine to Ikeda Matsumasa.


The school enrolled students from the samurai class as well as sons of village headmen and is therefore known as one of the first public schools for commoners. More detsails and history can be found in a longer article I wrote over at Japanvisitor.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Komo Shrine


Just a short walk from temple 20 Sanjo-in, and on the route to the next temple, I stopped in briefly at Komo Shrine.


I had been here a few months ago during the fall colors time and so did not hang around this time.


I had thought that this was one of the older Hachiman shrines fromn Kyushu that had been in existence from the time before Hachiman was brought to Yamato, but apparently not. It was founded in the early Heian Period.


Its gate is an Important Cultural Property though and its an important local hachiman shrine. By the end of the day I would reach the original hachiman Shrine in Usa.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sacred White Snake


White snakes are considered sacred in Japan, and are mostly associated with Benzaiten. I posted before on some white snakes found at Iwakuni.


This one however was on Okinawa at the sacred "power spot" Dai Sekirinzan at the far north of the main island.


Though now part of Japan, Okinawa did not share the ancient myths and gods of Japan, having their own traditions that are more connected to Chinese myths and legends than Japan.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Kyushu Pilgrimage Temple 20 Sanjo-In


Sanjo-in, temple number 20 on the Kyushu pikgrimage was a few kilometers outside of Nakatsu not too far from a major shrine, Komo hachimangu.


There were two very small halls and this must have been the main building although it was locked and there was nobody around.


The large Kannon statue was a Bokefuji Kannon, a modern version of Kannon that is becoming increasingly popular as its forte is prevention of senility and dementia.


There were some jizos as well, but there was not a lot to see. For many people the temples are the most important points of a pilgrimage, but for me they are just points along a journey....


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yokote Otoshi-gu


Located out in the rice paddies in Yokote, a village about halfway between Mount Futago and the coast on the east side of the Kunisaki Peninsula, this shrine was a little unusual


The first unusual thing was that there were no stone Nio guardians that are at most of the other shrines I had visited in the area. This might mean that the shrine was established later than when the area flourished as a Shugendo center and most of the shrines, temples,  and statuary were made, in the late Heian early kamakura period.


The other unusual thing for me was the kami enshrined here, Otoshi, one of Susano's sons that is associated with rice. I don't remember seeing another Otoshi shrine during the past 2 days here in Kunisaki. It would be interesting to now the story of the shrines founding.


There was unfortunately no signboard at the shrine nor anyone around, so I couldnt find out any more.


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