Monday, April 20, 2015

Sacred Islands


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There are thousands of small uninhabited islands and islets  in Japan, many of them sacred and with small shrines on them. One hears often of sacred mountains, the places where the gods descend to, but sacred islands get mentioned much less.

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There are many myths and stories of the gods coming from under the sea and from across the sea, the Japanese themselves arrived here by water, so its perhaps not surprising. The most famous sacred island is probably Miyajima, home to the Itsukushima Shrine, and it was for a long time kept uninhabited as an abode of the gods.

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On my recent walk along the Japan Sea coast of Yamaguchi I encountered some of these sacred islands. Nowadays many of them are said to enshrine Benten, or Benzaiten, a syncretic deity associated with the sea. Small islands in lakes will often enshrine her. She was also conflated with the Itsukushima goddess.

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The first photo is the tiny Megashima, which means Doe island. You can make out the torii on the right under the biggest tree. The next two photos are the larger Ogashima, 200 meters away, which means Stag island. Being a male/female pair they are considered Meoto (married) islands. As you can see in the third photo the shrine has buildings. No-one I asked could tell me which kami were enshrined there or if there was a story....

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Further along the coast, the fourth photo is Noshima. You can just make out the torii on the beach to the left and a small honden behind it. Again no-one could tell me which kami is enshrined there. Further along in Susa Bay is Nakashima. A gentleman walking his dog told me Benten is enshrined there. As you can see it has buildings.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Birds along the Yamaguchi Coast


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This past Spring while walking the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage I took a walk along the Japan Sea coast of Yamaguchi,  It's a particularly fine stretch of coast with azure seas, outcroppings and cliffs, small islands and a lot of small fishing villages. Here are some of the birds I saw. The first is a heron. Sagi in Japanese, maybe its a Grey heron, maybe a Great Blue......

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Lots of cormorants. I am guessing that they are Temmink's Cormorants, the most common kind, known as Umi-u in Japanese, though there are some other species which visit during migration. The difference among the onbes in the photo may be due to age and gender.

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Lots of Kites, Black-eared Kite being the common species here. Known as Tombi in Japanese.

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More cormorants.

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This is, I believe, a Blue Rock Thrush, but I have no idea what it is called in Japanese.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gyokusendo Cavern


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Gyokusendo is the largest cave system on Okinawa, and the second largest in Japan after Akiyoshido in Yamaguchi.

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It is located in the southern part of the island and is part of the Okinawa World Theme Park.

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Formed over 300,000 years, there are about 5 kilometers of cave in total, though only less than one kilometer is open to the public.

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There are lots of stalagmites and stalactites as well as running water and pools and the whole thing is illuminated with colored lights.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fukusai-ji Kannon


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Built originally in 1628, Fukusai-Ji was the second of the temples built by Chinese in Nagasaki. After the founding of the Obaku Zen sect it became an Obaku Temple. It burned down in the fires that followed the atomic bombing of the city in 1945.

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The current structure, shaped like a giant turtle, was constructed in 1976 and as well as being a zen temple is also a mausoleum to 16,000 war dead. It is popularly known as Nagasaki Kannon Universal temple. The temple bell rings at 11.02 am, the time of the atomic blast.

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Standing atop the turtle is an 18 meter tall statue of Kannon, like the giant turtle head protruding from the building it is made out of aluminum alloy.

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The main hall is home to possibly the second largest Foucault Pendulum in the world. Used to show the rotation of the earth, a 25 meter long cable begins in the head of Kannon and  passes through the main hall down into the basement where a weighted sphere swings over the remains of the war dead.

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In the above photo you can see the cable coming down through the opening in the ceiling before descending into the opening in the floor surrounded by guardrails.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Togo Hachimangu


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The entrance to the long approach to Togo Hachimangu is, like many shrines here on the Kunisaki Peninsula, flanked by a pair of stone Nio. This pair look as if they are having a conversation by cellphone.

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In the grounds are several smaller shrines, one almost certainly being the local land kami that would have been enshrined here before the Hachiman shrine was. The Hachiman cult spread in this area centuries before on Honshu.

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There was no signboard and I can find no other information, though for sure the prefecture has records on all the shrines I don't have the book for Oita.

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The Honden is in traditional Usa Hachiman style, This is on the old pilgrimage route that started at Usa Hachimangu and went into and around the many sacred sites scattered across the peninsula. From here the land rises more steeply towards the high point at the middle of the peninsula.

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There was no name attached to this small statue, though he is holding a shaku, a flat wooden scepter used nowadays primarily by Shinto priests, though in historical times it was used by aristocrats during rituals.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Izumo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage Temple 29 Asahidera


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The familiar figure of a Fudo Myo statue marks my way up  Mount Asahi towards the 29th temple located near the summit at 324 meters, and named after the mountain itself.

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Yet another temple reputed to be founded by the prolific Gyoki, it is now a Shingon temple with the honzon being an 11 faced Kannon. Mount Asahi is a kannabiji, a mountain considered to be sacred and one of many mentioned in the Izumo Fudoki.

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Unusual nowadays because the road does not reach all the way to the temple itself, so a trail through the dark forest leads to the final flight of stone steps.

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For the elderly priest who still lives there and for some of his guests there is a small railway of the kind favored by construction workers or others who must work on steep slopes like the orange growers on some of the islands in the Inland Sea. This is the first time I have seen one used for passengers.

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Great views can be had down onto Lake Shinji.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

More Mitarai


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Mitarai, a small port on Osaki Shimozima Island in the Inland Sea is a truly delightful step back in time. Much of the small town is an Historic Preservation District containing Edo period buildings and narrow lanes. Hopefully the character of the town will not be lost now that it is possible to reach it easily by car from the mainland. I will post some more on specific location sites in the town but for now a few more general shots.

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This gentleman used to be a boatbuilder but now his boats are miniature replicas.

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There are quite a few of these districts throughout Japan that are still far enough off the main tourist routes that they can be enjoyed quietly.

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The product that brought prosperity to the port was sex. More on that later.

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A small shop had this pair of masks on display, though they appear to me to be Namahage, which are not local but from the north of Japan.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Izumo 33 Kannon Pilgrimage temple 28 Jyoso-ji


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The Nio gate to Jyoso-ji is some distance from the temple itself, though the temple complex was much larger in earlier times. It is said that the temple was founded by Gyoki, which would make it early 8th Century.

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It is also said that Gyoki carved the Nio, and while they are fairly old I am certain that is a rather fanciful legend.

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Located in the mountains behind Sada Shrine, the temple was the Okunoin (inner sanctuary) of that shrine. It now belongs to the Shingon sect.

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In front of the main hall is a 450 year old plum tree, but it had long since past its blooming when I visited in June.

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The main hall has some fine dragon carvings above the entrance.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Misode Tenmangu


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Misode Tenmangu in Onomichi is built on the spot where Sugawara Michizane stopped and rested in 901 while on his way to exile in Kyushu. The locals apparently were kind to him and in return he cut off one sleeve of his kimono and painted a picture of himself on it.

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That piece of fabric is the goshintai of the shrine. There is an Inari shrine in the grounds, and several others but I was unable to find out which.

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As well as students hoping to do well in exams, quite a lot of movie buffs visit the shrine as it was featured in a well known movie and featured in a famous anime.

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The 54 steps leading up to the shrine are interesting. They are 5 meters wide and each one is carved out of a single piece of stone.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sada Shrine


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Sada Shrine, located north of Matsue, was once the most important shrine in the Izumo region. Enshrined in the central honden are 5 kami, the main one being Sadano Okami, along with Izanagi and Izanami, and the pair Hayatamano and Kotosakano. Izanagi and Izanami are well known, and in Izumo, Hayatamano and Kotosakano, 2 kami associated with the "divorce" of Izanagi and Izanami are also fairly common. Little is known of the main kami though except he is known as the protector of the Shimane Peninsula. He was born in a nearby sea cave called kaganokukedo and some posts on that can be found here.

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The right (north) honden enshrines the Imperial kami: Amaterasu, and her grandson Ninigi. The left honden enshrines Susano, and something called Hisetsu Yonchu, which I think means "hidden four poles", about which I can find no information.

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Sada Shrine is one of the many shrines where the mass kami of Japan arrive in November during kamiarizuki, though it is widely reported that they all go to Izumo Taisha.

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Sada Shrine is also home to the UNESCO registered Sada Shin Noh. a form of Noh-influenced kagura that is believed to have influenced satokagura nationwide.

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When I first explored this area many years ago I found it interesting to klearn that the earliest known yayoi site in Izumo was found in this valley indicating perhaps that this is where the proto-Japanese first settled in the region which would explain Sada shrines importance.

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