Miyoshi is a large town in the mountains of northern Hiroshima that lies upstream of my village in Shimane on the Gonokawa River. Three rural rail lines meet at Miyoshi, and this has led to its growth. Wakamiya Hachimangu is not far from the railway station.
Hachiman is the God of War, and there are more than 30,00 shrines to him throughout Japan. Hachiman was adopted by the samurai as their tutelary deity, and as the samurai ruled Japan, everywhere they were they built a Hachiman Shrine.
We were there in the first week of January, and so the shrine was decorated for Hatsunode, the first visit to a shrine of the year, a popular activity. Many shrines stay open on New Years Eve for the many visitors who come after midnight. The symbol on the purple banner in the photo above is the Triple Tomoe, the symbol of Hachiman.
For Hatsunode many shrines will display their Mikoshi, sacred palanquins, or portable shrines. They are used to carry the kami around the community during Matsuri.
Many shrines will have statues of horses in their grounds. This comes from a tradition started by an Emperor in ancient Kyoto who donated a horse to Kibune Shrine in return for prayers for rain. A gift of a white horse was made for prayers for good weather, and a black horse when rain was wanted. Over the years paintings and sculptures replaced expensive horses, and this eventually led to the creation of "ema", the small painted boards left at shrines with prayers and requests written on them.