Monday, February 21, 2011
Where ever I go in Japan I am always on the lookout for shrines to explore. The number I have visited by now numbers in the thousands. My way favorite way to find shrines is by walking, but on car journeys my eyes are always peeled for torii. And so it was as we were driving up Rte 53 heading towards Tottori City passing through Chizu Town.
Kono Shrine, known locally as Nyakuichisan, appeared to be a fairly standard village shrine, but the whole point of exploring is to see if there is anything interesting or unusual. And here there certainly was.....
Inside the main shrine building was shelf upon shelf of wooden cutouts of hands and feet. They are a form of ema, votive tablet, and here is where you come if you have any kind of problem with your hands or feet.
Many of the ema were made by the local priest, and a stack was left in front of the building for petitioners to take and use. The priest asks for nothing in return, but the I suspect the saisenbako ( the wooden box on the front steps of shrines for donations) contains more money than most do.
You write your name and address on the ema and then leave at the shrine. An unusual variation on the custom of leaving ema here is that if your prayers are answered, and you receive relief or healing for whatever ailment you were suffering, then you come back a second time and leave a second ema as thanks to the kami.
The origin of this custom lies in a legend from Okayama, south of Chizu. There was a benevolent giant name of Sanbutaro ( or Sanbotaro). He was so large that he could reach Kyoto in only three strides!! His head was buried down in Okayama, but for some reason that I have been unable to find out, his hands and feet were buried here.
Kono shrine is an amalgamation of 4 local shrines, so there are seven main kami enshrined here in all.
The first, Susano, is well known to anyone who reads this blog. He is my favorite kami and the culture hero who created Izumo culture. According to Yamato mythology he is the brother of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess ancestor of the Imperial clan.
The second is Onamuchi, which is another name for Okuninushi, the Izumo kami who "gave" Japan to the descendants of Amaterasu. Okuninushi is either the son of, or the 6th generation descendant of Susano, depending on which version of the myths you read. Most myths associated with Okuninushi take place in Inaba, the old name for Tottori.
The third is Oyamazumi, the great Mountain God. He is the older brother of Amaterasu and Susano, and one of his daughters married Ninigi, Amaterasu's grandson who descended from heaven and took over Japan from Okuninushi. The son from this marriage was Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan.
The fourth is Uganomitama which is a kami of grains, and seems to be a female aspect of the similar Ukanomitama. Nowadays equated with Inari. A child of Susano and another daughter of Oyamazumi.
Confused? There's more.....
The fifth is Oshihominomikoto, the father of Ninigi, and therefore the son of Amaterasu. Actually Oshihomi was one of 5 boys created by Susano which he gave to Amaterasu. She created 3 girls that she gave to Susano ( the Munakata sisters).
The sixth is Hikohohodeminomikoto, a son of Ninigi.
The seventh is Homusubi, the kami of fire, whose birth killed his mother Izanami. A sibling of Amaterasu, Susano, and Oyamazumi.
Lots of incest in the genealogy of the kami!!!