Following Parts 1 and 2 of the overview of Yamata-no-Orochi sites, we’ve reached the happily-ever-after for Susano-o and Kushinada-hime. Perhaps moreso than for a bloodthirsty and intoxicated giant eight-headed slithering monster, visitors come to the Izumo region seeking their own happy endings.
Here’s that buzzword again: en-musubi.
En originally has to do with any sort of ties different people and nature may have interwoven with each other, but it’s more popularly associated with matchmaking–and there is lots and lots of matchmaking to be done here. Izumo Taisha pretty much specializes in it, and that effect is extended to the rest of the region. Here in Matsue, there are a number of little places specifically known as en-musubi power spots, and finding them is supposed to give you good luck in finding your soul mate–everything from Yaegaki Shrine to a heart in the natural grain of the wood used inside Matsue Castle.
Finding romantic en in all sorts of unintentional places is common throughout Japan. For instance, which a couple of large rocks are found near each other, they are considered Meoto-Iwa (“Husband-and-Wife Boulders”), and they are often tied together with shimenawa, like the pair found in the Mihonoseki area of the Shimane Peninsula.
The Meoto-Iwa representing Susano-o and Kushinada-hime on Mt. Yakumo take this a step further by having a whole family of rocks, including one to represent the fruits of their union. By the time I got to the area while doing my Orochi day tour I had run out of daylight (would have been fine if I went in summer instead of winter!), so I haven’t seen these rocks myself, but here are a couple Japanese blogs that have lots of photos of the hike leading up to the rocks and the view from the top: here and here.
The photo I’ve seen most often is from an advertising campaign for the San’in region that features Nezumiotoko, a well-known character from Gegege-no-Kitaro (thanks for lending him out, Sakaiminato!)
Susano-o is partially to thank for the popularity of en-musubi, seeing as his was one of the first successful marriages in the Shinto pantheon. The heavenly pairings never seemed to end quite as well as the matches made in Izumo, and the fact that Susano-o chose to reside here helps.
This marriage between the God of the Seas (and then some) and one of the earthly kami who populated the land below the heavens was arranged in a rather human-like way. They had wedding preparations to do (which took place at Oomori Shrine), and Kushinada-hime required clean water when we was giving birth to their first child (which is why she chose Kawabe Shrine).
Let’s not forget that a girl has to look good on her wedding day, too. The mirror pond she used to fix her hair is found at Yaegaki Shrine in southern Matsue (the name should sound very familiar if you read Susano-o’s poem!). It’s a major destination for young women who come from all over the country to have the pond reveal their romantic fate. It’s fairly common to see travelers depart from the JR station to take a bus straight there before moving on to the rest of their en-musubi journey.
The pond is located behind the shrine, and the custom is (as it has been since Lafcadio Hearn‘s time, at least) to purchase a piece of paper, then float a coin on it–typically 10yen or 100yen. The most the paper hits the surface of the water, some writing appears to reveal some characteristic about your soul mate–like if they’re a kind person–and then you wait for the paper to sink. The closer to the end of the pond it sinks, the closer that person will be found, the faster it sinks, the sooner you’ll meet them. While the pond takes on a mysterious color filled with sunken papers, there are a few sad papers around the edges that never sank.
It seems like it would be more fun to do with a group of a single girlfriends than, say, with your boyfriend you dragged along.
This is said to be the shrine where Susano-o and Kushinada-hime got married. In general, Japanese society embraces both Shintoism and Buddhism, but for different purposes–Buddhist services are meant for funerals, and Shinto services are meant for weddings. While not as common as Meoto-Iwa, this shrine is also known for its Meoto-Tsubaki, the husband-and-wife camellia trees that grew into each other.
Yaegaki Shrine is also a place many young parents used to visit with special prayer requests for their children to behave. It’s very common for en-musubi shrines to go hand-in-hand with family wellness.
While Yaegaki is free to enter (as most shrine are, compared to touristy temples), you can pay 200yen to see original of one of the very first portraits of a kami–specifically Kushinada-hime, with Susano-o behind her. It seems it dates back to 893ad.
Susano-o and Kushinada-hime decided to make their home at Susa Shrine, around the border of modern day Matsue and Unnan. I have to borrow the photo below because by the time I visited it, it was after dark and I didn’t get many good photos myself. That said, it is indeed a sugasugashii (refreshing) place, as Susano-o described it in the first waka (Japanese poem).
Coincidentally, one of Japan’s most famous poets of the Asuka period, Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro, has strong ties with the city of Masuda in southwestern Shimane in the Iwami region.
Suga Shrine is not only where the first waka was composed, but it is also said to be the first shrine of Japan.
If a shrine is a dwelling place for a heavenly being, then it would make sense if the first one to dwell on the earth (by his choice or not) resided in it. The earthly kami didn’t really count–after all, Susano-o appointed his in-laws as the caretakers for his holy household.
This was, however, just their starter home. Susano-o would go on to still play more of a role in the Kojiki, though I’m a couple stories away from getting to that. There are also many other shrines honoring Susano-o (as well as Kushinada-hime) throughout the Izumo region, and many of the local styles of Kagura dance depict the legend of the Yamata-no-Orochi. Those will pop up from time to time, but this post will wrap our Yamata-no-Orochi daytrip.