Mythology


It’s been about a year since the Art Imitating Life: Anime Pilgrimages Around Japan series (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and I’ve had more run-ins with anime set in the San’in region since then.

Most recently, I was thrilled to hear the brief conversation about the San’in region the newest installment of the Digimon Adventure: Tri movies series, “Ketsui” (2016), because that’s how most conversations about the San’in region go in Tokyo. Most city kids can’t tell Shimane and Tottori apart and only know they’re right next to each other, and they tell them apart by remembering that Tottori is the one with sand dunes. (But as a good Our War Game reference, Taichi pointed out that Shimane was the one without computers. Really, though, we have computers here nowadays! There is internet in the inaka!)

The most prominent run-in was last October (2015), about the time when Noragami: Aragoto was airing. I had heard of Noragami and knew it had something to do with Shinto gods, a common theme in anime, manga, and video games, but I had not looked into it and I didn’t really know much about this person I found hanging out in Izumo’s En-Musubi Airport.

We welcomed an exchange group that night and took group photos with a massive group of key persons from both ends and all the host family members and a big welcome banner than stretch across the crowd, and it wasn’t until later that I noticed this crummy photobombing kami was nestled in at the side of every one of those diplomatic photos, as if casually trying to include himself.

Yes indeed, I realized just how funny that was after I watched the series a few months later.

In this entry, I’m not so much going to look at contents-based tourism as a whole like with the Pilgrimage series, but instead look at a few examples of Shinto-themed anime making use of the sites of Izumo myths. I want to start with Kamichu!, the 2005 series that first introduced me to Izumo Taisha and Kamiarizuki. When I first found out I was going to work in this region and read material about the gathering of the gods, I thought, “Hey, I know about that! In that one episode, Yurie transfered to a school in Izumo to attend Kami-Con!”

As cute and catchy as that is, and as much as I have to cut them some slack because their goal was to do cute things like make the Seven Lucky Gods into a rock band instead of making the gods get some En-musubi work done. But after a more recent watch, I have to call them out on a couple of things that made me want to flip the table and shout how wrong they were. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Who let the God of Poverty into the gods’ meeting? Binbogami and other unpopular gods are not invited!

Yeah, that’s a cat possessed by the God of Poverty.

But you know what made me more upset?

“After class, let’s all go eat some sweet red bean soup!”

The “sweet red bean soup” this note refers to is an Izumo specialty, and it would have been a really nice touch that they included this… if only they got the name right. We don’t call it “oshiruko” here, we call it ZENZAI!!! IZUMO ZENZAI!!!!! After all, the term “Zenzai” is even said to originate from Izumo dialect for “the gods are here”!

I was much more pleased with the second season of Kamisama Hajimemashita/Kamisama Kiss‘s treatment of Kamiarizuki and the surrounding Izumo culture (2015). Besides actually putting this school-girl-turned-goddess to work answering En-musubi prayers, they gave some gratuitous screentime to the scenes of Izumo Taisha which any visitor can expect to see on a visit there during a busy period like when the gods are visiting.


I liked that they even noted that Izumo Taisha’s omikuji (fortune-telling slips) are different from what you’d normally expect, because they don’t have a basic declaration of your luck-level at the top (like “Big Luck” or “Little Luck”).


They even showed off Izumo Soba and had Nanami explain how you eat it Warigo style!


They came so, so, so close to a perfect score on my rating of how they portrayed the region. But they just had to ruin it with this little error…

Ohtsukuri Onsen? We have no Ohtsukuri Onsen. We have a Tamatsukuri Onsen. That one little missing dot in the name (玉 (tama) as opposed to 王 (ou)) makes all the difference.

You can’t mistake it with that magatama theme found all over the onsen area. It’s the jewel-making onsen, not the king-making onsen.

Now back to Noragami. I was already enjoying their approach to popular Shinto gods before reaching the climax of the second season, Aragoto.

Bishamon is my favorite! Unfortunately during the two months or so that this campaign was going on, I didn’t get a chance to see Ebisu, Yukine, and Hiyori at Miho Harbor, Yasugi Station, and the Matsue Castle tourism information office. I also hadn’t even seen the series yet at that time.

I also loved to catch all the little references that I only know because of all the research I did for the Kojiki manga series and through working in the San’in region. I find their approach to Okuninushi hilarious, especially since they include everything from his dual-identity as Daikoku, branch shrine in Hawaii, affection for animals like white hares, and distaste for gods like the God of Poverty (to be honest, though, that spider bit took me by complete surprise).

In the later half of Aragoto, Yomotsu Hirasaka (the entrance to the underworld) makes an appearance. Overall, I thought their treatment of Yomi was pretty good–really, the dirty image of Yomi is consistent across many Japanese art forms, the similar themes in Noragami and Kamisama Hajimemashita’s treatment of Yomi isn’t surprising. I was very happy to see they got the site of Yomotsu Hirasaka so right, though (Kamisama Hajimemashita’s entrance to Yomi seemed a little too extreme for Yomotsu Hirasaka, so it’s possible they chose the lesser known entrance in Izumo, Inome Cave, instead. I haven’t been there, though, so I can’t say for sure!).




You know what was even more exciting, though? A few episodes later, they included more of the Higashiizumo townscape and the route to Yomotsu Hirasaka from JR Iya Station! I’ve made that trip a couple times in summer heat, so it was gratifying to see a couple of the characters do the exact same thing.



But you know what was still more exciting? Ebisu’s flashbacks to–you guessed it!–Miho Shrine!


I really loved how he described the harbor and the people who lived there, because that’s it exactly. They captured the charm of Miho Harbor so well–all they would have needed to add was some toddlers going around the shrine in foot-powered toy cars, more white squid hanging out to dry, and maybe even add the black Corvette I saw in the shrine the other day getting a blessing from the priest.







Good job, Noragami! And here’s hoping the San’in region will appear in more series yet to come! (Now hopefully the gods will avoid tearing up the Shimane landscape with their fights next time.)

It’s the season to better oneself with New Year’s resolutions and ask for a little divine help in doing by visiting shrines and temples for Hatsumode, squeezing in your prayers along those of all the other visitors and trading in the old good luck charms for freshly powered new ones. Hirahama Hachimangu Takeuchi Shrine, located in southeastern Matsue, is especially popular with people who are seeking longevity, trying to avoid bad luck, seeking prosperous business, safety for one’s family, and especially traffic safety. Though they may have the specialties they are known for, no shrine is limited to their specialities, and many general wishes are made at any given place as well.

The primary deity at Hachimangu shrines is Hachiman-jin, considered a god of war in Shinto and in Buddhism. Historically he has been popularly worshipped by the samurai class, along peasants have worshiped him as a harvest god (though Inari is usually the more notable harvest god, and samurai like local hero Matsudaira Naomasa had a notable devotion to the fox deity). Seeing as success in war is a not a common wish for many people in Japan nowadays, the “safe return from war” seems to now translate as “a safe commute home with no traffic accidents.” Furthermore, although Hachiman-jin is not readily associated with success in passing one’s exams (Tenjin’s the obvious choice there), one could consider exams a sort of battle in and of itself.

With that in mind, these statues seem right at home in the most well-known Hachimangu shrine of Matsue.

First, we have a frog.

Frogs are frequently used for good-luck puns, since they are called kaeru in Japanese. This is synonymous with “to return,” such as in “many returns of good fortune.” In this case, it more blatantly refers to the safe return home of both people and their cars. The statue is called “Buji Kaeru.” This phrase means “return home safely” (無事帰る) but in this case, you could call it the “No Mishap Frog.”

It makes sense to have something like at a shrine well-known for its good graces it is supposed to provide in avoiding traffic accidents (among many other special intentions you could also select ema (prayer boards) for).

Then there’s the Daruma next to it. The Yaruki Daruma.

Daruma is the Japanese name for Bodhidharma, a monk said to have transmitted Chan/Zen Buddhism to Japan. In Japan, it is popularly said that he meditated so long that his legs fell off due to atrophy, and cute, round, and humorously serious Daruma dolls are a popular symbol for the merit of hard work (though if your legs fall off, I’m not sure how fortuitous that can really be). They are found at Shinto shrines throughout the country, with many shrines putting their own spin on how to use the simple and recognizable doll. A common practice is to purchase a Daruma when you have a goal in mind, and to paint on one eye. It is after you attain the goal that you needed to work hard for that you paint on the other eye. You can put any kind of spin on accomplishing any kind of goal, such as Yaegaki Shrine‘s blue and pink En-musubi dolls for couples.

The Yaruki Daruma provides willpower (yaruki) for studying. We all need a little help with this sometimes, right? I know I do. The sign next to the Yaruki Daruma says:

Willpower Daruma
冷頭静修: Cool your head and study quietly.
Pour some cold water on Daruma-san’s head and then say your prayers.

Pouring water on statues when saying prayers is a pretty common practice throughout Japan, such as pouring hot water on the Oyukake Jizo at Matsue Shinjiko Onsen (and yes, his name is literally “the Jizou to pour hot water on”). I like how stark the advice is on this statue. It’s not just a blanket “study, study, study!” command, it’s “hey, COOL IT and sit down and be quiet and DO THE THING.”

The advice seems even more effective when you imagine this face saying it to you.


あけましておめでとう! Happy New Year!!

Although not a preview of mythology manga to come (as were the 2013, 2014, and 2015 versions), the Year of the Monkey version features a little monkey business at Izumo Taisha, especially during Kamiarizuki, its busiest time of year while the myriad of gods from around Japan are gathering there to discuss how they will bind peoples’ fates throughout the following year.

It’s also sure to be crazy busy right now with New Year shrine visits, Hatsumode. I may or may not be one of the myraids of people present there over the coming days, and I may or may not be visiting in a kimono.

See the other Nengajo!
2013
2014
2015

See the Kojiki a.t.b.b. masterlist!
The Kojiki Myths in Manga Form

New Years is Japan’s most important holiday of the year–and like many important holidays, it usually is celebrated over the course of several days. While there are plenty of traditions associated with this season (decorating with and eating rice cakes, playing special games and reciting seasonal poetry, etc), today I’d like to introduce Hatsumode, the first shrine and temple visits of the New Year. Yes, this is a repeat from the past three years, but the info remains timely.

This is a list of major shrines and temples for Hatsumode in the San’in region that are especially well known for the following special intentions. While certain strains of Buddhism may resemble other world religions more so in the personal salvation aspect, the Kami of Shintoism are generally happy to grant more worldly requests. Not that they always do so out of any innate goodness–many of them are unwilling to help unless you pay up, and when you do ask for something, you have to tell a lot of them your name and address or they won’t be able to find you later and grant your request. Kami may be powerful, holy beings, but they do have their limits! Whatever you do, be sure to show gratefulness first.

The following special intentions are just suggestions. While a matchmaking kami wouldn’t necessarily turn down a request for financial prosperity, your odds might be better if you chose your Hatsumode shrine carefully.

1. 出雲大社 Izumo Taisha
Izumo, Shimane
Special intentions: matchmaking, fertility, other general intentions
Dec 2013 update: Some basic Izumo Taisha info, though it’s mentioned everywhere on this blog
Dec 2015 update: It’s still mentioned everywhere, but here’s a couple more entries about the shrine layout and En-musubi.

2. 須佐神社 Susa Jinja
Izumo, Shimane
Special intentions: safety for one’s family, prosperous business, traffic safety, other general intentions
Dec 2013 update: This is a shrine dedicated to Susano-o, who defeated the Yamata-no-Orochi

3. 長浜神社 Nagahama Jinja
Izumo, Shimane
Special intentions: Good luck in meeting challenges
Dec 2014 update: This is the shrine of Kunibiki legend!

4. 日御碕神社 Hinomisaki Jinja
Izumo, Shimane
Special intentions: Protection from evil, matchmaking, matrimonial harmony, prosperity for one’s family, safety on the seas, etc.

5. 一畑薬師 Ichibata Yakushi
Izumo, Shimane
Special intentions: Healing of eye diseases, safety for one’s family, safe childbirth, prosperous business, and any other general intentions
Dec 2013 update: See my entry here from when I served in a tea ceremony

6. 宇美神社・平田天満宮 Umi Jinja / Hirata Tenmangu
Izumo, Shimane
Special intentions: General good luck, fruitful studies, avoiding misdeeds

7. 熊野大社 Kumano Taisha
Matsue, Shimane
Special intentions: Matchmaking, protection from evil
Dec 2013 update: Also a Susano-o shrine
Dec 2014 update: And one of the best places for Setsubun on Feb 3!

8. 平濱八幡宮 武内神社 Hirahama Hachimangu Takeuchi Jinja
Matsue, Shimane
Special intentions: Longevity, avoiding bad luck, prosperous business, safety for one’s family, traffic safety, etc.
Dec 2015 update: I will have a post about this one near the beginning of January!

9. 菅原天満宮 Sugawara Tenmangu
Matsue, Shimane
Special intentions: Passing exams, fruitful studies, avoiding bad luck

10. 八重垣神社 Yaegaki Jinja
Matsue, Shimane
Special intentions: Matchmaking, matrimonial harmony, fertility, safe childbirth, avoiding misfortunes and disasters
Dec 2013 update: A shrine known for its mirror pond that reveals how soon and how close you’ll meet your soul mate

11. 神魂神社 Kamosu Jinja
Matsue, Shimane
Special intentions: Getting rich, prosperous business
Dec 2013 update: This is where I went for Hatsumode 2013!

12. 佐太神社 Sada Jinja
Matsue, Shimane
Special intentions: Guidance, good luck, traffic safety, safety on the seas
Dec 2013 update: Home to Sada Shin Noh, a UNESCO World Heritage sacred dance
Dec 2014 update: As well as a cool example of Taisha-tsukuri architecture, see here and here.
Dec 2015 update: See also the legend behind the birth of the primary deity enshrined there, as well as more about Sada Shin Noh.

13. 美保神社 Miho Jinja
Matsue, Shimane
Special intentions: Safety on the seas, satisfactory fishing, prosperous business, flourishing crops, safe childbirth
Dec 2015 update: Home to Ebisu, one of the mirthful lucky gods, as well as home to a couple of major rituals tied to Kojiki mythology

14. 清水寺 Kiyomizu-dera
Yasugi, Shimane
Special intentions: Safety for one’s family, prosperous business, passing exams, good health, traffic safety, making dreams come true, life-long good luck, safe childbirth, etc
Dec 2013 update: See my entry about it here

15. 勝田神社 Kanda Jinja
Yonago, Tottori
Special intentions: Prosperous business, safety for one’s family, and other general intentions

16. 宗形神社 Munakata Jinja
Yonago, Tottori
Special intentions: Life-long good luck on the battlefield, safety on the seas

17. 名和神社 Nawa Jinja
Saihaku, Tottori
Special intentions: Life-long good luck on the battlefield

18. 金持神社 Kamochi Jinja
Hino, Tottori
Special intentions: General good luck, but especially good financial luck

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while probably have a pretty good idea what Kamiarizuki and En-musubi mean, but for those of you joining us recently, let’s recap:

Kamiarizuki:
In the classical Japanese calendar, the 10th month was referred to as Kannazuki, “the month without gods,” written as 神無月 (gods-nothing-month). Only in the Izumo region is the 10th month referred to as Kamiarizuki, “the month with gods,” written as 神在月 (gods-exist-month). This is become the gods around Japan all gather in Izumo at this time for an annual meeting. Although it refers to a month, the meeting is actually only a week long. Converted to the Gregorian calendar, it usually falls around late November or early December, and there is a week of rituals that take place at Izumo Taisha during Kamiarisai.

En-musubi:
En, written 縁, is a mysterious fate-binding power, or spiritual link between people and other people, or even with nature. “Musubi” (結び) is based on the verb “musubu” (結ぶ, “to bind”), so En-musubi (縁結び) is the act of linking fates, binding ties, or in the case of romantic relationships, matchmaking. It is often erroneously translated simply as having to do with marriage and matchmaking, but in fact it can encompass relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, business partners, friends, and beyond.

What is the tie between these two phrases? When the gods are meeting at Izumo Taisha, they are discussing how they are going to bind people’s fate in the coming year. This is because the former Lord of the Lands, Okuninushi, was given domain over this unseen realm in exchange for handing over dominion of the lands to the heavenly kami (more specifically to Ninigi, grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu). Izumo Taisha was built in his honor.

The En-musubi “power spots” are not limited to Izumo Taisha. The gods also gather at nearby shrines, like Sada Shrine, and other shrines closely associated with the local mythology are also closely associated with matchmaking powers, like Yaegaki Shrine. In general, making your wish will make your wish heard throughout Japan, as gods from all over the country gather here to discuss them.

Granted, many of the popular En-musubi spots, like Matsue Vogel Park, have relatively short histories…(click for source)

Of course, you could just direct your wishes to Okuninushi himself. There’s a couple of bits of heresay I’ve picked up about this:
1. It’s bad luck to visit Izumo Taisha with your significant other you have not married yet. Only very strong couples survive that trip together.
2. 5 yen coins are good luck (because they are a pun for how to respectfully refer to En, “go-en“). 10 yen coins are bad luck.
3. When making your wish, you have to mentally convey your address so that the luck knows where to find you.

I’m not sure how much stock to put into each of those, but the one thing everyone will tell you is that there is a special way to pay your respects at Izumo Taisha. At most shrine, you bow and clap twice after offering your coins and mentally offering up your wish. At Izumo Taisha, you bow twice, clap four times, and then bow once more. This is supposed to be on your behalf as well as on your significant other’s behalf (whether you are bound in matrimony already or still have yet to meet your soul mate).

Because of Izumo Taisha’s reputation as a matchmaking shrine, it’s really fun to read the ema (prayer boards) people write and leave there.

“That I may hurry up and meet a wonderful woman and attain happiness”

“That I may get married within the next three years. That I may attain happiness.”

“That everyone may–no, definitely will–be granted eyes for seeing men” (written by a representative)

“N.S. is going to have the best husband ever–that’ll be me!!” – I.K.

“That Ka-kun and I might always, always get along as well as we did when we met <3, and that we'll always, always love each other <3, and be together our whole lives <3 (I'm gonna be I.K.'s wife!)" – N.S.

Of course, drawing omikuji slips is also just as popular as anywhere, and on busy times of year, you might have trouble finding spaces on which to tie them.

But does it actually work? I suppose that’s anyone guess. What with all the singles gathering here while the gods are gathered, I guess that bodes well for meeting someone.

If people can only visit one Shinto shrine in Japan, Izumo Taisha is the one I suggest given its scale, history, points of interest, and mythologically momentous background. Although the local mythology is felt throughout the San’in region, Izumo Taisha is the crowning glory of all that, and it feels appropriate to draw my descriptions of Kojiki mythology, as well as Nihonshoki and Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki mythology, to a close here.

Well, kind of. I’m still planning on keeping up with my mythology themed nengajo (New Years card) and preparing something for the upcoming Year of the Monkey. I can’t think of any direct ties, but I did happen upon a street performer with a trained monkey once on a visit to Izumo Taisha!

Izumo Taisha (or more formally, Izumo Oyashiro), considered the largest and perhaps oldest shrine in Japan, has a number of points of note on a normal visit. I’ve written about it and mentioned it many times throughout this blog, but I’ll address a few of the major ones here.

First, like any Shinto shrine, there is at least one Torii gate to signify the boundary between the mundane world and the spiritual realm. In Izumo Taisha’s case, there are four gates made of different materials: stone, wood, iron, and copper. Visitors bow under each of these, spiritually preparing themselves to may their respects. Also as part of this entrance, there is a cleansing pond (not actually for bathing in, but for see your reflection and therefore self-reflecting) and a small shrine were a god lives and purifies you without your even noticing. This is all before you even reach the hand-washing font, a typical feature of Shinto shrines.





One of the points of interest comes after the wooden gate. Between the stone gate and the wooden gate, there is a bustling street of gift shops and restaurants full of Izumo-style items, and it all leads uphill. The wooden gate is like the main entrance, and after that, the path continues downhill to the main shrine (the honden). This is highly unusual, as most honden are placed at the highest point in the shrine, making it necessary to go up to them.

Along this path, there are two rows of old pine trees. It’s common nature to want to continue straight through the middle of them, but this path is reserved for the gods! Walk along the left or right of them instead.


Either way will lead you to a statue of Okuninushi. On the left, a statue of Okuninushi admonishing the White Hare of Inaba for fooling the sharks but giving him medicinal advice anyway, and on the left, a statue of Okuninushi handing over the lands of Japan to the heavens and is granted domain over En-musubi (signified by a giant wave he kneels in front of, as this scene did take place at nearby Inasa-no-hama Beach). Also, they’re a recent addition, but there are now statues of hares all over the shrine grounds.


After passing one of the worship halls inside which personal rituals are performed, the honden comes into view. Built in Taisha-tsukuri style, the oldest style of Japanese shrine architecture which supposedly predates the influence of Buddhism, it is 24 meters high (as a point of reference, the stone torii gate is 23 meters high). Izumo Taisha practices sengu, a reconstruction of the shrine at fixed intervals so as to keep the shrine’s spiritual power continually refreshed. In Izumo Taisha’s case it is done every 60 years in rotating construction on one part of the shrine at a time instead of everything all at once, and in 2013 the honden was reopened after reconstruction on the roof. Because this was relatively recent, Okuninushi is said to still be in a good mood with his fresh new space.




Impressive at the honden is now, historical records referred to be once being the tallest wooden structure in Japan, towering at 48 meters. Most historians had dismissed this as fantastical until the year 2000, when clusters of three gargantuan wooden pillars each were discovered underground slightly in front of the current location of the honden. Their places are indicated in the concrete now, and three model pillars are on display outside on of the treasure storehouses to the east side of the shrine. The originals are on display inside the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo, and tests and sources indicate that they were used to help the shrine attain its 48 meter height in the Kamakura Period, built in the year 1248. As another point of reference, the pole on which the largest silk Japanese flag is flown is 48 meters high.



Models of old layouts at neighboring museum of Ancient Izumo (one of my favorite museums).






As another couple points of interest, the long buildings to the east and west of the honden have doors which are only opened during Kamiarisai, the week when the myriads of gods from around Japan are meeting. That’s because these Jukusha are hotel rooms for the visiting gods. Furthermore, Susano-o, god of the seas and suppressor of the Yamata-no-Orochi beast, as well as father-in-law to Okuninushi (or his ancestor depending on your sources), has his own little shrine nestled in the forest just north of the honden.


At the westernmost point in the shrine is the Kagura-den, another spot for performing rituals and especially popular for weddings. It is also home to the largest shimenawa (sacred rope) in Japan, which weighs about 1,500 kilograms and is about 8 meters long. (I’ve visited the facility in Iinan Town where they make the rope and tried out making some much smaller ones).



This only scratches the surface of the details about Izumo Taisha, but we’ll take one more look at the shrine in the following entry!

Although the messengers from heaven met Okuninushi at Inasa-no-Hama beach, the rush to go ask his son Kotoshironushi for the land, and Kotoshironushi’s relinquishing of it is celebrated every year in two rituals at Miho Shrine, home to Kotoshironushi, also popularly known as Ebisu.

Both rituals bring together the whole neighborhood and draw crowds from around the area, and the entire process goes on for hours, including purification rites for the people taking roles and kagura dances performed by the miko (shrine maidens).

Morotabune Shinji is celebrated every December 3rd, and reenacts the rush to the shrine with two boats of lightly dressed men racing each other around the harbor and liberally splashing water on each other with their oars. Yes, the water and weather are both very cold. However, I am told that the men taking part are so absorbed in the moment that they don’t notice the biting cold.









The other is Aofushigaki Shinji, on April 7th. The 7th of every month is a holy day for Miho Shrine, with their treasure storehouse only open on the 7th day of the month, with a few items on display each time it is open. The April 7th ritual reenacts how Kotoshironushi hid himself in the bushes and the water after agreeing to hand over the lands. While this is not necessarily a suicide, it is thought of as a sort of rebirth, and there are many somber elements of the ritual that take place before the boats are even involved. A number of roles are performed by community members which require the adults and children involved to eat special food, or be lead blindly, or not be allowed to have their feet touch the ground, and the majority of other people involved guide, carry, or form chains around the processing members to keep them out of reach of the onlookers. It makes for a rather mysterious atmosphere.






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