I’ve completed the manga portion of The Kojiki As Told By Brittany, but we still have the explanation behind Kuniyuzuri (Relinquishing of the Land) to address! After all, this is one of the most influential legends in the San’in region, but it plays a role in Shinto lore and ancient, semi-mythological Japanese history at large.

This is because a large portion of ancient, semi-mythological Japanese history is focused on the imperial family, in particular, that their lineage is traced back to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. This can theoretically be said for the current Japanese Imperial Family members who are related by blood as opposed to by marriage.

How did one family gain this power, though?

That requires a walk very far back in Japanese history, when different clans, called uji, took over other clans and enforced a hierarchy of gods, with the victors’ gods being worshipped by the overtaken clan members. One of the uji that gained a significant amount of power of the Yamato clan, which claimed to be descended from the Sun Goddess, and would later have a base in central Japan (modern-day Nara) that was rich with rice cultivation, and they would also use their religious influence to rule over the commoners.

Further west, however, Izumo Province had their own religious traditions (see the other legends listed in my Kojiki comics for some of the gods they had special ties to—Okuninushi being a major one, of course). Izumo and Yamato were at odds, but ultimately Yamato won control over the Izumo region, and went on to establish the Yamato state by the 8th century. Although “Yamato” is now synonymous with anything traditionally Japanese, Izumo continued to retain its religious significance–or at least, one could argue that in modern day Japan. See Klaus Antoni’s article, “Izumo as the ‘Other Japan’: Construction vs. Reality” for a very critical and interesting scholarly look at how Izumo and why the Izumo area, particularly in regard to Shintoism, is known the way it is today. It’s very interesting to note that Izumo traditionally seemed to represent Korean and other foreign influence, and many of the Izumo gods were thought of as having foreign origin, but at some point along the region’s history (especially within the past couple centuries) Izumo began to be thought of as something more traditionally Japanese than the rest of Westernized Japan. Intriguing as that topic is, I will continue to describe things here as simply as I can so as to show how the Kuniyuzuri legend is generally approached and spoken of outside of the scholarly sphere.

The Yamato clan, that is, the imperial line, ordered the writing of the Kojiki, Nihonshoki, and 48 Fudoki, upon which most of Japanese Shinto mythology is based. The Kojiki was completed in 712, and was a mash of clan myths from around Japan mainly compiled by a nobleman named O-no-Yasumaro. It was written in Chinese characters that more or less fit Japanese pronunciation.

The 48 Fudoki, records of individual provinces under the imperial court’s rule, underwent compilation starting in 713, the year after the completion of the Kojiki. In addition to geographical, economic, and ecological data, the Fudoki also expanded on Shinto mythology. Of them, only the records of Izumo Province remain mostly intact today.

A few years later, in 720, the Nihonshoki was finished. This had more of a national history textbook approach and political basis with a different sort of mash of writing in Chinese style. It also included Shinto mythology, and O-no-Yasumaro likely contributed a lot to this project. However, there are some differences, and many of the same gods are recorded under different names than were used for them in the Kojiki.

Part of the reason these were compiled were to stand up to outside cultural and political pressure from the Asian continent (especially Tang, now known as China) and show that they were their own legitimate political entity all along. Another reason was to internally justify the rule of the Yamato clan as opposed to any other powerful family, and much of this reasoning was based on their lineage from Amaterasu, which thereby gave them heaven-granted dominion over the islands of Japan. Despite the large role Okuninushi (an earthly–and thereby foreign?–kami) played in establishing a functional state and culture, his key scene in this narrative is that he willingly handed power over to Amaterasu’s descendants.

This of course makes the beach Inasa-no-Hama, the stage for this momentous event in mythological politics, historically important, (but you might already remember this as the beach from where the gods proceed to Izumo Taisha for their annual meeting).

I’d like to point out that the imperial family is not the only family in Japan that claims direct lineage from heavenly kami. The family that has continually passed down responsibility as head priest of Izumo Taisha, the Sengu Family, claims to be descended from Ame-no-ho-hi, the first messenger sent down from the heavens (and is also said to be her son, thereby uncle to first emperor Ninigi, and thereby also of Amaterasu’s bloodline even if not the heir) to request that Okuninushi relinquish his land, but who instead befriended Okuninushi. Befriended him enough to remain his main servant, apparently.

That makes last year’s royal wedding (or rather, de-royalfying) wedding very interesting. The former Princess Noriko of Takamado, a first cousin once removed of Emperor Akihito, married Kunimaro Senge on October 5, 2014, at Izumo Taisha with a private reception at Ichibata Hotel here in Matsue in the (now so-called) land of En-musubi, divine fate-binding. Her husband is the eldest son of Takamasa Senge, current head priest of Izumo Taisha. Although she is now technically a commoner and imperial lineage is passed down through the male line anyway, mythologically, it still means that the descendents of Amanoterasu and Ame-no-ho-hi (who disobeyed Amanoterasu’s order and did not receive the same privileges as his nephew Ninigi) are now married. No one really mentioned this little tidbit in any of the media coverage I noticed.

Granted, family lineages are not always so smooth throughout centuries worth of enough drama to fill NHK’s decades of annual lengthy Taiga Drama (period dramas). Just as much as the imperial family has had drama surrounding its transfers of power between relatives, the Sengu family is also only one branch of the Ame-no-ho-hi family line, and they have been officially in charge of Izumo Taisha since 1947 after it was privatized again following its brief stint as a government-administered, Imperially-affiliated shrine during state-lead Shinto. Although the Sengu family has more followers throughout the nation in their Izumo Taisha-Kyo faith (sort of like an order or spirituality within the broader faith of Shintoism), it is said that the Kitajima family–whom they seperated from–has more local followers for their supposedly more orthodox Izumo-Kyo. But alas, this all takes place many centuries after the mythology of their origins was recorded in the Kojiki/Nihonshoki/Fudoki.


Though no one is quite sure when she died, the final resting place of Izumo-no-Okuni is a very easy side trip from Izumo Taisha. In fact, Izumo no Okuni’s Road leads straight from the exit of the shrine down to Inasa-no-hama Beach where all the gods of Japan enter from on their way to the shrine for their meeting every year.

On a typical visit to Izumo Taisha, you’d end up exiting from this street:

This is a good place to get souvenirs and sample local specialties. Don’t skip by too fast!

At the intersection, you’ll turn right, and head down this street:

On your left, you’ll come across the entrance to the cemetary. After that, you’re on your way to pay your respects to the founder of kabuki theater.

After one final look back up the street, you can continue down the road just a little more to get to the beach.

I’m back from the kimono contest, and I’ll post about it once I round up the pictures. For now, it’s time for Kamiarizuki!

In 10th month, most of Japan must go without their local kami, because they are all convening for their yearly meeting to decide how they’ll be influencing people in the year to come (more or less on an individual basis). Out here in the old Izumo province, however, we celebrate Kamiarizuki (literally, “the month with gods”) because they gather at Izumo Taisha (the second most important Shinto shrine).

This might sound familiar because I posted about it towards the beginning of October when Matsue was hosting several events to commemorate Kamiarizuki. However, that was the 10th month according to the Gregorian calendar. The old agricultural calendar, however, started it’s tenth month more recently. While it does mean people mistakenly think they are making merry with all the Kami-sama while only the local Kami-sama are present, perhaps that is a good thing–otherwise, how would the Kami-sama be able to focus on their meeting? They come for business, after all!

Even in Japanese, “Kamiarizuki” is a bit of a misnomer. The meeting only lasts for a week! After all, if they were away for one-twelth of the year, that would mean they aren’t doing their usual work for a large portion of the year. In 2012, Kamiarizuki is from November 23rd to November 30th. It starts with the Shingeisai (or Kamimukaesai, depending on how you read the kanji: 神迎祭 (god-welcoming-festival)), followed by days of Kagura dances, and then a seeing-off ceremony.

As I am writing this, the Kami-sama are having their meeting. Last Friday, I went out to Izumo to see the Shingeisai procession from the beach at Inasahama, up Kamimukae-no-Michi (God-welcoming Road), and then on to Izumo Taisha.

It starts with an assembly on the beach with worshippers and spectators watching the opening ceremony to welcome the Kami-sama coming from all over Japan (I find it funny that Inasahama faces the Sea of Japan. Did the Kami-sama take the long way around?). It’s supposedly very eerie when everyone is totally silent.

After that, the potable shrine (a staple item for most Shinto festivals) is silently paraded up the streets for about half an hour until it reaches Izumo Taisha.

That is what you can usually expect from the Shingeisai, it seems. Now for my experience!

First off, it was terribly dark and raining by the time I got to that part of Izumo, so I didn’t even attempt to take many pictures. I took a very expensive taxi from a musuem in a mountainous part of Izumo, and the driver took me as far as he good before the traffic looked too horrid for him to bother going on, right about the front of Izumo Taisha. I then joined the myraids of worshippers/spectators walking down the hill to the beach. It’s not usually so crowded, but this year it happened to fall on a national holiday–Labor Day, meaning a lot of people had a three-day weekend to travel. The gift shops around the shrine and the train station were bustling with business, but almost everything else on the way down was closed. I was glad I had the foresight to bring a rice ball, and that it was too dark for anyone one to notice me munching as I walked.

Once I got to the beach entrace, I was handed a gohei, which is also a common Shinto item.

“Izumo Taisha God-Welcoming Gohei” // Shingeisai of the 24th Year of the Heisei Period”

They were also directly people to stand along the path prepared so as to welcome the gods, but to be considerate enough not to stand on it.

People were more spread out at the beach, but there were so many people lined and waiting by 6:00–an hour before it was scheduled to start–that I started to get concerned about beating the crowd to catch the train home later. Though it perhaps would have been more interesting to stay and, although not being able to see anything above the crowd, hear the silence, I decided to ask around and figure out a place where I could wait for the procession to come closer to the station.

Seeing as most places were closed and it was cold and rainy, I wound up waiting around in a little bait shop and talking with a couple of old ladies for an hour or so. They were the closest place to stop in and grab a packaged snack, get a warm drink from the vending machine that speaks with a Kansai accent.

“Are you usually open this late?” I asked, assuming they wouldn’t have people coming to put fishing equipment at that time.

“No, tonight’s special,” they laughed, and went on to tell me about how things would continue to be bustling with activity for the rest of Kamiarizuki.

“Things are busy around New Years too, aren’t they?”

“Oh, yes. Everyone comes to Izumo Taisha to do their New Year shrine visits. It gets very crowded. And it was busy with Shichi-Go-San recently, too!” they went on. “Come to think of it, there is usually some crowded thing going on. I went for a coming of age visit when I was young, but even though I live right by it I don’t usually go!”

The intersection right outside their shop started to fill with spectators, I thought I should head outside if I was going to see anything (and beat the crowd back up the hill). It was around then that we noticed a bus zoom up the street, and after what looked like a little confusion, the crowd started to follow it.

“I think that was it,” one of the ladies commented.

“Hmmm. Usually they’ll announce in the morning they’re going to skip the procession for weather. And what do you know, it already let up.”

So much for seeing the procession! I had to laugh at how long I had waited around for a bus to pass by, but I’m still glad I went as far as Inasahama to see the crowd and see part of the usual course of the procession. Though I barely beat the bulk of the crowd, I still managed to get a seat on the train back to Matsue!

Enjoy your meeting, Kami-sama! Maybe I’ll join in the work by writing about your discussion topics later this week.

EDIT: My co-worker and I talked about it today, and rather than waiting inside a bait shop, she arrived shortly before the event started and go stuck in the crowd unable to see much more than a few flickers of the bonfire. There were lots and lots of tourist buses this year taking people directly from the JR station to Inasahama, adding to how packed it was! Instead of silence, everyone was recording the event on their cell phones, and after the portable shrine was starting it’s procession to the bus, it was followed by a swarm of people like fans and papparazzi following a movie star–some where even holding signs for the Kami-sama to read. So much for eerie silence! So long as it doesn’t fall on a national holiday next year, maybe it’ll retain the atmosphere it once supposedly had?

Even for all that craziness, I found it interesting that I didn’t notice any other apparently foreign people. Should you plan on visiting for this event in the future, might I reccommend the guest house right on the coast? Unfortunately I’m not finding much more information than the address and the phone number for the Tsubaki-ya (出雲市大社町杵築北2844-45
Tel: 0853-53-2956), but I can tell you they were nice enough to let me use their washroom.