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.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again many times in the future. The Japanese calendar is a mess.

Or at least, all of the adjustments made have made what seems like multiple alternate time lines all stacked on top of each other. Case in point, if you feel like you didn’t do enough New Year celebration on and around January 1st, you have a couple more chances to do that later.

One such chance is Setsubun on February 3rd. This is considered the last day of winter, and another chance to clear out all those demons–or as I prefer to translate them, ogres–in the closet, leftover evil influences that piled up from last year. Out with those oni! In with the luck! Or so everyone traditionally shouts while throwing beans around in the name of another chance at a fresh start.

Like many festivals, eating is an important element. I once again went the mamemaki (bean-throwing) event at Kumano Taisha, a major Susano-o shrine where he was said to have gifted the earthly inhabitants of Japan with fire. I wrote more about this event before, and this time I just focused on taking photos instead of trying to get in the way of the old people clamoring to catch enough bags of beans to be able to eat the same number of beans as their age in years–no more, and no less! One of the other eating traditions is Ehomaki, a long roll of sushi eaten while facing the auspicious direction determined for that year and contemplating your goal for the upcoming year. This tradition was popularized by the founder of Matsue, Horio Yoshiharu, when he at a long rice ball while wishing for success in battle during the Warring States era. (However, the long sushi roll as we know it today took more form in the Edo period).

As usually, the main event people gather for on Setsubun is mamemaki, though many people use this as a chance to stock up on some shiny new good luck charms for the upcoming year. Although Setsubun is often thought to have the last bout of bad weather before spring, it was a very sunny day.





Free sake! Though most people provide a donation.


This shimenawa looks like it’s been through a lot, but I like that weathered look. I always thought Taisha-tsukuri style heavy shimenawa were cool, but I have a deep appreciation for them since having helped construct one of about this size.


A relatively warm day, but the fire was cozy anyway. Thanks, Susano-o.

As usual, local government officials and other distinguished community representatives have the honor of throwing beans and rice cakes at people.


And they enjoy it.





Look! An oni!!



Sure looks bare after the beans run out.


Most people can be assured of going home with at least one bag of beans, and most likely some auspicious red or white mochi to go along with it. That’s usually not all they go home with! Everyone gets one shot at a drawing, and they get a corresponding prize, like a pair of chopsticks. I got three boxes of lotion-lined facial tissues. …Yay? (I gave one of the boxes to a friend, and I am told they are really, really nice tissues.)


Still not enough New Year for you? Did you already fail on your New Year Resolutions, and need another shot at starting over? Or were tissues just not enough for you?

Good thing for you, who flock to Shinto shrines for the earthly rewards they promise like getting rich and passing exams and avoiding traffic accidents, the Old-New Year often falls after Setsubun. Called “Kyuushougatsu” (旧正月: 旧 is “old” and 正月 is “New Years”), it would be more commonly known in English as the Chinese New Year. This is the date Japan used to use before switching to the Gregorian calendar, and shifting many of their seasonal holidays to periods of unseasonable weather for said seasonal holidays. Again, see a more thorough explanation of that here.

Izumo Taisha marks this additional start of the year with a ritual at 1:00am which includes chanting and miko dance, and a sermon from the priest. Hundreds of people squeeze into the Kaguraden, the hall decorated with Japan’s largest shimenawa, many hours before the event starts. It’s hard to squeeze, though, when many of the early arrivals are napping on blankets they brought and spread out over the tatami mats inside the hall. Others of us sat and chatted either with those we arrived with or perfect strangers who we happened to be sitting around. There are plenty of tourists from far away, but many of them are locals who have been showing up at this event for years. A couple of the gift shops and Izumo Soba restaurants lining the route from the parking lot to the Kaguraden stay open all night to give those who have gotten tired of playing cards or reading books a chance to stretch their legs and snack on some omiyage samples. Furthermore, weather was calm and the stars were brilliant that night.

Shortly after 2:00am, the moment the priest finishes his sermon, there is a sudden burst of activity as people bolt to take the gohei–folded strips of paper found in Shinto shrines–from the thin, long shimenawa hung around the edges of the inside of the Kaguraden. This is when the fun begins.

Although you could chose not to stay for it, most people are there for the prize drawing. Upon arrival, those who wish to participate (by that, I mean everyone) receive five raffle tickets and a sticker to show that they received it–no trying to get more tickets!

And what are the prizes?

Yes, those are enormous and expensive TVs you are looking at. There were five levels of prizes, and each came with a with pile of things to take home. Prizes included TVs, digital cameras, and sake and wine and local snacks, and expensive items on the high shelves of display cases at the surrounding gift stores, and travel vouchers, and hotel stays at local Izumo hotels, and microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, and miniature shrines with statues made of precious materials inside. To be honest, many of the prizes sounded like they’d be more trouble than they’d be worth!

That seems to be the case for my coworker who happened to have a stroke of luck this year, seeing as he won a second-tier prize. It’s a good thing only three of us went, otherwise it would have been difficult to take his big pile of prizes home.

I think I can say I’ve officially rung in the new year enough times now to settle in to 2016. Plus, now I have a story about removing a big screen TV from Izumo Taisha shrine premises at 4 in the morning.

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!

Continued from Part 4










Thus concludes The Kojiki As Told By Brittany! Well, not quite. We still have the historical context, local rituals, and some more info about Izumo Taisha to address in the coming weeks. That, and although it won’t be a preview of more comics to come, I am hoping to do another local mythology themed nengajo (New Year’s card) illustration (see 2013, 2014, and 2015).

Learn about the sites associated with this legend!
Historical basis and influence
The Kuniyuzuri rituals at Miho Shrine
The layout of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine
En-musubi and Kamiarizuki at Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine

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

November was a busy month, as anyone planning a wedding in Japan was probably planning to attend at least a few others as well.

I’ve heard it’s good luck to witness a wedding procession on a visit to a Shinto shrine, but I have never had that luck. Turns out the secret is to go on a weekend in spring or autumn–especially November, it seems! I witnessed my first traditional Japanese wedding on November 1st when a friend of mine was getting married at Izumo Taisha–one of several weddings scheduled back to back in the Kagura-den that day.

Quick reminder for newer readers to the blog: Izumo Taisha is one of the grandest Shrinto shrines of Japan, as it is where the 8 million gods from around Japan gather for their annual meeting to discuss En-musubi, which is often translated as “matchmaking” but it’s more nuanced than that–En is any sort of tie or fated relation or encounter you might have. Like most Shinto shrines visitors are not allowed in the Honden (main shrine where the god resides), but the Kagura-den is decorated with Japan’s largest shimenawa (sacred rope) and is a popular spot for Shinto ceremonies.

Although I did not attend the hiroen (wedding reception), when I got home I received a gift from another Japanese friend’s wedding. I was not able to attend that one because of the distance, but sent an o-shugi with my best wishes anyway, and she returned the favor by sending the gift I would have received if I were attending as a guest anyway.

So how does this work? Let me start by saying that Japanese weddings are expensive to attend. I appreciate the gift-giving culture surrounding bridal registries in the US so that guests have the fun of selecting something while being sure the couple will want it and that no one else has purchased it yet, with the general rule of thumb being that if you attend the wedding reception the value of your gift should exceed the value of your meal, and you might bring along extra cash to pin to the bride and groom to help them out. However, there is also something to be said for the usefulness of straight, cold cash. In Japan, you better make sure that cash is only in crisp, clean, fresh bills in a decorative envelope designed specifically for an auspicious occasion such as a wedding. This is o-shugi.

Although the o-shugi package–which you can find at department stores or in convenience stores–has instructions for where to place the money and where to write your name and address, it doesn’t cover all the finer details. Hopefully you’ve made sure to buy an envelop intended for weddings rather than funerals or visits to sick people (as there is a similar set of expectations associated with those), but the bigger question is usually how much to put in it?

After consulting with Japanese friends and checking around the internet for advice, the basic answer is that if you are a friend attending the reception, 30,000 yen (roughly $300) in an odd number of bills (to imply they can’t be slipt evenly in a divorce) is the safest bet.

Even though I did not attend the reception, I was still served lunch for attending the ceremony. Note all the auspicious symbols, such as the red and white knot, the pine, and the sekihan (rice colored with red beans).

“But what if we’re not really close friends, just co-workers?”
“What if I’m not attending the reception?”
“What if it’s a foreign couple who just happens to be getting married in Japan?”

…you might ask. In those cases, I can only suggest you use your best judgement but to err on the side of generosity. Just try to get an appropriate o-shugi envelope and you’re probably already in good shape! Enjoy the chance to dress fancy, because there will be people dressed very, very fancy. The bride will probably have two or three fancy outfits, complete with wigs. If you plan to stay for the after-parties, plan on very high entrance costs.

In the middle of November I attended an outdoor DIY wedding in the woods overlooking Lake Shinji and Izumo En-musubi airport (probably the most appropriately named airport to have close to your wedding venue), and the following weekend I had to end my morning plans early to get back and meet three people stopping by my apartment.

The first was a friend who had forgotten something the day before while she was in town visiting from western Shimane. She was visiting for a wedding.
The second was an old-coworker who wanted to say hi while he was back in town from Tokyo. He was in a bit of a rush to get to a wedding.
The third was a friend who stayed for tea, and was in the midst of preparing for a trip to Osaka for a friend’s wedding.

What plans had I been cutting short that morning?
A samurai bridal procession and wedding at Matsue Castle.


It’s been a few years since the last wedding at Matsue Castle, but it was something I had already heard of before. When I was studying abroad in a different region in 2008, I saw a brief news segment about a wedding taking place in a castle, complete with period dress for all the relatives, a full procession, and a happy feudal lord and princess waving to the crowd from the watch tower. It left a strong imprint on my memory that they had won a nationwide contest to hold their wedding like that and–being the history nerd and samurai fan that I was and still am–I found it cool, but I did not remember which castle it was. I only found out recently that it was the castle I see from my window every day.

Turns out its been a royal comedy of errors in trying to get pictures of this event, as they were supposed to have two this year but the first one was canceled due to the groom’s injury, and I was only able to see the opening procession for the second one. Furthermore, my camera broke and I lost all my data. I ran into Kimono-sensei as she had been busy all morning dressing the wedding party up, and she sent photos to me later, but I wasn’t able to download the data. Instead of snapshots I encourage you to check out the page of outstanding photographs on Made In Matsue, and the 51 second news clip on this site will give you any idea what the ceremony was like.

What I didn’t stick around for was mainly the wedding ceremony at Matsue Shrine (down a few stairs from Matsue Castle’s watch tower) and the wedding proclamation from the tower itself, which would have kept me there until lunchtime. Thankfully the weather was comfortable for the crowd that gathered to wish them well, and I got enough of my period-dress fill to last me until the next Matsue Musha Gyoretsu in early April, as well as my fill of weddings to last until next year.

Throughout the Izumo region, in cities such as Izumo, Matsue, and Unnan especially, there are ancient examples of Taisha-tsukuri shrine architecture. Izumo Taisha is the most famous and national treasure, and completed its Daisengu, a once-every-60-years rebuilding process in May of 2012. Kamosu Shrine is another treasure. With the current building constructed in since 1583, it stands as the oldest example of this architectural style. However, the style itself has been around since at least 552, and Izumo Taisha is likely a few centuries even older than that.

Like the Shinmei-tsukuri and Sumiyoshi-tsukuri styles found elsewhere in Japan, it predates the arrival of Buddhist influence. Therefore, there are some key features of these styles that you’ll find in Shinto shrines, but won’t find in Buddhist temples, such as the katsuogi (horizontal beams although the top of the central beam of the roof) and chigi (forked planks at the ends–or middle–of the central beam). A fun fact about chigi in Taisha-tsukuri: you can usually determine the gender of the kami enshrined within by the angle of the cut of the planks.

Taisha-tsukuri is distinguished by its gable-end pillars and central pillar, and raised square honden (main hall) supported on thick pillars or stilts. You tend to see really thick shimenawa (twisted straw ropes) as well, and Izumo Taisha has the largest shimenawa in Japan. When reconstructing the shrines to withstand the test of time and weather, or to follow a specific renewal schedule to keep the shrine feeling pure and fresh, sometimes only the roof is reconstructed.

Good thing too, as the San’in region is known for its amount of rainfall.

With their many layers of strips of cypress bark, the roofs are often considered the key focal point of any given shrine.



Here’s my head for some size comparison.

The roof starts with a frame…

A metal edge to help protect against rain…

And a whole bunch of hinoki cypress park.

And then you start piling it up.


The renewal construction at Sada Shrine will take place on one honden at a time, starting with the southern-most honden of the three (recall that it is unusual for a shrine to have more than one honden). Each time, the holy item the kami inhabits is moved to a temporary shrine so as not to be bothered by the home renovation. At least in Shimane, it’s not uncommon to offer free tours of the construction process at the beginning stages, offering an angle you don’t typically get to see on a normal visit. If you visit, keep an ear out! In the meantime, I have more photos available upon request.

Izumo Taisha is famous for hosting 8 million gods from around Japan for their annual meeting during Kamiarizuki, but for every big conference there’s always a lot of spillover into the surrounding hotels. Actually, some records indicate that the gods may have been gathering at Sada Shrine before gathering at Izumo Taisha!

While the gods are absent from the rest of Japan and hanging out here in the Izumo region, they discuss romantically (or platonically) thrilling En-musubi, but when they gather at Sada Shrine in northwest Matsue, it’s for a purification ritual to ward off bad luck. It’s also as though they’re stopping by to visit the final resting of their mother, seeing as Izanami‘s tomb is located nearby on Mt. Hiba.

Speaking of Izanami, she’s one of the 12 kami enshrined here. It’s not uncommon for shrines to be dedicated to more than one kami, but it’s uncommon for them to have three honden (main hall which house the deities, normal people are not allowed in here!). While this shrine was likely originally designed with one honden, the north and south shrines were added later on to accomodate more gods, likely by the end of the Heian era roughly eight centuries ago. While Izanami and Izanagi are in the central shrine with Sada-no-Okami, the bickering siblings Amaterasu and Susano-o are seperated in the north and south honden respectively.

The current shrine architecture has been around since 1807, and have since been deemed Important Cultural Property. Like Izumo Taisha, it’s built in Taisha-tsukuri style architecture. While Izumo Taisha is the typical example, there are variations on the layouts of these kinds of shrines, and many of them (such as Kamosu Shrine, another Izanami shrine) have been quite famous and/or influential throughout history. Like shrines throughout Japan, they may have auxiliary shrines dedicated to other gods throughout the premises, and worshipers are typically not allowed to enter center parts of the shrines without permission, a good reason, paying money, or some combination of the three. Instead, you leave your offerings in the designated spaces, clap your hands, and then don’t get in the deities’ personal space.

Click to view larger version.

Click to view larger version. I’ve indicated where visitors go, and where the holy objects go while the shrine is under reconstruction.


Click to view larger version.

Click to view larger version. Note the four-square layout of inner shrine, a characteristic of Taisha-tsukuri shrine architecture.

As for that personal space, what’s there? It varies according to each shrine, but quite often there is a holy object. As opposed to idols signifing the physical appearance of the kami, one of the oldest items still used today is but a simple, circular mirror. At some shrines, such as Iya Shrine, these are in plain site from where you make your offerings. As for Sada, it happens to be home to Saiehiogi, one of the oldest paintings on a fan screen in existence.

Since the honden is a dwelling place for the gods and Sada welcomes millions of them, the floors must be kept clean. Hence, there is a ceremonious changing on the tatami mats every year. And by ceremonious, I mean song and dance known as Sada Shin-Noh, better introduced by way of a video. This is UNESCO intangible world heritage, a Noh-like performance that has a strong influence on the more sprightly performances of Kagura dance.

Performances are broken up over two nights, the first being more subdued, the second being more energetic. I’ve watched the first, but did not have permission to take photos (and wouldn’t have gotten good ones anyway). Hence, here are some photos of the empty performance hall during the daytime.



Excluding the interior of the honden, I did have permission to enter part of the inner shrine recently to see the reconstruction process on the roof of the southern honden. Pictures are in this entry.

A quick explanation and purification rite before we begin…


…and up we go.

Although the legend of the White Hare of Inaba (Inaba-no-Shirousagi) takes place mostly in eastern Tottori, the Izumo region celebrates the story in its myth and En-musubi-filled atmosphere. For instance, there are a handful of gift shops around Matsue and Izumo specializing in stones, especially Izumo magatama comma-shaped jewels. These tama were often produced in the region out of local Izumo agate, and are a very characteristic souvenir, so you find them in the major tourist areas–in front of Izumo Taisha, or around Tamatsukuri Onsen (literally “jewel-making hot springs”), Matsue’s samurai street Shiomi Nawate or Kyomise shopping district. However, you never find one of these stores without little stone rabbits sold right next to the array of magatama.

Click photo for source and shop info (Japanese)


Click photo for source and shop info (Japanese)


Click photo for source and shop info (Japanese)

Speaking of Tamatsukuri Onsen, the resort area in southern Matsue is not only lined with fancy hotels, charming shops, and free foot hot springs in the river and its own En-musubi power spot, but it also has little statues featuring legends and characters from the Kojiki, such as this one of Onamuji and the white (or hairless) hare.

“But… but I have no money to pay for medical services. I’m a hare.”

Matsue is full of En-musubi power spots, both old and from only 1999 or so. A more recent example of a spot that everyone visits to collect their luck and take a photo at is along the banks of Lake Shinji on the grass lawn between the Shimane Art Museum and the water. It’s a very, very short walk between this famous spot and the perfect sunset viewing spot, so these “Lake Shinji Hares” get a lot of attention.

Because I see them all the time, both in print and in person, I never think to take pictures of them. The day I did go to take pictures of them, though, my camera was doing something weird and they all got over-exposed. There’s this sense of doom that the hares are taking over.

There is a custom of giving shijimi clam shells from Lake Shinji to the second rabbit for good luck in matchmaking.

“Give… me… your… SHIJIMIIIII…”

I don’t get it either.

The legend is also celebrated with a large statue on the ground of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. Hmmm… but what would little Onamuji be doing at Izumo Taisha?

Click photo for source.

It’s now October, the most festive month in Matsue!

Every month in Japan has a classical name, and October is called Kannazuki (神無月 “the month without gods”) everywhere but the Izumo region, the “Province of the Gods”, where it is Kamiarizuki (神有月 “the month with gods”).

This is because all the kami (gods) gather at Izumo Taisha for their annual meeting to determine people’s fate for the following year–in otherwords, it’s a big En-musubi meeting.

Actually, due to the craziness of the modern Japanese calendar system, calling the entire month of October “Kannazuki” or “Kamiarizuki” is a bit of a misnomer. Technically, it’s only about a week long, and it usually falls shortly after October. For the year Heisei 25, it will be November 12~19, 2013.

While there are religious rituals commemorating the gathering of the gods at Izumo Taisha at this time, the human-oriented events celebrating this air of En in this region usually take place throughout the Gregorian month of October.

Matsue, the capital city of the Province of the Gods, usually has a lot planned. Last year I made it to a handful of events, and this year I’ll be busy with the Dai-chakai (grand tea gathering at Matsue Castle featuring eleven schools of tea) and the Little Mardi Gras parade and ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of Matsue’s Friendship City ties with the US city of New Orleans. I’ve made a couple of lanterns for the Suitoro Lantern Festival (which lasts all month), and I’ll probably go to watch the Do-gyoretsu Drum Parade, though I know many foreign residents who are taking part on the drums or flutes.

In the meantime, the streets have echoed with the sound of Do drum practices on weekend nights, as various neighborhoods trade off with their turn to take part in the parade. I remember thinking it was very mysterious when I first it last year on a late August night, but now it when I hear something in the distance, I think, “oh, I wonder which neighborhood it is now? It was Suetsugu last year, maybe this year the sound is coming from Sotonakabara?” A quick detour on my way home brings me closer to the sound, and then I find everyone out with their drums and flutes. Usually, these drums are kept in well-marked garages in each neighborhood, and people are only allowed in those garages under certain circumstances. The participating neighbors are drawn at random, though no neighborhood is allowed to participate two years in a row.

I snapped this picture right after they finished the song and took a break.

I snapped this picture right after they finished the song and took a break.

Speaking of finding festiveness throughout the streets, I noticed a poster for an event coming up at the Kyomise shopping district, home to many of Matsue’s gourmet restaurants.

Kyomise Ikemen

There’s a good pun lurking around every corner. While they aren’t exactly the kind of events that the locals anticipate all year like the Dai-chakai, Suitoro, or Do-gyoretsu, Kyomise puts on a handful of little festivals throughout the year with specialty food stalls. Back in early spring, they had the “Donburi Karakoro” event, which was based on a pun combining donburi (any kind of food served on top of a bowl of rice), karakoro (the sound-effect Lafcadio Hearn used to describe the sound of geta sandals walking down the Ohashi bridge back in the Meiji era, a term which is use to describe both Karakoro Hiroba (square) in Kyomise and Karakoro Art Studio across the canal), and a familiar children’s song about acorns, “Donguri Korokoro.”

The pun in this poster is for the “Kyomise Ikemen Festival,” which is a play on the word for noodles, men, and the slang term for a hot guy, ikemen (ee-keh-mehn, not AIK-men). Oh Japan, you and your puns. Unfortunately I’ll be busy with other events that day and won’t be in Kyomise until the Little Marti Gras live performances at Karakoro Hiroba later that afternoon, but I got enough of a laugh from the poster that I thought I’d share.