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.)

Katae (written 片江 or かたえ) is a little neighborhood nestled into the northern coast of the Mihonoseki portion of the Shimane Peninsula. It’s so separated from everything else that it’s practically its own town, and when talking with the locals there, they speak of Matsue like it’s a big city that is totally unrelated to them. It seems that although they were politically integrated during the nationwide town and city mergers of 2005, there hasn’t been much of a cultural integration, or at least not much of an awareness of themselves as Matsue citizens.

The biggest claim fame this tiny neighborhood has is its early January festival, in which they engage in two New Year customs, Tontoyaki and Sumitsuke. Tontoyaki is the burning of New Years door decorations. In Katae’s tradition the families with boys and girls through about elementary school age display and burn different decorations accordingly, but the big show is for the girls’ decorations. Unfortunately, like many rural towns and neighborhoods of Japan they’ve had a declining population, so the amount of decorations had also significantly decreased from the time my friend’s family was putting out decorations for her. While there used to be four giant, streamered towers of special decorations following the early morning burning of the household decorations, the celebration is now down to two.

It’s hard to tell, but each of those bag-like things hanging from the poles was actually a very elaborate paper decoration.

The main draw takes place a little later, and that is the Sumitsuke. Literally, “ink-applying.” If that translation doesn’t make it clear, you’ll soon find out what it is if you show up to spectate. There are no mere spectators at this event.

This tradition has been going on here for over 250 years, and while it’s not the only one of its kind in Japan, some spectators came from as far away as Kobe to witness and participate. As the two omikoshi portable shrines parade up and down the main street between the houses and the ocean, they are surrounded by people walking around and offering free cups of sake and hearty helpings of fishy snacks to go along with it, and a truck drives by with free drinks in the back for people to share. These locals are on duty this year, while other years they get to stand around by the big dish of free tonjiru (very homemade-ish soup with pork broth) and watch and wait. And who are they waiting for, if not the men carrying the omikoshi or the people handing out free drinks and grilled fish sausage and dried squid?

The people are carry the event (not in quite as literal of a sense) are the people with hands covered in jet black ink. Wetting their fingers with sake, they smear the ink on people’s faces, everyone from tiny babies to the elderly to everyone in between. And everyone wants this—getting this ink on your face will ensure good health for the coming year!

I wore some old clothes I wouldn’t mind getting stained with ink, and checked it out with a friend and her 5-month-old. The festival is held on the second Sunday of January, and those there was a light rain, the weather didn’t feel very cold amidst the brimming activity. Oddly enough we seemed to pick the people with the ink for a couple passes of the omikoshi, be it that we were distracted by soup or by using the bathroom, and the people around us kept making comments about what blank palettes we were. That didn’t stop the retiree photographers with pension money to spend on multiple cameras bigger than their own heads from swarming me like paparazzi, though.

sumi

By about the third time the train started to come by, everyone was ready but me–the hobby photographer crowd and the local cable TV news were all aiming at me while I held the baby and was approached by an old lady who very politely gave me two big dabs of ink on my forehead, two on one cheek, and one on the other. The baby got a single dab, but by the end of the festival her yellow coat was smeared black in several places as she looked around and people watched (or zoned out watching the streamers. It was easy to zone out watching those while waiting for the party to come back around).

What the photographers missed, however, was a few minutes after that when we followed behind the crowd up to the beach where the highlight of the event would take place. Along the way, an old man I had never seen before walked right up to be and grumbled as if something was wrong, and next thing I new, he was pouring beer in his hands and then he rubbed his hands from my cheeks down to my chin. Ah, he really got me this time, I thought, and just as soon as I did he marched back in my direction and swiped his hands around my forehead and temples and then down my nose for good measure. Looks like I’m set up for some really, really good health this year.

As one of my friends later pointed out, I looked like a monkey with the part of my face that was left uncovered. I suppose this is my excitement for the Year of the Monkey showing. Thankfully I am not a Monkey, as you’ll notice later.

Seeing as Katae is situated right along the Sea of Japan, the ocean plays a big role in this winter festival. Where could they be going with those omikoshi?

Right out into the ocean? Why yes, of course.

A brilliant use of brisk weather.

It reminded me how at another winter Mihonoseki festival on the south side of the peninsula the men wear even less and sound even more energetic, and are so distracted that they can’t feel the cold. However, for toshi-otoko, “year-men” born in the same zodiac animal year as that present year, I imagine no amount of distraction could keep them from feeling at least a little chilly.

“Here’s to your good health! Let’s have you start the year by catching a cold!”

Those poor Monkeys.

The festival soon simmered down after that as the omikoshi were parade back up through the neighborhood to return to the shrine, the spectators dispersed, and I remained stuck for a while as photographers documented my thoroughly inked face. Thanks for the snacks and the soup and the good health and a good time, Katae.

“The town where we put ink on each other, Katae”

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.






Continued from Part 2




Recall who Kotoshironushi is here.

Recall the Cape of Miho here.

The Hii River has shown up in many legends, as it was home to the Yamata-no-Orochi and a love-struck crockasharkagator swam up it. Back then, it fed out into the ocean, but after centuries of land reform and water control, this part of the Hii River is now Lake Shinji, the Ohashi River, Lake Nakaumi, and Miho Bay.



It was actually much more complicated than that. Kojiki scholars have spent a lot of time on this passage.



Continued in Part 4

Previously, we had a very info-heavy entry attempting to clarify the multiple identities of a some of the locally beloved gods. By the Kojiki, they are Okuninushi (enshrined at Izumo Taisha) and his son Kotoshironushi (enshrined at Miho Shrine), but by popularly accepted knowledge, they are the two most ubiquitous lucky gods of prosperity, Daikoku and Ebisu. Miho Shrine is a short distance from a favorite fishing spot of Ebisu’s. It is nestled between a historic little harbor and Edo-esque town filled with dried and drilled squid to snack on, and the thickly forested mountains found throughout the Mihonoseki cape. Notice anything strange in that last picture? Usually, a shrine will only have one honden (main hall where the deity is enshrined). Miho Shrine, as you might have noticed, has two! It is the only example of Taisha-tsukuri style shrine architecture with two honden, one for each of the primary deities celebrated there. The current buildings were constructed in 1813, and they became National Important Cultural Property in 1981. As previously discussed, one of the two deities is Kotoshironushi/Ebisu, the god of fishing (and by extension, commerce). He is also thought of a god of music, so a number of instruments, such as lutes and drums, are kept as treasures within the shrine. The other is Mihotsu-hime, a goddess of harvest. This is a shrine of keeping people well fed, obviously. Makes a lot of sense in Shimane, which historically could rely on its own local seafood and rice production most of the time. That is why an emblem of the shrine is a of a red sea bass (tai, which Ebisu is often illustrated carrying) with a stalk of rice. Because Ebisu loves fishing, the ema (prayer boards) are dangled like fishing poles instead of merely hung by looped strings.

This isn’t the same because the tai doesn’t have a stalk of rice, but it’s one of the sights you can find along Mihonoseki’s Aoishi-datami path.

Mihotsu-hime is recorded under this name in the Nihonshoki. She is a considered a wife of the Lord of the Lands and a daughter of the subduer of the Yamata-no-Orochi. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably already know her by her Kojiki name, Suseri-bime, subduer of bugs! So, by that logic, Kotoshironushi shares a place with one of his step-mothers. I haven’t come across anything that suggests they don’t get along, so it’s probably safe to say the arrangement has been working out well. One of the fun things about Taisha-tsukuri architecture is that the style of the posts on top of the shrine indicate whether it is a male or a female deity inside. This is how you can tell who dwells in which honden! Before the Daikoku and Ebisu stuff came into the wider story of San’in region mythology, Miho Shrine and Izumo Taisha already had ties, as Miho Shrine plays a key role in the story of Izumo Taisha. That story, “Kuni-yuzuri,” will be the final one I cover in my manga renditions. First, we’ll have a short Fudoki myth about a shrine that upstages Miho Shrine with its number of honden!

Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) illustration of Daikoku and Ebisu (Museum of Fine Arts Boston–click for source!)

We’ll start out with a fun fact: “Shimane” is written as “island” (島) and “root” (根), as it is like the root of the islands of Japan. As many cultural innovations entered Japan from the Asian continent through this area, this name makes some sense. Hideki Yukawa, the first Japanese recipient of the Nobel Prize, took it a bit further and said that Mihonoseki, the Cape of Miho at the northeast end of Shimane Prefecture, is where one can find the roots of the Japanese soul.

According to the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki (see below), this place is named after Okuninushi’s son Mihosusumi. Mihosusumi’s mother Nunagawa-hime was from the land of Koshi (modern day Ishikawa Prefecture), and according to their local mythology, Mihosusumi eventually returned to the Noto Peninsula. According to another Fudoki legend, the Cape of Miho was literally taken off the tip of the Noto Peninsula and dragged through the Sea of Japan and attached to the Shimane Peninsula. These myths, as well as archeological evidence, suggest there were strong ties between ancient Izumo and ancient Koshi.

After city mergers, Mihonoseki became a district of Matsue City, the capital of Shimane Prefecture (technically, Mihonoseki-cho). It happens to border another district within the city called Shimane-cho. Don’t get too confused yet–we have many other confusing bits to sift through in this entry!

Specifically, who or what are these local deities and how are they related?!

Although I try to keep things simple by saying I write manga interpretations of the Kojiki, I draw material from more than just the legends as they are written in that book (and even then, every translation into modern Japanese, English, or illustratration has its own spin on the Kojiki’s contents). 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, which is why the deities have such clunky names with kanji you’d rarely see used together like that.

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.

Jump ahead about nine or ten centuries, and Shinto evolved into something almost indistinguishable from Buddhism in general practice. Many famous Shinto deities merged with Buddhist deities, many of which had Chinese or Indian origin. Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods, a jolly group of folk favorites, were not a home grown group, but they were so beloved that at some point in the Edo era their personas merged with Shinto deities as well. The lines between canon and fanon were blurred past the point of no return outside of scholarly circles, and despite the efforts of Kokugaku (“nativist studies” looking for the heart of Japan) scholars and Meiji Period policies to forcefully seperate Shinto and foreign influences like Buddhism, these mashed identities persisted.

That leaves us today with all the following phrases being more or less correct:

“Okuninushi, the Lord of the Land who ruled over the lands of Japan, is the god at Izumo Taisha.”
“Okuninushi’s son is Kotoshironushi, who is the god at Miho Shrine.”
Daikoku-ten and Ebisu-ten, two of Japan’s favorite lucky gods, reside at Izumo Taisha and Miho Shrine respectively, on either end of the Shimane Peninsula.”

1856 illustration of Daikoku and Ebisu by Utagawa Kunimori II (Museum of Fine Arts Boston–click for source!)

Daikoku-ten is originally an Indian deity called Mahakala (among other names), and came to Japan via China with most of the other lucky gods and has a few funny similarities with Okuninushi like being able to write their names in synonomous ways (大国 and 大黒 can both be read “Daikoku”) and that they both get along with rats (recall that Okuninushi was rescued by them, and Daikoku is often pictured with them because where there are rats, there is grain–they are a sign of prosperity and plentiful food).

Ebisu, however, is the only Lucky God who is native to Japan, supposedly born without outside cultural influence. Good for him, at least we have that much straight. Besides the story that he washed up to shore (thereby implying having come from somewhere else anyway? That’s my question!), there are a lot of different stories about his origins. If we accept that he is Kotoshironushi, Okuninushi/Daikoku’s son, then he is the son of the Lord of the Land, and he and his father are best buds. If we accept that he is Izanami and Izanagi’s son Hiruko, the leech-like baby they didn’t make very well and sent away at sea, then he is a deity who overcame terrible hardship as a child, eventually grew bones, and became a cheerful god who brings great luck to fishers.

Other stories about his traits are also very inconsistent. For instance, it’s fairly commonly accepted that Ebisu does not attend the gods’ meeting at Izumo Taisha every October because he is deaf and does not hear the summons. However, it is also said that Ebisu is a god of music because he loves a good jam. Which is it? If Ebisu were really Kotoshironushi, he’d be like a bratty teenager ignoring his father telling him to do something by not attending that meeting.

As Japan has fishing villages just about everywhere, Ebisu is a favorite and highly revered god throughout Japan. Although Miho Shrine is said to be the head of all 3,385 shrines that honor Kotoshironushi, or by extended definition Ebisu, it’s hard to think that he spends much time there. He is known as a traveling god who spontaneously washes up on shore (sometimes in forms we would think not-so-lucky, like drowned corpses) to bless the local fishing industry.

At the very least, we can say with some confidence that he enjoys fishing. Mihonoseki boasts of a favorite fishing spot of his, a tiny island off the very eastern tip of the peninsula (now called Jizo Cape, where the historic Mihonoseki Lighthouse stands). On a clear day you can see both the Oki Islands and Mt. Daisen and there, and it is also said to be the spot at which he first washed up to the islands of Japan.


Literally, the Douzen islands (Chibu, Ama, Nishinoshima) are the “front islands” and Dougo (Okinoshima) is the “back island.” By the way, they’re all part of a fantastic Geo-Park and visiting them was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken.

Hence, Miho Shrine is located nearby. Given the now inseverable connections with Daikoku and Ebisu, it is known as katamairi (visiting only one side) when you pay a visit to either Izumo Taisha to the west or Miho Shrine to the east, but ryomairi (visiting both sides) when you double your luck by visiting both.

However, Ebisu/Kotoshironushi does not get Miho Shrine to himself. We’ll take a closer look at this unique double-shrine in the following entry.

—–

2018/3/5 UPDATE: This blog is no longer updated. However, I would like to include a comment from Bluedon here for more/better information:

I just wanted to point out that Koshi is hardly limited to modern-day Ishikawa Prefecture. It also covered what is now Fukui, Toyama and Niigata Prefectures, hence why the latter three were later called Echizen, Ecchuu and Echigo.

Nunakawa-hime (Nunagawa-hime) is actually from what is now Niigata Prefecture. Her name is linked with 沼川郷, a region which is now known as Itoigawa City. Many shrines in the Itoigawa are dedicated to her, her husband, and their son, including Nunagawa Shrine, Nou Hakusan Shrine, and countless Suwa Shrines.

Legends about Nunakawa-hime’s use of jade were what led to the rediscovery of jade in Itoigawa and the discovery that in fact all Jomon period jade in Japan had originated in Itoigawa.

Continued from Part 2
















Continued in Part 4


A.K.A. Onamuji–refresh yourself on the stories of Okuninushi starting here and here.













According to the Kunibiki legend, there’s a good reason why Mihonoseki looks like Koshi.

Continued in Part 2

Benten Quay

I’ve written about Mihonoseki a few times before (see here and here and here), but on this particular trip I went specifically to see the Aoishi-datami paved street and the temple it leads to, seeing as I didn’t take a look on a previous visit to the famous Miho Shrine.


Read more about Sakaiminato, Daikonshima, and the Meoto-Iwa.


I’m not the first to write about Mihonoseki either, as Lafcadio Hearn and other famous writers have already described it and its role in Japanese history before me (there is still a ways to go because its significance is explained in my comic renditions of the Kojiki myths). Miho Shrine is home to the mirthful lucky god Ebisu, who is not only the god of fishing and commerce but of song and dance–therefore a number of famous musicians have beens spotted visiting Mihonoseki, too!

If you’re keeping an eye out for them, you might notice these signs around the area with quotes about Mihonoseki written by famous people. This is Toson Shimazaki.

The aoishi are literally “blue-green stones” that are used in this pathway between Miho Shrine and Bukkoji-ji Temple.

This is me and my new friend next to an “ao-ishi” at Benten Quay.

Lined up altogether, they lent a certain mood to the otherwise homey atmosphere. The best way to enjoy this path is by snacking on freshly grilled squid first.





Lately there seems to be a fascination with the decorated manhole covers around Japan. Here is one from Mihonoseki to add to your viewing pleasure.


I like seeing real fish better than seeing manhole fish.

A pleasant uphill walk later, we made it to Bukkoku-ji to see the grave of Ikuta Shonosuke, otherwise known as Kichiza in many historical works of fiction. He’s not usually the star of the story he’s featured in, though–that infamous role belongs to Yaoya O-Shichi.

In the year 1682, 16-year-old O-Shichi took refuge in a temple after a fire broke out in her Edo (nowadays called Tokyo) neighborhood. There, she met handsome young Kichiza, who was working as a page at the temple, and she fell in love with him. Upon returning home, she set another fire hoping that it would give her the chance to meet him again. This made her so infamous that it is inauspicious for a girl to be born in the same year as her (the year of the Fire Horse, which comes every 60 years–the next one is 2026).

She’s been immortalized both as a villain and a tragic heroine, which is likely due in part to her trial. The law was such that criminals age 15 or under would not be put to death, so the judge tried to help her out by telling the crowd she was only 15. She didn’t catch on to this, though, and asserted that she was 16. The judge had no choice but to penalize her to–appropriately?–being burnt at the stake.

Most of the stories end there, however many romantic liberties they’ve taken. It is said, though, that Kichiza felt so troubled over this that he went on a pilgrimage all around Japan to pray for her soul. It was here at Mihonoseki that he died at age 70 on October 4, 1737.

There are also a handful of wooden statues of different Buddhas from the Heian era to be seen here the temple within Bukkoku-ji, Dainichi. Speaking of the Heian era, a couple of emperors who were exiled to the Oki Islands stayed in this Bukkoku-ji on their way off the mainland.


Rest in peace, Kichiza! And with any luck, O-Shichi is resting in peace now, too.

Looking for love all the way out here?

I cannot stress enough what a catchphrase En-musubi is around here. Because the notion of it permeates so much of the culture around here I have written a handful of entries referencing it in the past, but in a nutshell, the 縁 (En) in 縁結び is a tie of fate, or a spiritual bond. 結び (musubi) is a conjugation of the verb 結ぶ (musubu), which refers to tying things together or making bonds. (As a side note, the character 結 is fittingly part of the word for marriage: 結婚).

Why is this region so big on En-musubi? Because all 8 million gods in Japan gather at Izumo Taisha to discuss whose En their going to bind with whose and how. This means people come to Izumo Taisha and many other shrines in the region (such as Yaegaki Jinja) to pray for new En. This can be anything, such as binds of fate with a new child, having good friends and teachers come into your life, or even one’s ties with nature.

Most simply and popularly, however, it is understood at divine matchmaking. En-musubi is very closely associated with romantic love and finding one’s soulmate.

References to En-musubi show up in many ways throughout daily life, including in the culinary world. En-musubi is often symbolized by red and white cords tied together, as the 紅白 (kouhaku; red and white) color combination is considered quite felicitous. Hence, red and white mochi (rice cakes) are En-musubi rice cakes (remember En-musubi Zenzai?). Today I had a speciality Izumo Taisha souvenir, “fate-binding mochi.”

These are a very soft kind of mochi called “gyuuhi” (求肥). If there were a sound effect for how it stretches so smoothly, it would probably be “gyuuuuu.” The walnuts included in these add a nice defining point to the texture!

There are also a handful of examples throughout Japan of romantic En in nature, such as the married camellia trees at Yaegaki Jinja, but more commonly it’s a pair of large boulders near each other that look like they could be a married couple. Hence, these “husband-and-wife” rocks are bound by shimenawa ropes to signify that it is a place of divine union.

Mihonoseki, a part of Matsue that makes up the eastern stretch of the Shimane Peninsula, is home to one such pair of happily-ever-after wedded crags.

Read about Sakaiminato City and Daikonshima (Radish Island–or should we say Peony Island?) on other posts.

Along the seaside highway from Matsue or Sakaiminato towards the famous head Ebisu shrine Miho Jinja at the harbor or to the lighthouse, you’ll spot two rocks just off shore that are tied together both spiritually and literally.

Apparently it’s a good fishing spot, if you’re willing to get your feet a little wet heading out to the female rock. Speaking of male and female, the name of this spot is pronounced like most of the other husband-and-wife rocks as Meoto-iwa (typically written 夫婦岩), but it is literally written with the characters man-woman-rocks(男女岩). When I approached with a Japanese friend, she said, “Huh? Aren’t those kanji the other way around?”

I guess I hadn’t even thought about it, but yes, 女 should say me and 男 should say oto if you want to go by strict kanji rules. Then again, the rules don’t really apply very well to proper nouns.