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!

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.

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

Continued from Part 3









To be continued in the grand conclusion of the Kojiki a.t.b.b. series!

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

Continued from Part 1








In the Kojiki canon, he was lounging on his couch when it fell back and hit him. Also, his brother-in-law bore an uncanny resemblance to him, so when he showed up to pay his respects the mourners mistook him for Amawakahiko. It mad him so angry to be mistaken for a dead person that he tore down the funeral hut in rage.


Continued in Part 3


For those of you just joining on these Kojiki comics, Okuninushi (formerly known as Onamuji) has been the main character of this story, this story, and this story. He’s kind of a big deal.


Amaterasu is referencing Izanagi and Izanami, who together created the lands of Japan.






Amewakahiko had a wife and children in the heavens already, FYI.

Continued in Part 2

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 3









Refresh yourself on their story here.


Okuninushi’s troubles with Susano-o start here.



We’ll end here on that ambiguous note for now, but there are still two more stories to come!

In the meantime, we’ve got some explaining to do about all these mysterious identities, as all of them are wrapped up into the local San’in culture.

Learn about the sites and culture associated with this legend!
Daikoku and Ebisu, the lucky gods
Ebisu’s home, Miho Shrine

Or start reading the next story!
The birth of Sada-no-Okami
(Or keep reading to the conclusion of Okuninushi’s story)

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