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.)

The most recent installment of the Kojiki manga I wrote was rather long, but seeing as a lot of it takes place in the Underworld, I won’t be introducing that here (I staying in the world of the living, thanks).

That said, was Susano-o the lord of the Yomi, where his mother he so wanted to see was residing? Or is Ne-no-Kuni a different place? The interpretations of this vary. Some say he took over some sort of job for Izanami in the land of the dead, other say Ne-no-Kuni is different Underworld from Yomi and they just happen to share the same exit (which strikes me as funny that Onamuji/Okuninushi could escape so easily, seeing as Izanagi supposedly plugged that up). I’m inclined to say Yomi and Ne-no-Kuni are entirely different both just happen to be dark places under the normal realm, because although Izanami had become part of Yomi and, being a rotting corpse, could not reintegrate with this world, there was no such trouble for Okuninushi and Suseri. Whatever the case may be, the San’in region’s links to the Underworld(s) stand, and in addition to Yomotsu Hirasaka in southeastern Matsue, there is another cave in Izumo that, at least according to the Izumo Fudoki, claims a link to Yomi.

Back to the world of the living!

trials-shrines

Well, temporarily, seeing as we’re about to discuss the site of one of Onamuji’s deaths. Unwilling to settle for uncreative methods of killing their younger brother, the 80 nasty older brother kami first had him go boar hunting so as to run him over with a burning stone that is said to be a boar. This stone boar just so happens to be enshrined in Nanbu-cho, Tottori, or what would have been the land of Hoki back in the day (right in between Inaba, where they had all traveled to try to wed Yagami, and Izumo, where they were from).

Akaiwa Shrine, which literally means “red boar boulder” (赤猪岩), is dedicated to Okuninushi, and in the back of the shrine they have a fenced off boulder said to have been the one that burned him to death. It’s never said to have crushed him–it was the burns that did it. Such was how Umugi and Kisagai were able to heal him with skin treatments, which some say were based on ancient folk remedies used in real life. We’ll briefly touch of the two of them again in later stories.

Click for source–and more photos!


Here is the infamous boar… or… boulder. Boulders? Click for source, and more pictures!

Boars being boulders is not a terribly strange idea in the world of Japanese mythology. Ishinomiya Shrine, in the Shinji district of Matsue on the south banks of Lake Shinji, is another Okuninushi Shrine with similar features. The origins of the shrine can be found in the Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki. Besides generally being an encyclopedia of all things Japan at the time they were written (8th century, same as the Kojiki and Nihonshoki), part of their purpose was to name all of the geographical features of Japan and provide reasoning for those names. We can perhaps assume this takes place once he’s already comfortably living at the foot of Mt. Uka. I’ve paraphrased the story below:

One day, Okuninushi, the lord of the land, went boar hunting with his dog. They were chasing two boars, but then those two boars turned to stone. The dog also turned to stone. The end.

So… cool story?

Beside the name left behind (Shinji (宍道) is derived from Shishiji, “the path the boars took” (猪の道)), we also have more boulders left behind!


It’s hard to tell, but there is quite a drop here–watch your step!


Okuninushi’s dog


Okuninushi’s dog


A boar… looks big enough to feed a lot of kami.


A boar… they don’t always look like this, but Shinji is still known for the boars that live there.

This story highlights yet another animal relationship Okuninushi had–he got along with dogs, too. Although images of Onamuji/Okuninushi with the White Hare of Inaba are the most ubiquitous, he is also frequently associated with rats, seeing as they saved his life. Therefore, some Okuninushi or En-musubi shrines tend to have rats–especially white rats–incorporated in to the art. As seen at Kanayago Shrine, though, they can also signify good luck just due to being numerous. (However, Kanayago, the god(dess) of iron-working, hated dogs.)

Back to the story of Onamuji being repeatedly picked on by his brothers and revived by his mother, when Umugi extracted milk from the clams, that wasn’t all she used–she also drew water from Shimizui–the “pure water well” nearby the site of the red boar boulder.

Click for source–and more photos!

Next time, we’ll look at some shrines associated with Okuninushi’s family (though I am not aware of any dedicated to his nasty brothers–or his saintly mother, for that matter).

Continued from Part 4










Continued in Part 6 (the conclusion)!