2007/01/11

New Year Pilgrims

On January 4th, we headed out once more on a New Year pilgrimage. Our destination was a city with a shrine that reportedly gets the most visitors of any in Ibaraki - Kasama Inari Jinja. Some 3.5 million pilgrims visit the shrine each year. With a history going back to the year 651, it is also one of the three largest Inari shrines in Japan.

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Kasama City is to our north and west and we followed a route that took us along the northeast shore of lake Kasumigaura, past Tsukuba-san, to Kasama City, a journey of about an hour and forty minutes.

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Tsukuba-san from across the north end of lake Kasumigaura

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After negotiating the streets of Ishioka City, we were back on open highway. We soon spotted a wooly mammoth made of rice straw. It was over two meters tall and was there to draw attention to a home business that was selling porcelain yard ornaments - owls, cats, etc. It sure got our attention. I want one in our front yard.

Kasama City is one of the two areas of the Kanto plain known for making pottery. Where Kashima is dominated by its port and related industries, Kasama has many pottery shops, galleries, museums, and tourist related businesses. After the war, the use of crockery in the home decreased a great deal, and the cermics industry declined. Today, it is primarily artists who are engaged in making pottery.

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Entering Kasama City one can't miss this Japanese urn. (What's a Japanese urn? I don't know, about 10,000 yen a day.....badump bump)

Kasama Inari Jinja is in the heart of the city. Unlike Kashima Jingu, it does not have a large acreage covered in trees, but rather is confined between city streets and buildings. Still, with about 25 acres, it isn't small. Inari shrines are so called as the god (Kami) of rice is called Inari. In Kasama's case, Kami Inari is believed to reside in the mountains during winter and come down to the plains when the crops are ready to be planted. Both of the words Jinja and Jingu mean shrine by the way. Only shrines with some special significance (historical role, ties to an imperial figure, etc.) are called Jingu.

A confusion for many Westerners is that a Shinto "shrine" is the land where religious rituals are performed, as opposed to being a building. In ancient times, an area was roped off around an object of worship - a stone or a tree perhaps - and the ritual performed. When Buddhism came to Japan, it brought with it the tradition of placing a statue or image of the Buddha inside a temple. Shinto adopted the idea and started building structures on the shrine's land. For a long time, Shinto shrines had a statue representing the Kami in their buildings, much like Buddhist temples have Buddha statues, but this practice ended at the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate (early 1600s).

The building where people make an offering and pray is called the Haiden. Behind that, closed to the general public, is the Honden where an object of worship (often a mirror or sword representing the shrine's diety) is kept. So, even though it is common for people, including yours truly, to refer to the buildings as a shrine (mostly to save long explanations like this one), that isn't technically a correct use of the term.

The main streets had a lot of traffic, and the one in front of the shrine had a lot of pedestrians as well. As it was the 4th, we did not see the kind of crowds that occur on the 1st, but it was still a busy place. K found a parking lot close to the shrine so we didn't have far to walk.

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Food and souvenir booths lined the street in front of the shrine

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Entrance to Kasama Inari Jina with its many torii

Inari shrines are guarded by kitsune (foxes). They line the path to the shrine and are also to be seen around the grounds. In Shinto, animals are thought to be messengers to the gods. such as the deer of Kashima Jingu. Kami Inari's messenger is the kitsune, which is a magical, shapeshifting fox. The statues wear red bibs. Red has a special cultural significance going back to ancient times and represents the power to prevent sickness, to improve fertility, and chase away evil spirits. Red bibs are also seen on statues at many Buddhist temples.

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One of the foxes guarding the shrine.


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East Gate - built in 1814

The East gate was built in 1814 and was once the main gate of the shrine. A much larger gate was built in 1961 (not pictured) and the original Zuishin, or statues of guardian dieties, were moved from the East gate into the new one. I liked this gate, however, for its roof style, which was designed after those of farm houses of the time.

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Wood relief on the roof of the "purification font".

The front of the Haiden was almost completely covered and a large cloth-lined bin ran the width of the steps to catch the coins of people making offerings and prayers.
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The Haiden or worship hall, built in 1960.

K purchased her Omikuji (paper fortune) from a typical old style wooden box. You drop your money in a slot and reach in to get your Omikuji. A booth next to the Haiden had a more modern version - coin operated machines. I didn't look to see who made them, as I was afraid of finding the name "Diebold".

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Diebold Omikuji machines? If so, can you trust the fortune you get?


Behind the Haiden, the sanctuary of the Honden at Kasama Inari is quite elaborately decorated with carved wood panels. It was built in the late 1850's and is registered as an Important Cultural Asset.
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Beautiful carvings on the Honden.

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Kind of creepy at first glance - guard foxes "hanging out" behind the Honden.

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Copper covered roofs of the modern Haiden


Kasama Inari Jinja was quite interesting to see, especially in contrast to Kashima Jingu. They also have a museum there, but we had other places to visit in Kasama City. Our New Year pilgrimage wasn't over yet.

7 comments:

QUASAR9 said...

Pandabonium, Thanks for the Tour
I simply love Japanese architecture & design.
Is the stuff you see 'preserved' historical buildings - or is traditional building craft available commonplace, outside the concrete jungles. Or is Japan just too densely populated to allow for such tradition & oppulence (wood)- other than to the very rich and or 'official' buildings

loloma said...

Thanks for posting this, it is really interesting and the pictures are very nice. This might be a silly question, but I'll ask anyway. You know there are certain pilgrimage circuits for Buddhist temples (such as Bando sanjusankasho), do they have such pilgrimages for shrines as well?

Pandabonium said...

quasar9 - historical buildings are preserved and rebuilt in similar style. This is difficult as the people with the skills and knowledge are disappearing. The roofs of some shrines and temples are made from thick layers of strips of Japanese cedar bark. I once saw a man at Kashima Jingu taking bark from a cedar for maintence of one of the roofs there. He travels all over Japan doing this work, as he is one of few people who know the trade.

I have seen several beautiful examples of traditional architecture for rebuilt structures or replicas for museums, historic homes, schools, shrines, temples, castles etc.

Some things just can't be duplicated anymore, such as the massive solid cedar pilars of some temples in Kyoto and Nara. There are no trees large enough anymore.

In general, contemporary buildings are usually done with modern arictecture, sometimes with a cosmetic nod to the past. Japan has some great modern architects, though.

Modern houses are a mix. Most are wood frame construction and still use the same kind of structure as in the past (which is very earthquake resistant) but are covered with modern materials. Roofs are still ceramic tile for the most part, but of simple, less costly, design.

For a great tour of a modern Japanese house, see the latest post over at Moody Minstrel's blog "Life in the Land of the Rising Sun".

Loloma - thanks. There is a very old tradition called Ohyakudo or hyakudo-mairi ("one-hundred-times pilgrimage") which involves visiting one hundred shrines and temples. This has evolved to include going to the same shrine or temple 100 times, or even going back and forth from the entrance to the temple or haiden 100 times.

I'm not sure if there is an actual circuit of specific shrines though.

Of course, shrines have different Kami which people pray to for a particular purpose and so may make a pilgrimage to a specific shrine. Kashima Jingu is dedicated to martial arts, so it is not uncommon for people with that interest to make a pilgrimage to there. I recently saw a demonstration of Kendo by such a group, which I will post pictures of soon.

(so much to post, so little time).

Anonymous said...

You must ADORE your life with all the wonderful traveling and sight-seeing you do. I know I love going along the journey with you. Thank you.

PinkPanther said...

Yet another great journey to us that led by the Professional Tour Guide – Panda.
Where will be the next destination? :-)

Was the nose of hat mammoth a water pipe??
Is there any story about “Kami Inari's messenger is the kitsune”?

Pandabonium said...

Old broad - Thanks. We do enjoy exploring our corner of Japan on day trips. Kasama was one place K had never been before, so it was new to both of us.

PinkPanther - thank you. There may have been a bamboo or wood frame inside the body of the mammoth, but the tusks and nose are just made of woven and bundled rice straw.

There are ancient stories about Kitsune, which may have come from Korea, China and even India. They are said to have as many as 9 tails and to be able to take human form (as do other fabled animals). There is a pretty good article about it on Wikipedia. Sorry to say I don't know any of the stories.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I haven't been to Kasama Inari Jinja for several years now. You're absolutely right in that it's a very different animal from our own Kashima Jingu.

As with most "city center" shrines, Kasama has always been more commercialized than Kashima. I mean that there are almost always merchant stands set up in and around the entrance, whereas in Kashima you only see them during festive occasions. I think Kashima Shrine is actually lucky in that it is rather isolated from the city mainstream. Kasama is located right in the middle of it. It rather adds a unique flavor to its ambience.

The drive out to Kasama is always an interesting, scenic one, but one invariably encounters some pretty annoying traffic...

Nice post, Panda-B, as always!