Japanese Shrines: Shrines in Kyushu
Kyushu Shinto Shrines 九州の神社
Kyushu is home to a number of important Shinto shrines and the island is associated with the mythical founding of the Japanese nation in Shinto mythology.
Umi Hachimangu Shrine 宇美八幡宮
Umi Hachimangu Shrine is regarded as the legendary birthplace of Ojin, a very powerful "emperor" in 5th century Japan. Umi Hachimangu is fairly typical with the usual collection of buildings and smaller shrines in the grounds. It is well visited especially because of its association with birth, but whereas at most shrines visited for prayers for safe childbirth the person would write a prayer on an ema, a small wooden board seen at many shrines and temples, at Umi the prayer is written on a stone. This relates to the legend of Ojin's birth.
Fujisaki Hachimangu, founded in 935 by the order of Emperor Suzaku, is the most important shrine in Kumamoto city.
Fujisaki Hachimangu was destroyed during the Seinan Rebellion of 1877 and rebuilt at its current location. Being a Hachiman Shrine, the main kami enshrined is Emperor Ojin, but as with most major shrines there are a multitude of secondary shrines within the grounds including Tenmangu, Susano, Onamuchi, and unusually Kakinomoto Hitomaro the famed 7th century poet.
Things to notice on a visit are the rather fine pair of zuijin, the guardian statues in the shrine's main gate, and the pair of ornate komainu flanking the honden, inner sanctuary. The Great Autumn Festival held over five days in mid September is the biggest of Kumamoto's festivals.
There are events and ceremonies everyday including archery and lion dances culminating in the parade on the last day which features more than 60 decorated horses, which gives the festival one of its names, Horse Festival.
There is some controversy over an older name for the festival, Boshita Festival, as one meaning is "Korea is destroyed", but an even older meaning may refer to the sexual decorations that were used on the horses.
Igawabuchi-machi, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto 960-0841
Amano Iwato Shrine
The shrine's Amano Yasugawara cave is where Japanese mythology has it that the sun goddess Amaterasu hid until found by Tajikarao, who removed a huge rock blocking the entrance, Amaterasu then being enticed out by Ameno-Uzume who performed a bawdy dance.
Amano Iwato-Jinja shrine is split into two parts by the Iwato River. Visitors first enter Nishi Hongu and then walk to Higashi Hongu to see the legendary Amano Yasugawara cave.
Terukuni Shrine 照国神社
As shrines go it is not very old, being founded in 1864. Terukuni Shrine was rebuilt after being damaged in the final battle of the Satsuma Rebellion, "Saigo's Last Stand", but the current structures date from the post World War II reconstruction following air raid damage.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the shrine is the huge tree pruned into the shape of a bird with outstretched wings. The reason for the shrine being so modern is that the kami enshrined here was the 28th Lord of Satsuma, Shimazu Nariakira, and he lived until 1858.
Kushida Shrine, Hakata 櫛田神社
The Kushida Shrine in Hakata, Fukuoka City, is the most important shrine in the Fukuoka area.
Kushida Shrine was founded in 757 when Hakata was the point of arrival and departure for trade and diplomatic missions between Japan and China and Korea.
The main deity enshrined here is Ohata Nushina no mikoto, an obscure kami who is claimed to be the ancestor of the Watarai lineage of priests from the Outer Shrine of Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture.
From early to mid July the shrine hosts the Yamakasa Gion Matsuri, the biggest festival in Fukuoka. On the last day of the matsuri seven teams from the seven neighborhoods of Hakata race carrying giant floats called kazariyama.
Each of the floats are decorated with traditional figures and scenes and are up to 10 meters tall and weigh1 ton. If you can't visit the matsuri one of the huge floats is on permanent display in the shrine grounds.
Suwa Shrine 諏訪神社
Suwa Shrine is the premier shrine in Nagasaki and home to the Kunchi Festival, one of the biggest festivals in Japan. The Nagasaki Suwa shrines' origin lie in a small shrine that was erected in 1619, the year that Tokugawa Ieyasu issued his edict against Christianity. These two events are closely related.
By the beginning of the 17th century the population of Nagasaki was predominantly Christian and during the latter half of the 16th century they had destroyed most of the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in the area.
Beginning with Hideyoshi in 1597, the successive rulers of Japan enacted increasingly harsh measures to suppress and eradicate Christianity which they had come to view as dangerous and a threat to their power, perhaps the most well known example of the persecution being the crucifixion in Nagasaki in 1597 of 26 Christians.
As part of the measures the bakufu attempted to rebuild the shrines and temples in the city, but, like the small, original shrine built in 1619, sabotage by the Christians slowed the imposition of Buddhism and Shinto.
Tenmangu Shrine, Dazaifu
Dazaifu is best-known for its Tenman-gu Shrine. Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine is Japan's number one shrine dedicated to Tenjin, the guardian deity of students. Tenjin, aka Sugawara-no-Michizane, was a ninth-century Heian period scholar, calligrapher, poet and court official who was exiled from Kyoto in 901 to Dazaifu - at the very edge of the empire. He died here in misery, two years after his exile, in 903.
There are over 12,000 Tenmangu shrines in Japan, including Kitano Tenman-gu in Kyoto and Yushima Tenjin Shrine in Tokyo, though Dazaifu is considered the number one pilgrimage site for high school students hoping to pass university entrance exams, as the shrine is built on Michizane's grave and comes alive with cherry blossoms in spring, when the students come to pray for success and buy an ema (votive wooden board) to write their pleas for academic advancement.
There is a small museum at the north of the grounds depicting the life of Suguwara no Michizane in dolls (closed Tuesdays, except when Tuesday is a national holiday, then closed Wednesday) and the Treasure House is also open to visit.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is also known for its plum blossoms - supposedly Sugawara-no-Michizane's favorite flower, giant camphor trees and its festivals: on July 25 and September 25 the low key Sentomyo (Thousand Candle) Festival, September (Jinko Shiki) and January (Oni-sube) and the quirky Bullfinch Exchange Festival (Usokae) where wooden carvings of bullfinches are passed between the participants in the hope of receiving the golden bullfinch that the priest has introduced to the exchange. The game is also a play on the word uso - which is a shortened form of the word for bullfinch (kiuso) and also means to "tell a lie".
Tenmangu Shrine, Dazaifu