Japan Shrines: Oki Shrine, Nakanoshima, Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture, 隠岐神社
Oki Shrine is not a very old shrine, being founded in 1939 to mark the 700th anniversary of the death of Emperor Go-Toba who died nearby after 19 years of exile on the island.
Go-Toba (the prefix "go" means later, in essence Go-Toba means Toba the Second) was enthroned as the 82nd Emperor of Japan in 1183 when he was a mere three years old.
Emperor Antoku, also a young child had fled from Kyoto with the Imperial regalia during the Genpei War, so technically there were two emperors at the same time. The politics of the era were complex, with regents and sometimes retired emperors actually wielding power, and with the relatively newer political force of samurai through the post of Shogun, further complicating things.
In 1198 the shogunate forced Go-Toba to abdicate and installed one of his young sons as Emperor Tsuchimikado, but Go-Toba exercised power as a retired, or cloistered emperor, and in 1210 convinced Tsuchimikado to abdicate in favour of his brother, Emperor Juntoku, though he, Go-Toba, continued to wield power.
Exile In The Oki Islands
By now the shogunate was being controlled by regents of the Hojo Family who ruled instead of the child shogun, and in 1221 Go-Toba attempted to return more power to the court and called for an uprising against the Hojo.
The Hojo dispatched an army and after several small victories on their way to Kyoto defeated the imperial forces on the banks of the Uji River.
The shogunate banished Go-Toba to the Oki Islands and also Tsuchimikado to Shikoku and Juntoku to Sado. In exile Go-Toba resided at Genpukuji, a temple that was located right next to where Oki Shrine now stands.
A Poet Emperor
While in exile Go-Toba was isolated from any support at court on the mainland and no longer took part in any politics. He spent much time on one of his pet projects, a imperial compilation of waka - traditional Japanese poetry - the Shin Kokin Wakashu - generally considered to be in the top three of the most influential anthologies of Japanese waka.
Interestingly Go-Toba also became fascinated by sword-making and invited experts from all over Japan to come to Oki and teach him the various skills. He is often credited with promoting the notion of the sword as an art object rather than just a utilitarian weapon.
Go Toba is also often remembered for one other thing, the choice of the chrysanthemum as the imperial crest. He died, still in exile on the Okis, in 1239 and was cremated and his remains buried at the temple, although there is now an official mausoleum in Kyoto.
Next to Oki Shrine is the site of the temple where he lived and his grave site is now inside a walled compound fronted with a torii. There is nothing left of the temple now but a few markers commemorating the visit to the site by members of the imperial family in the twentieth and twenty first centuries.
Oki Shrine itself is spacious and set within large grounds. It is built in a modern version of Oki-zukuri. The main approach is lined with cherry trees. In front of the shrine, and where the old temple used to be, the large flat area is believed to have been where Bull Sumo matches took place, a tradition of the Okis that was begun to entertain the Emperor. Only Dogo Island still continues the tradition.
Oki Shrine has a full cycle of festivals and ceremonies throughout the year including the Spring Festival on April 14th and the Autumn Festival on October 14th that includes sumo contests with elementary school boys.
1365-5 Fukui, Oki-gun, Ama-cho
Tel: 0851 42 0464
Across the road from the shrine is the Ama Town Museum of Local History & Culture. This small museum has materials relating to Emperor Go-Toba as well as archaeological finds from the island. Perhaps the most interesting display is a collection of swords that have been made as offerings to the shrine.
Ama Town Museum of Local History & Culture (海士町後鳥羽院資料館)
1521-1 Fukui, Oki-gun, Ama-cho, Shimane 684-0403
Open from 8.30am to 5pm, 21st March to 20th November.
Admission: 300 yen.
Tel: 0851 42 1470
Getting Between the Oki Islands
A fairly frequent and fast ferry service connects the three islands of Dozen, but between Dozen and Dogo you need to use the car ferry or jet foil.
Read more about access to the Oki Islands and getting around the islands.
Useful Oki Island Resources
- Oki Islands UNESCO Global Geopark
- Oki Islands Events Calendar
- Oki Islands Nishinoshima
- Oki Kisen Ferries