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Showing posts from October, 2013

Kashima Jingū, shrine of quakes and martial arts

Here, in this glade in a cedar forest, rests the fate of Japan. The glade has two residents. One has to remain eternally vigilant. If he relaxes his guard or falls asleep, the other one wriggles its tail and the islands of Japan shudder.

See this? This is central control.

The glade contains a stone called kaname-ishi (要石) or pivot stone. Only the tip of the stone is visible above the earth; the main part is driven deep into the earth to hold down the head of the giant catfish that lives under Japan. When the stone fails to do its job, the fish will shake its body and Japan will be rocked by an earthquake.
It is believed that the head of the fish is just under this spot.

The stone is controlled by a Shinto god called Takemikazuchi (建御雷神), also known as Kashima Daimyōjin¹ (鹿島大明神) or Kashima-no-ten-no-ōkami (香島の天の大神). It's his job to subdue the giant catfish, Namazu (鯰), by placing thestone on the fish's head or inside its mouth, or by stabbing it with a sword.

The glade and the pi…

It's war!

Unfortunately my particular war isn't over yet.

October, the start of the academic winter semester, is always busy; and this year it's been particularly intense due to various social commitments. I'm also working on weekends, which means I have no free time. I haven't visited other blogs or even responded to comments on my own blog yet. My apologies to all. Your friendly local foreign guide will eventually resurface and shrine-hunting will resume as soon as possible.

Akagi Jinja, a thoroughly modern shrine

A shrine is an ancient building. It's either made from dark, weather-worn wood or it's painted a bright vermilion red.
Most of them, maybe, but not this one in Kagurazaka. Akagi Jinja is a modern design by Kengo Kuma, one of Japan's most renowned architects and professor at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Tokyo. His goal, according to Wikipedia, is "to recover the tradition of Japanese buildings and to reinterpret these traditions for the 21st century".
That's exactly what he's done with Akagi Jinja: it's clearly a shrine, yet it's unlike any other you've ever seen. It will turn all your preconceptions upside down.

The original shrine was established in 1555 by the Ōgo clan (大胡) from Gunma, who moved to this area in the 1300s. Read more about them here and here.
The shrine was completely renovated in 2010, and its approach is novel: the shrine complex includes a 6-story condominium that was leased by the shrine…