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.
|The fate of Japan is controlled in this quiet glade.|
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 the stone on the fish's head or inside its mouth, or by stabbing it with a sword.
|Takemikazuchi (or Kashima) controlling Namazu|
The glade and the pivot stone can be seen at a shrine named after the god, Kashima Jingū (鹿島神宮) in Ibaraki.
There's so much to write about this shrine that it requires an encyclopedia, but let me do this as briefly as possible.
Kashima Jingū, one of the oldest in Japan, was allegedly established in approximately 600 BC in the first year of Emperor Jimmu. The ancient Fudoki² (風土記) of Hitachi province (currently Ibaraki) claims that in the time before heaven and earth, the great celestial god Takemikazuchi descended from the heavens to bring order to the islands of Japan (link).
He set foot in Izumo and finished his journey in the east of Japan, where Kashima Jingū was built in his honour.
|The entrance to Kashima Jingū. The torii that used to stand here|
tumbled during the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Although I visited the shrine mainly to see the pivot stone, it's primarily famous for martial arts.
Since I'm not a martial arts expert at all, I'm simply going to paraphrase from the shrine's website as well as Wikipedia:
Kashima Jingū is dedicated to Takemikazuchi, patron deity of warriors and military men, and is a home of all traditional Japanese martial arts. All styles of traditional martial arts in Japan claim some allegiance to Kashima Jingū or its sister institution, Katori Jingū,³ and all training halls (dōjō) for traditional martial arts in Japan display scrolls from Kashima or Katori.
|Kashima Jingū's main shrine|
|The shrine is currently undergoing renovations.|
|The main shrine and the entrance gate|
Tsukahara Bokuden (1489–1571), one of the most distinguished swordmasters in Japanese history, was a frequent visitor to Kashima Jingū. (He died thirteen years before the other, possibly more famous swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, was born.)
A large blade designated as a National Treasure of Japan and known as the Futsu-no-Mitama Sword (布都御魂剣) is kept at Kashima Jingū. It's 2.71 meters long and was forged over 1300 years ago, making it the oldest iron sword remaining in Japan. According to legends the sword was used by Takemikazuchi himself to help Emperor Jimmu in time of hardships.
The shrine still has a dōjō and hosts martial arts performances. The biggest is held each year on the second Sunday of June as a Tsukahara commemoration. It includes not only sword fights, but also a display of archery called Hundred Hands: archers stand in a line and release their arrows at the same time so that they "fall like rain" on their targets. The archery display is done by Ogasawara-ryū.
Other points of interest
Kashima Jingū is a big complex that's located in a cedar forest. The tree just behind the main shrine is said to be 1200 years old. The complex has a few deer (Kashima means "dear park"), but don't expect anything remotely like Nara's famous equivalent: this small herd is contained in an enclosure. You smell them before you see them.
|Kashima Jingū stands in a beautiful cedar forest.|
|This is my best deer photo. Sorry!|
|Better deer picture on the shrine's ema|
The shrine used to have a massive granite torii, but on 11 March 2011, when the mighty Namuzu overpowered Takemikazuchi, the torii cracked during the main earthquake and eventually tumbled during an aftershock. Two cedar saplings currently grow where the torii used to stand; the intention is to construct a new torii from cedar wood. (Not from these two saplings! That would take a few centuries!) Here's a photo of the old torii and here's the plan for the new one.
|This is where the shrine's torii used to stand. Two cedar saplings have|
been planted in the spot.
The tower gate entrance, called Rōmon (楼門), is an Important Cultural Property and is one of the three biggest shrine entrances in Japan.
|Walking towards the entrance|
The complex has an okumiya4 (奥宮) or inner shrine that was donated by Tokugawa Ieyasu to thank Takemikazuchi for his help in defeating Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Battle of Sekigahara on 21 October 1600, a victory that enabled Ieyasu to become the first ruler of a unified Japan. It is said that Takemikazuchi's presence is particularly intense at this shrine, and that you should tread softly when you approach. If I were you, I'd follow that advice. It ill behoves anyone to piss off the god of warriors.
Mitarashi Pond (御手洗池) is a legendary pond with crystal clear water that allegedly never dries up, not even during the worst drought. It is said that the depth of the water never changes, regardless of your own height. Worshippers used to wash themselves in the pond before visiting the shrine, but nowadays they merely fill a bottle of water, since it's supposed to protect you against illness. The shrine does host an annual misogi (禊), or cold water purification ritual, at the pond in mid-January. You can see photos of the ritual at Wada Photo.
|Mitarashi Pond. That tree grows horizontally!|
The so-called Hitachi Obi (常陸帯), a maternity sash worn by Empress Jingū while she was pregnant, is kept at the shrine. She is associated with love and fidelity, which explains why young women pray here for love. They write the name of their chosen future husband on a belt and offer it to Takemikazuchi in the hope that the god will tie the knot for them.
If you walk to nearby Kitaura Lake (北浦), you can see the shrine's Ichi-no-torii (一の鳥居), which holds the record for being the tallest torii standing in water in Japan. Indeed, at 18 meters it's higher than Miyajima's famous torii, which is 16 meters tall. It was built as a lasting symbol of reconstruction in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Read more about it here.
My personal impression
I love this shrine. I spent three hours wandering around (it's a big complex), and I could easily have doubled that. Its history is so ancient that it's difficult to grasp its age, and I love the fact that all the buildings are small and unobtrusive. I hope the god of warriors won't throw a tantrum because I describe his house as small. I don't mean it's insignificant, oh celestial lord, it's just entirely natural without any grand posturing.
It stands in a magnificent cedar forest, and it's bustling without being overly commercial.
There are several restaurants in the street leading up to the shrine, as well as eateries next to Mitarashi Pond.
|Deer statue in the street leading up to the shrine|
|Takemikazuchi or Kashima|
The road from the station to the shrine shocked me, since it was badly run-down and full of weeds. The shrine itself, though, is spick-and-span.
|Weeds and neglect in the street leading from the station to the shrine|
|Statues at the entrance of the street leading to the shrine.|
I know the guy on the right is Hotei, but the tiger? Not a clue.
|Kashima means "deer park", so of course Kashima has a football team|
known as the Antlers. Grin.
How to get there
Ideally you need a full day to explore Kashima Jingū and nearby Katori Jingū. I took a Keisei Line express train from Nippori Station to Narita Station, caught the Narita Line to Katori Station, and finally took the Kashima Line to Kashimajingu Station. It takes two to three hours to get there from Tokyo, depending on stations and train connections.
Heed my words, o ye intrepid travelers!
- You need to walk from Keisei Narita Station to JR Narita Station. It takes about 5 minutes.
- Katori Station is a tiny, unstaffed, rural station. No taxis, no coffee shops, no English. They rely on your honesty to pay via Suica or to leave cash in a box.
- The Kashima Line runs once an hour. You need to time yourself carefully. (No taxis, no coffee shops, etc.)
- Kashimajingu Station doesn't have Suica gates. I got a paper slip which I handed in at Narita Station, where my Suica card was debited. It might be easier to buy tickets when you go to Kashima Jingū.
|Katori's tiny station|
1) It is unclear exactly when/how the two gods became associated. If you want to read more, I recommend Namazu-e and Their Themes: An Interpretative Approach to Some Aspects of Japanese Folk Religion by C. Ouwehan and Shinto: At the Fountainhead of Japan by Jean Herbert.
2) Fudoki are ancient records of provincial culture, geography and oral tradition presented to reigning monarchs of Japan.
3) Katori Jingū enshrines Futsunushi-no-kami (経津主神), the god of swords and lighting, who is also associated with martial arts. More about Katori Jingū in a later post.
4) An okumiya is an inner shrine that's geographically further into the interior (oku) of the complex, or is less accessible than the main shrine.
|Red gate, green cedars. So beautiful.|
|Path leading to the pivot stone|
|The pivot stone|
|Small Inari shrine at the entrance of Kashima Jingū|