Treasures of Soshino Hachimangu

In August 2019, Soshino Hachimangu shrine in Kanayama held its annual treasure airing and cleaning. This modest shrine in the woods is the repository of a number of historical treasures. They include the 900-year old Soshinomaru sword , two 17th-century Enku carved Buddhas, and nearly 600 handwritten volumes of the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra from the 14th century. These photos were kindly provided by Kazuo Sugisaka, including some photos from earlier airings.

Soshinomaru Sword

Soshinomaru sword being aired, August 2019

The twelfth century Soshinomaru is polished every year by a trained polisher until it gleams. This is a photo of the Soshinomaru after polishing in August 2019.

Enkū Buddhas

Enkū (円空) (1632–1695) was a Buddhist monk who was born in Mino Province in what is now Gifu prefecture. He wrote more than 1,500 poems, mostly waka, in the traditional form of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. He is best known for his rough, but powerful, Buddha statues. This shrine has a number of wood carvings, and two of them are by Enkū (photo on the right). The Enkū carvings are dark, whether by age or by the type of wood we do not know. The photo on the left was taken in 2012. The standing Enkū statuettes (shown with a pair of wooden komainu) measure 40 cm and 50 cm,   respectively.

Fourteenth Century Sutra  

The 600-volume Prajnaparamita Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra was transcribed over the 21-year period from 1318 to 1338. However, this shrine has fewer than 600 volumes because they were loaned out to another shrine and some of them were not returned. For 700 years, the volumes have been carefully preserved with camphor. The photo on the right is the outside of the 583rd volume. The other photo shows the closing portion. The colophon shows the name of the person who calligraphed the volume. It is dated during the Karyaku period, 1326-29. These sutra photos were taken during the airing of 2017 by Kazuo Sugisaka. An investigation was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the writing of the sutra. The results, including the names, the volume, the date, location and events are summarized here: . 

We are grateful to Kazuo Sugisaka for sharing these special photos of the treasures of Soshino Hachimangu with us.



Closer Look at July 23, 2019 Dashed Spotlight

2019.07.23 13:05

This is a larger view of the dashed spotlight of 23 July 2019, the last day of the spotlight. Indeed, there would have been no dashed spotlight on that day if it weren’t for the fact that it is in the last year of the four-year leap-year cycle. The previous two days had been rainy.

Kazuo Sugisaka visited Senkoku-ishi once again on 28 and 29 July. The photos he took were put into a composite photo, lined up every five minutes with the ones taken on the 23rd. A section of his composite photo is shown below.

Upper: 23 July 13:00 and 13:05
Lower: 28 July 13:00

Let’s closely examine these photos. We discern from the 23 July photos (upper two photos) that the dashed line is caused by the beam of sunlight that grazes the broad surface of the stone. When the beam reaches the corner of the triangular face, it spills over and forms the dashed line. On 28 July, the beam of light did not reach the corner and consequently did not form any dashed line at all.

In the pair of photos below, the situations for the same dates of 07.23 and 07.28 are compared at time 13:10, 5 minutes after the dashed spotlight. If you look carefully, there is a dash in the upper photo close to the bottom of the triangular face, caused by the spilling of the light beam. However, in the lower photo, the beam is not in position to spill over onto the face.

Upper: 2019.07.23 13:10
Lower: 2019.07.28 13:10

We thank Sugisaka-san for conducting this photo experiment and preparing the results to share with us.


Dashed Spotlight of July 2019 and the Length of the Year

Dashed spotlight on 23 July 2019. Note how narrow the dashes are. Photo by K. Sugisaka.

We reported on the dashed spotlight of May 2019. As readers of this blog know, this spotlight appears annually 31 days before the summer solstice, for about a week (5/21 – 5/28), and again 31 days after. The July dates are usually 7/15-7/22.

Summer solstice day in Japan is usually taken as 6/21. Therefore, 5/21 is 31 days before and 7/22 is 31 days after.

This year 2019, summer solstice came a calendar day later: at 12:54 am on the night of 6/21, so it was really already 6/22.

So, the photo above taken on 7/23 shows the end of the spotlight cycle. That is why the dashes are so narrow. It had rained on the previous two days, so it was very fortunate that the last day, 7/23, turned out to be sunny. We thank Sugisaka-san for his unusual photo.

The Kanayama Megaliths determine a super-accurate solar calendar. They accurately follow the four-year leap-year cycle caused by the year being approximately 365 days and 6 hours long. They even adjust for the longer 128-year cycle.

Since this is the third year of the four-year leap-year cycle, spotlights should show a little later. After all, summer solstice came a little later this year. Last year it came on 6/21/2018 at 7:07 pm in Japan. Comparing the two times of astronomical summer solstice in Japan, we see clearly that the length of the solar year is 365 days plus approximately six hours. The calculation is 12:54 am minus 7:07 pm = approximately 6 hours.

Therefore, by observing the spotlights every year, the Kanayama astronomer knows that there must be a leap day added every four years.

For more accurate leap-year determination, the Iwaya-Iwakage megalith group on the hill has a special measurement system. On October 15 of this year, the Iwaya system will show that next year is to be a leap year. The previous time was on October 15, 2015.



Mt Ena and Ena Jinja

DSC06541 Ena 1

恵那山(えなさん)towers over Nakatsugawa city

Mt Ena 恵那山(えなさん)2,191 m

Mt Ena is a very sacred mountain from ancient Wosite times. The region around Mt Ena contains some important sites in the story of Amateru Amakami. Isanami gave birth to Amateru at the place now known as Chiarai Jinja (lower left side of the map). Chiarai, chi-arai, refers to washing the blood of Amateru’s birth. His placenta (ena) was buried at the top of Mt Ena for safekeeping and for his protection in life. There is a shrine at the peak of Mt Ena, and another at a lower elevation directly to the west. See the map below.

Looking far to the east, we see Achi Shrine Okumiya. This is the burial place of Achihiko Omoikane, Amateru’s brother-in-law and Hiyominomiya, master of the solar calendar. In this region between Mt Ena and Mt Kasagi to its west, many megaliths can be found. There is a distinct possibility that these megaliths form a system for the determination of a solar calendar from Jomon times roughly 5,000 years ago. Maruyama Jinja in the upper left of this map is one possible solar site. Thus we decided to publish this Mt Ena post on this — Iwakage’s — blogsite.

Chiarai to Achi Jinja

Area around Mt Ena, from Chiarai Jinja and Ena Jinja in west to Achi Jinja in east

Mt Ena is part of the Kiso mountain range of the Central Alps and it straddles the border between Gifu and Nagano prefectures at the cities of Nakatsugawa in Gifu and Achi in Nagano. Mt Ena is one of the 100 famous mountains of Japan. Mt Ena can be written 恵那山 or 胞衣山, where both 恵那 and 胞衣 are read ena. When written as the latter, the word 胞衣 means placenta or afterbirth. At the peak is the honsha main Ena Jinja shrine, the Okumiya (deep sanctuary). There are six sessha auxiliary shrines in the vicinity.

Ena Jinja 恵那神社

Ena Jinja is an ancient shrine whose establishment is unknown. It occupies two sites, the Okumiya being at the top of Mt Ena. The more accessible maemiya shrine is in the foothills due west of Mt Ena. A drive up from the valley, alongside tumbling streams, takes us to the parking lot of the shrine where there’s more water gushing out of the slope. We first admire the panoramic view to the west.


We immediately spot the first torii which is facing the parking lot. We pass under the torii and climb the steps to the landing. There is another flight of steps, making a right angle, to the prayer hall above.

DSC06559 1st toriiHere is the stairway to the prayer hall. The enshrined kami are Isanami and Isanagi (the parents of Amateru), and Amateru’s advisor the wise Amenokoyane, all very important people in the Wosite documents. Also enshrined here are Toyoke (Isanami’s father and Amateru’s grandfather), Yama-kami, and Tenhaku. To the left and right in front of the haiden are two splendid male-female sugi trees. Presumed to be between 600 to 800 years old, they are a Gifu prefecture natural monument. In the back of the haiden is the nagare-zukuri style honden.

DSC06560 kaidan to 2nd torii

The peak of Mt Ena must be behind the prayer hall, but we can’t see it for all the trees.

When we turn around to go back down, we note that the prayer hall shown above is facing west 240 degrees. This is the direction to the winter solstice sunset! Here is where the winter sun will set: at the notch in the flat mountains beyond.

DSC06565 note notch

On the way down, we pass newly planted rice fields and the rushing Nakatsugawa River.


Here is a final view of the splendid — and sacred — Mt Ena.

DSC06546 Mt Ena







Source of Dashed Spotlight

DSC_9193 巨石群22日13時14分

Source of the Spotlight

In the previous post, we showed the dashed spotlight of May. The light entered Senkoku-ishi from an opening at the top of the cavern. It skimmed the flat face of the megalith, created dashes of light on the triangular face, and splashed in a triangle on the floor.

The above photo was taken by Kazuo Sugisaka. The camera was pointed up along the sunbeam toward the opening, like this.

DSC06536 KS camera




And here is what the camera saw above.

DSC_9198 巨石群22日13時18分

And below.

DSC_9195 巨石群22日13時16分





Dashed Spotlight of 2019 May

DSC06462 tani utsugi Weigela: タニウツギ

Tani utsugi タニウツギ weigela

The Dashed Spotlight of May

The dashed spotlight appears on 5/21 each year to signal the coming of the summer solstice 31 days later. We were at the Senkoku-ishi megalith group to watch for it on three days on May 19, 21, and 22. Here is our report.

May 19

It was a lovely sunny day and we went to visit the megaliths. The tani utsugi weigela was blooming at the side of the stream. We had had a taste of the pink petals at dinner the previous night. These photos were taken around 1300 or 1:00 pm. As we can see, the sunbeam skims the south face of Stone A’ and lands in a small triangular oval on the floor, without forming dashes on the triangular face. When we look up along the sunbeam, we see where the sunlight enters the Senkoku-ishi chamber

May 21, 31 Days Before Summer Solstice 

We did not venture to the megaliths on the 20th due to cloudy weather, but we did eagerly ascend on the 21st, the scheduled date of the return of the dashed spotlight. We were not disappointed. The dashed light appeared and changed dramatically during the few minutes of observation around beginning around 12:54 pm.

DSC06511 people

May 22

The second day of the dashed spotlight was sunny and bright. The spotlight appeared for a longer period of time, around 20 minutes. Even after it seemed to finish and blink out, it reappeared for another wonderful show.




Soshinomaru, Great Sword of Soshino Hachimangu Shrine

Soshinomaru 2016

Soshinomaru, treasured sword of Soshino Hachimangu, August 2016.

Photo by Kazuo Sugisaka


Minamoto no Yoshihira, Warrior

Minamoto no Yoshihira ( 義平) (1140–1160) was a Minamoto clan (Genji) warrior who fought the Taira alongside his father, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, in the Heiji Rebellion. [Wikipedia]

In 1159, Minamoto no Yoshihira was fleeing after the Genji had been defeated by Taira no Kiyomori. He arrived in the village of Soshino when it was being menaced by a baboon. He fought and exterminated the baboon, thus saving the villagers. The villagers pleaded with Yoshihira to stay with them but he could not. So, he left his long sword (tachi) with them.

祖師野八幡宮 Soshino Hachimangu

Beholden to this Genji warrior, the villagers supported the revitalization of the Genji. For that purpose they brought the bunrei (divided kami spirit) of the Genji uji-gami (clan kami) from 鎌倉鶴ヶ岡八幡宮 Kamakura Tsurugaoka Shrine and built the Soshino Hachimangu (gu means shrine) in 1181 (although Yoshihira was already deceased).

祖師野丸 Soshinomaru, Sword of Yoshihira

Yoshihira’s sword has been and still is in the safekeeping of the Soshino Hachimangu and is called the Soshinomaru Tachi (long sword). In 2015, this famous sword was found to be full of rust. It was suggested that the Soshinomaru be re-edged and polished. Many people contributed through the sale of calendars and donations. The Soshinomaru was shown in its glory in August of 2016.