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.






Soshino Hachiman Shrine and Autumn Festival


Entrance torii of Soshino Hachiman Shrine in Kanayama

We have written two posts about the Gifu cho butterfly which has been found in the area south of the Kanayama Megaliths. There is a preserve for this possibly endangered butterfly in the river near the Soshino Hachiman shrine. Although there may be no connection between the shrine and the butterfly, we wanted to know more about the history of the shrine. A matsuri was held last October 21, and banners proclaimed: “800 years.” Could the shrine really be 800 years old? It turns out to be even older! Kazuo Sugisaka provided much of the information. Please see the next post. 

Aki Matsuri at Soshino Shrine

The autumn festival on October 21, 2018 honored Hachiman Great Kami. We arrived before the program began; we could see the layout of the shrine and, across the road, the Maze river flowed. Shrine priests and village participants began to assemble.

The procession began to emerge from the prayer hall. White-robed attendants carried the mikoshi portable shrine. The elegant mikoshi is a golden shrine in miniature. In addition to shrine priests, there were men in suits and children in red and white costumes, as well as a number of men in period dress and headgear.

They filed slowly through the torii and turned to face a small temporary shrine. Offerings were made and invocations recited to the Hachiman Kami. The men in period costumes sang in a kind of competition. The children performed with a lion dancer while villagers watched.



Then the group retraced its path, through the torii, and back to the main shrine. Everyone enjoyed the grilled food under the tall sugi as the river kept flowing southward.


Maze River



Gifu Cho and the Kan-aoi plant


Mitsuba-aoi Tokugawa family crest

The Gifu cho that we reported on in the previous post lays its eggs solely on the kan-aoi plant. As the kan-aoi are declining in the woodlands, so are the Gifu cho. Let us learn more about this butterfly and its habitat. We consult the website of the Hidakanayama Tourist Association.

Commentary and observation by 河尻正敏 Kawajiri Masatoshi, a member of the Japanese Lepidopterological Society 

The Gifu butterfly is seen when the cherry blossoms bloom, when the weather is around 15 degrees in fine weather!

The Gifu cho (アゲハチョウ科 Papilionidae, swallowtail) is an endemic species of Japan, named “Gifu  Butterfly.” It was first collected in Soshino, Kanayama Town in Gifu prefecture, by 名和靖氏 Nawa Yasushi in 1883 . With its colorful spots, it is called “the goddess of spring.” The larvae of the butterfly grow in early spring, and become butterfliesby eating the young leaves of the kan-aoi. The local people protect the butterfly at the Ikenoshima park. Every year from the beginning of April to the middle of April there is a Gifu cho observation event, and there is a chance to see the goddess of spring. 

Remarks from the observation meeting distribution materials 2009.04.04.  Gifu cho no sato, Gifu cho village, Kanayama 

After discovering the butterfly on April 24, 1883, 名和靖氏 Nawa Yasushi (1857-1926) studied it at the Imperial University (now: The University of Tokyo) and found that it is a new species. He named it “Gifu Butterfly” after the Gifu Prefecture. It is a butterfly that only inhabits Honshu, from Yamaguchi prefecture to Akita prefecture, of the Japanese archipelago. 

The Gifu butterfly usually can be observed in Kanayama town from the beginning to the middle of April, and only once a year. It visits cherry blossoms, violets, katakuri, etc. to suck the honey of flowers on warm spring days. 

The place where the Gifu butterfly lays its eggs is a plant called kan-aoi, which lays pearl-like eggs about 1 mm in diameter on the back of its leaves. Then, the larvae that have hatched from eggs eat the kan-aoi, grow and molt 5 times, turn into a chrysalis around June, and remain as pupae under dead grass or dead trees until about April of the following year. However, in recent years, the evergreen and mixed forests where traditional Gifu cho live are decreasing, and along with them the kan-aoi plants and the Gifu cho.


Kan-aoi is a perennial herbaceous plant of the family (aoi) Asarum caulescens (species of wild ginger), and 15 species are found in Honshu; among them, the one in Kanayama is the hime-kan-aoi. Kan-aoi is a plant that the Gifu butterfly eats, but only certain types. The kan-aoi has long been known as the leaves on the Tokugawa family’s coat of arms (三ツ葉葵  mitsuba aoi three aoi leaves). The Tokugawa clan crest (kamon), is often and erroneously called the “triple hollyhock” (the “aoi” actually belongs to the Aristolochiaceae birthwort family and translates as Asarum or wild ginger). The confusion is due in part to naming the Aoi Matsuri of Kyoto as “Hollyhock Festival.”

Hime kan-aoi (hanasanpo)

Hime kan-aoi (credit:



Endangered Butterfly: Gifu Cho


Endangered Butterfly:  Gifu Cho

Photo by Kazuo Sugisaka, 2014.04.12

The Japanese luehdorfia (Luehdorfia japonica) is endemic to Japan, as it is found only on the main island of Honshu. This species was discovered in Gifu prefecture in 1883. The Gifu Cho, as it is called by the locals, is strikingly beautiful with its bold black stripes.

The adult Gifu Cho lives only a week in the foothills of central Japan after it emerges in late March – early April spring season. Adults mate and eggs are laid. Eggs hatch in April, and the caterpillars feed on wild ginger leaves. After a month, they pupate and then hibernate for ten months. The new butterflies emerge the following spring, to continue their life cycle.

On April 7, 2019, ten members of the Association of Luehdorfia gathered near Kanayama Megaliths to look for the butterfly.  The actual observation site is Ikenoshimakouen, an island park. It is some 5km south of the megaliths and 600m south of the Soshino Hachimangu Shrine. In the middle of the Maze River is a small island called Ikenoshima. The local people have been safeguarding the site for the Gifu Cho.

It was disappointing that none were observed this year. It is worrisome, and some fear that the Gifu Cho is becoming endangered as their habit is being destroyed by agriculture and urbanization.