Category Archives: Hida

Hidakinomiya Shrines: Norikura Jinja and Amaterasu Koutai Jingu

DSC04326 Norikura J


In the previous post, we described the practice of Hidaki ひだき in the Hida area of Nyuukawa 丹生川. There used to be many Hidakinomiya日抱宮 shrines in Jomon times; now there are just a handful and they are hard to identify and to find. We visited the Shiroi Hidaki Jinja日抱神社 (岐阜県高山市丹生川町) a few years ago. This year, we sought to find others. For this series of posts on Hidakinomiya shrines in Nyuukawa, you may like to refer to our earlier six-part series of which the first is this link. 


Poster of Norikuradake Mountain Range

Hidakinomiya 日抱宮 were sacred places with a pond around which people would sit and meditate on the reflection of the sun. It was a simple act of nature practice of calming the soul and connecting with sun and sky. Mt. Norikuradake 乗鞍岳 was considered the goshintai sacred vessel of the kami nature spirits. Ryoumen Sukuna was a Jomon of the fourth century who practiced Hidaki in Nyuukawa and at Mt. Norikuradake. Most of the Hidakinomiya lie near Route 158.


Hidakinomiya 日抱宮 along Route 158


Norikura Jinja 乗鞍神社

DSC04348 Norikura haiden

There is an okumiya on top of Norikuradake, called Norikura Honguu Okumiya 乗鞍本宮奧宮. However, Norikura Jinja is the shrine down below. We thought it would be easy to find, but no. A blogsite said that there would be a seki-dan, a stone kaidan. We went back and forth three times. There was a small cemetery where dark pink dahlias and white flowers were blooming amongst the headstones. The kaidan, when found, was covered with vegetation (photo left). We took an unmarked boggy path up to the shrine. We still had to climb up the upper half of the kaidan. Here it is, looking down.

DSC04356 Ichii-no-ki

The jinja is in a forest. Here is the haiden nestled next to an old sacred ichii scepter tree. The gosaishin enshrined kami are Norikura O-kami and Itakiso O-kami. Norikura O-kami is the spirit of Mt. Norikuradake. Itakiso-kami will be explained below. The chigi crossbars on the roof of the prayer hall is cut vertically in the male fashion. The shrine faces in the direction of the winter solstice sunset, which is very significant. This was a preferred direction of the Jomon.


Amaterasu Koutai Jinguu 天照皇大神宮、伊太祁曽宮

DSC04372 white torii

The keidai grounds of this shrine are surprisingly down from street level. After we parked the car, we could see a white torii below. Possibly, before the street was put in, the worshippers came from the valley below. The torii is pure white and stands out against the wooden building in the dark copse of trees. A stream flows below the grounds. We could see a taki waterfall, the source of the stream. (The taki, shown below, is barely visible in the center of the upper left photo.) The chigi is male-cut, for Isotaki no kami. There is a shrine to Amaterasu inside the haiden prayer hall, and the outside sign reads Amaterasu Koutai Jinguu. A Jinguu is supposed to be grander than an ordinary jinja, and koutai means imperial. This is probably the earlier name of the shrine. It is also called Itakisou Miya. Isotaki kami was a later addition, as we will explain.

DSC04376 takiDSC04379 stream below

DSC04385 view out


From Hidakinomiya to Itakisou Shrines

Hidakinomiya are very ancient places of meditation from the early days of Hida. How early? Possibly ten thousand years ago when Hida was being settled by the indigenous Jomon. As we saw in the story of Ryoumen Sukuna, the people of Hida had a peaceful culture in the mountains and valleys where food was abundant and life was good.

Later, this peaceful life ended when newcomers arrived from the Asian mainland and gained social and political power in Nara and Kyoto. An imperial court system was established, kanji writing replaced Woshite, and indigenous people were considered an inferior class. The court expanded its power over the archipelago, and reached its arm to take over Hida. Even though the people under Ryoumen Sukuna resisted, they were overcome by imperial forces. Hidakinomiya began to disappear and a new kami from the Kii region replaced the old ones.

Isotaki no kami was brought to Hida from Kii and named as the enshrined kami in many jinja renamed Itakisou jinja, including the two Hidakinomiya that we visited. Isotaki is a later kami who fostered the growth of trees and cultivation of paddy crops. Interestingly, when we mentioned this name, people in Hida Kanayama had never heard of him. 


We found and visited two more Hidakinomiya shrines in Nyuukawa. To think that they have existed for two thousand years is awesome. Yet, it is sad that their original Nature spirituality as Hidaki places of honoring the Sun has been hidden.

2018.01.08 Links added.




Jomon Heroes: Ryoumen Sukuna and Aterui


The Kanayama Megaliths were built in the land of Hida long ago. We have been running articles on Hida and its history. We have shown you a shrine by the name of Hidakinomiya in Shiroi in the Nyuukawa district of Takayama. The name, Hida, probably came from the practice of Hidaki. Hida folklore says that the nation of Nihon originated in Hida, and that they came from Mt. Norikuradake.

The residents of Hida, who consider themselves descended from the Jomon, still speak of a local hero from long ago named Ryoumen Sukuna. He lived here, he prayed there, he went to Mt. Norikuradake, he stood up to the powerful Imperial court, and so on go the stories.

Iwakage has already posted two articles about Ryoumen Sukuna, the hero of Hida. Just who was he? Why is he admired in Hida but described as a demon in Nihon Shoki?

In researching his story, we came upon the name Aterui. Aterui was the hero of Mutsu and Oshu (now Tohoku). His story is similar to Sukuna’s.

Jomon Period

To understand, we will review what was going on at the end of the Jomon period. The Jomon were the original inhabitants of the Hinomoto Japanese archipelago, since 14,000 BCE. Far from being barbarian hunter-gatherers, these people soon developed agriculture and sedentary lives in villages. Although they spoke different languages, they were unified in speech through the efforts of Isanami and Isanagi. The Jomon had at least one form of writing, called Woshite


Motoake Woshite chart by S. Sakata

The Jomon lived peaceful lives. It is said that Jimmu Tenno unified the land in around 660 BCE.

Yayoi Period

During the Yayoi period, 300 BCE to 300 CE, there was turmoil on the Asian continent, and droves of toraijin arrived on the shores of Hinomoto from China and Korea. These toraijin became powerful in society and created a court system. Their leaders had huge mounds (kofun) built as their burial places. The Kofun period was followed by the Asuka and Nara periods.


Nintoku’s tomb in Osaka

Around this time, an Imperial Court was formed and referred to as Yamato Choutei. The leaders were the toraijin who had assumed superiority and harbored an antipathy toward the indigenous Jomon. The provinces of Hida and Oshu were resistant to give up thier Jomon culture. Yamato Choutei sought to put down all dissenters.

Ryoumen Sukuna

In the fourth century, Ryoumen Sukuna was the leader of the people of Hida. He performed the Hidaki meditation practice at various sacred sites in Hida called Hidakinomiya, including in the Nyuukawa area near Takayama, and even on Mt Norikuradake. Sukuna would not yield to outsiders. Yamato Choutei went after Ryoumen Sukuna. With their greater numbers and strength, they eventually succeeded in killing Sukuna and bringing Hida under their control. Later, Oda Nobunaga would enter Gifu and take over a castle in the present city of Gifu.

The name, Ryoumen, translates to double-faced. He is described in the Nihon Shoki as a demon with two faces and four arms. However, in Hida, Ryoumen always looked after his people, and they much admired and respected him. This double view of Ryoumen is probably the reason for his name. To the victor belong the rights of writing history; thus Ryoumen is described as a villain in the official chronicles.

Far from being a monster, Sukuna was a pious man. He is well-remembered in Hida Kanayama, especially at Chinjyusan, the little yama (san) temple-shrine where he went to pray for peace. Chinjyu means shizumeru mamoru. Thus it is a place of shizumeru becoming calm, to be at peace, and mamoru, to protect. Thus, this mountain is a place which provides solace for the soul and sets it at peace, a secluded place for rest and contemplation.


Ryoumen Sukuna by Enkuu


Aterui was the hero of Oshu, now called Tohoku, at the end of the 8th century. At that time, the people of Oshu were the indigenous ones who have been deridingly called Ezo and Emishi. You may have heard of Ezo/Emishi in the negative view of those in power.

When Yamato Choutei in 724 established the kokufu government office at Tagajo in Michinoku, they were ready to control the Ezo with military power. Aterui formed a coalition of the Ezo tribes to protect their homeland and their way of life. That way of life was to respect the kami of nature and ancestors. Their seasonal foods consisted of salmon, deer, and rice cultivation. In contrast, Yamato had paddy rice agriculture, metalware, burial mounds. The Ezo resisted the domination of Yamato. They wanted to maintain their identity and independence.

Yamato Choutei went after the rebels. Emperor Kanmu sent the famous Sakanoue Tamuramaro with a large troop after Aterui’s small band. Aterui’s stronghold was in Iwate, and they resisted. Finally, in 802, Aterui was captured and beheaded even though Sakanoue protested that he be spared to help govern the land. The area received the name, Hitokabe, human neck. There is a river by the same name. And his son, named Hitokabemaru, also resisted and was slain. Later, there was a castle in Esashi, Iwate, called Hitokabe-jo, Hitokabe Castle. Now on the hill, grass grows over the remains of the castle.




In most of the literature we have seen about the transition from Jomon to Yayoi to Nara periods, scholars and other “authorities” claim that the transition was peaceful. Having learned of these two cases, one can hardly say that the transition was peaceful or compassionate.

The cases of these two freedom-fighters and the suppression of the Woshite writing of the Jomon attest to this.




Hida: Roots of Nihon

Hidakaido: Sukuna and Aterui

Aterui: Great Hero of Emishi


Wosite was Deliberately Erased




A Visit to Asadori Myoujin

DSC04552 hokora & stones

October 16, 2017.  This is the report of our visit to the Asadori Myoujin shrine. We have reported that a Himukae winter festival takes place here on winter solstice mornings to welcome the sun. Our specific purpose was to study the layout of the stones which are said to mark directions to sunrises on solstices and equinoxes.

We visited Asadori Myoujin in the rain. The site is raised slightly above the surrounding plain. We parked in the lot with a sugi grove to the southeast. We turned to face the torii, and we could see that the path led straight to a second torii on the grounds. This would be the path of the sunlight on winter solstice morning. The azimuth angle was verified by our analog and digital compasses.

DSC04541DSC04556 copy


We pray at a small hokura in front of a mound. See photo at top. Directly in front of us is the sun-stone draped in shimenawa. Beyond it we see the top of another stone. Here is a close-up so that you can see the stone behind the shimenawa sun-stone.

DSC04552 hokora & stones copy

Distance measurements were taken with a laser measure. The distances found are:  from second torii to hokura base, 5.1m; to the sun stone,  11.0m; and to the winter solstice stone, 19.0m.

It has been reported that there are four or five stones lined up in a row, the one furthest west of the winter solstice stone would be the summer solstice stone. We are unable to see the other stones due to the topography and the growth of plants, plus the area behind the hokura is cordoned off with bamboo. We would have liked to take measurements of the distances between the stones. Unfortunately, we could not do it. So we will have to return another time when there is less vegetation and we can see the other stones.

This is the alignment on winter solstice morning: sunlight streams through the first torii, the second torii, the hokura, the sun-stone, and the winter solstice stone. Here is the view looking from the inner torii to the place where the winter solstice sun will rise. 


We noticed that the rising winter solstice sun would be blocked by the grove of tall sugi on the other side of the parking lot, in the background of the above photo. Perhaps the winter Himukae festival takes place after the sun has cleared the trees.





Watersheds and River Systems of Hida


Watersheds of Gifu

Rivers of Hida

Our previous post was about the meeting of the Maze and Hida Rivers in Kanayama. The river systems of Hida are very interesting since they are in the central part of the island of Honshu. Thus there are rivers flowing to the north to the Sea of Japan, and south to the Pacific.

Maze River.  The Maze River (馬瀬川, Maze-gawa) begins further south and west than the Hida. It flows through Gero-shi and into the Hida River at Kanayama. Photo below, left.

Map of Gifu (above)

The watershed areas of the Gifu river systems are shown in the map of Gifu-ken. Gifu’s neighbors on the west are Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, and Shiga, and Mie in the southwest. On the east, Gifu is bordered by Nagano with Aichi at the bottom right, the southeast.

Major Watersheds of Gifu

Watershed is written:  流域  ryuu-iki.  The large watersheds systems are as follows. The upper left and right on the map:

庄川  Shou-gawa,
神通川  Jinzu-gawa also called  宮川 Miya-gawa
These river systems drain into Toyama Bay. The three large systems in the middle, from the left:
揖斐川  Ibi-gawa,
長良川  Nagara-gawa,
木曽川  Kiso-gawa+飛騨川  Hida-gawa
Below them is
木曽川  Kiso-gawa
and two others. Since the Maze-gawa flows into the Hida-gawa and the Hida-gawa in turn into the Kiso-gawa, these rivers all drain into the Pacific Ocean at Ise Bay near the city of Nagoya.

dsc04138-whirlpoolflowing through Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, and Mie prefectures. It is the main river of the Kiso Three Rivers together with the Ibi-gawa and Nagara-gawa. In our post at Yamanomiya, we showed the whirlpool in the Kiso-gawa at Kawakami Jinja in Yaotsu town in Minokamo (photo at left).

Iwaya Dam.  The Iwaya Dam, indicated in redIwayaDam in the center of the map, is located very close to the Kanayama Megaliths. Note the Maze-gawa flowing south from the dam to the town of Kanayama where it joins with the Hida-gawa from the northeast.
Jinzu-Miya River.  The Miya River (宮川 Miya-gawa) flows from Gifu-ken northward to Toyama-ken. When it reaches Toyama, it is called Jinzū River (神通川 Jinzū-gawa). It is 120 km (75 mi) in length and has a watershed of 2,720 km2 (1,050 sq mi). Both of these river names, the Miya (shrine) and the Jinzu (movement of kami), are respectful of the kami of rivers.
The Divide.  A watershed divide is called bunsui rei  分水嶺. Where is the divide of central Honshu? Hint: logic tells us that it would be located at the intersection of the four large watersheds, to the northwest of the Iwaya Dam. We will have more in a later post.

Snapshots of Kanayama: Where the Maze and Hida Rivers meet

2017-06-24 11.55.07 confluence

It is a thrill to stand at the power spot where two rivers meet. In Kanayama, the Hida River in the east, and the Maze River in the west join to continue their journey to the Pacific Ocean. First, here are some photos taken on the town side. The plaque reads: Maze-gawa, Maze River. It seems to translate into the Rapids of the Horse. I don’t know if it really means that. Nevertheless, the name reflects the rapids of the swift mountain stream. Those large leaves in the photo on the right are the hoba, used widely in Hida cuisine, such as the hoba sushi and hoba miso.

Looking at the Maze River from the bridge, this is what I saw. Upstream is to our left and downstream to the right.

At the end of the bridge, there is a small roadside shrine.

I made my way back to the town side of the Maze and followed the river south. Hydrangeas of different colors were in bloom.

It is the season for fishing for ayu, the delectable fish of clear mountain streams. Hida folks are very proud of their ayu.

DSC04038 Ayu fishing

I took the bridge to cross over to the east bank. South of this bridge is Mino which is not a part of Hida, geographically or culturally.

DSC04040 bridge over Hida-gawa

A view from the bridge, near the east side. Kanayama town continues on the other side of the river. After walking a few blocks right and left, I came to the Hidakanayama Train Station which you’ve seen in the earlier post. I’ve shown you a lot of photos of the river. I hope you enjoyed the beauty and serenity of the rivers that run through Kanayama.

2017-06-24 11.55.55



Snapshots of Kanayama: Foods

2017-06-22 18.58.35 HobaMiso

Hida Kanayama is a food lover’s paradise. Not only are there fresh seasonal produce deliciously served, there are local specialties as well. Let us show you some of them.

First we introduce you to hoba miso with Hida gyu (Hida beef). Hida gyu is wonderfully marbled and sooo tender! Above we see Hida gyu on a grill plate heated by a sterno burner (which conveniently goes out when the food is about done). It is served with green onions, piman peppers, and mushrooms, with the2017-06-22 19.04.04 Hoba gyu sushifamous hoba miso of Hida. Here is one of the Hida gyu nigiri sushi as served in the restaurant of Karen.Having one of these sushi is heavenly! They come two on a plate, doubly heavenly.

Of course, we must have hoba sushi, a specialty of the area. Here is what it looks like. It is wrapped in a fresh green hoba leaf that grows abundantly in Kanayama. It is delicious the first day, and possibly even better the second day. In case you are wondering, a hoba leaf is a type of very large camellia leaf.

2017-06-28 13.32.42 hoba sushi

Restaurant Hizan レストランひざん offers many popular meals. Look at the lunch you can have for only 1000 yen! And on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Hizan serves the Japanese breakfast called morning service including egg, toast, and more for the price of a cup of coffee!

DSC04054 Hizan lunch menu

DSC04055 Hizan morning service





Kimi no Na Wa (the Movie Your Name) and the Land of Hida

Posters of Hida Kanayama by Shiho Tokuda

The Movie Kimi no Na wa (君の名は)

Did you know that the block-buster move, Your Name, takes place in Hida as well as in Tokyo? Not only is it a terrific movie, it is highly relevant to followers of this Iwakage blogsite about Kanayama Megaliths and Hida Kanayama.

Hida Furukawa is the real-life name of the movie town of Itomori where Mitsuha lives with her sister and grandmother. Through life in Itomori, we learn about traditional culture, shrine rituals and festivals. We eventually come to realize the deeper meaning of the movie. We discussed some this on the Okunomichi blogsite.

There are many hits when you search on keywords from the movie. You can easily find the places in Tokyo where the scenes in the movie take place. With a little more effort, you’ll learn the places in Hida that are depicted. People are talking about pilgrimages to these places in Hida.

May I suggest a mini-pilgrimage to the Kanayama Megaliths?

Now, let’s point out some scenes from the movie that are relevant when visiting Hida and Kanayama.

Hida Kanayama Train Station

If you take the Hida Wide-View express train to Hida Kanayama station, you already know how quaint the station is. There is the station-master’s room (and sometimes he’s not even there when you arrive). There are only two tracks, one going north and the other south. There is a covered overpass with stairs at each end (no elevator) to cross over the tracks. The train station in the movie is modeled after the Furukawa station. It looks almost exactly like the Hida Kanayama station!

Posters of Kanayama

Inside the waiting room of the Hida Kanayama station, there are some very large posters showing the beautiful vistas of Kanayama and the Kanayama Megaliths. These are the creations of our very own Shiho Tokuda. You can see three of her posters at the top of the earlier post.  And here they are again. There is a scene in the movie where Taki’s friends are in the lobby discussing the trip to Itomori. In the background behind Miki Okudera and Tsukasa can be seen the bottom halves of posters. The posters resemble, but are not the same as Kanayama Megaliths, the waterfalls, and the kinkotsu walking tour of Kanayama.   

The Megalith

The goshintai of Grandmother’s shrine is the megalith in the center of the meteor crater. Mitsuha goes there with Grandmother and leaves the kuchikamizake there in the iwaya cavern of the megalith. Later, Taki enters the cavern and finds the sake. Not all megalithic structures in Japan have caverns, so this is unusual. Although the megalith in the movie does not physically resemble the Iwaya-Iwakage of the Kanayama Megaliths, I felt that they were still very similar to each other. If you have been inside the Iwaya-Iwakage, you may have the same feeling of sanctity and mystery.


Photo of Myoken Shrine in the cavern of Iwaya-Iwakage

I can’t help but feel that Makoto Shinkai, before making the movie, went to Kanayama and visited the Kanayama Megaliths. He has a deep sense of the nature of the land of Hida. Why don’t you come and discover Hida Kanayama for yourself?