Category Archives: Shrines

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.



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







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



Miyajidake Hikari no Michi 2019 February

IMGP2630 chart
Directions of sunset as seen from Miyajidake Jinjya

In 2017, Chika-san reported on her visit to Miyajidake Jinjya to see the sunset of the Hikarinomichi. This year, she went there on Feburary 20. The day was cloudy, so she walked down to the beach.

IMGP2630 chart copy
Closeup of chart

She found there the chart shown at the top of this page. The location is 33deg 46min 36.5sec, 130deg 28 min 13.6sec. The center straight line is the line of sight from the shrine at about 12 degrees south of west. The line to the west is marked at zero degrees. The loop is that of the analemma which tells how fast/slow the actual sun is compared with the mean sun, on the days of the year. Times of sunset are given. The places where the sun sinks into the sea or an island are indicated at different days of the year. Extreme far left is the day of winter solstice at 28deg south of west. Ainoshima is the island where the sun sets on or about February 20; it is straight ahead of the shrine.

The following photos were taken 20 min before and just after sunset.


Winter and Summer Solar Observations at Shrines and Kanayama


Winter at Ise Jingu. Photo by K. Sugisaka taken on 2019.01.27.


As you know from the previous post about welcoming the new year at Asadori Myoujin shrine, the winter solstice ceremony marks the beginning of a new year.

Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture is an ancient Shinto shrine. Throngs of people visit Ise Jingu, especially in January. To view the sunrise over the Ise Jingu torii in winter is a popular and sacred event from ancient times until even now. 

When we received this photo from Sugisaka-san, although it was taken in the afternoon more than a month after the winter solstice, it reminded us of similar solar observations that take place at the Kanayama Megaliths. On the pages of Iwakage, Okunomichi, and WoshiteWorld, we have described other ways in which ancient people have watched the sun. 


Summer Observations at Kanayama Megaliths

For the readers of Iwakage’s blog, we remind you that the Kanayama Megaliths have solar observations before and after the summer solstice, at Senkoku-ishi.

3/21 – 9/23, 90 days before and after summer solstice, the sun rises over Stone C at Senkoku-ishi.


Sunrise over Stone C, summer.

4/22 – 8/20, 60 days before and after summer solstice, an arrow-shaped spot of light appears in the chamber of Senkoku-ishi, reaching the left end of a stone board on summer solstice day.


Arrowhead of light inside Senkoku Ishi, summer.

5/21 – 7/22, 30 days before and after summer solstice, a dashed line appears in Senkoku-ishi. A striking dashed spotlight appears which is enjoyed by many, year after year.


Dashed spotlight in Senkoku Ishi, summer 30 days before and after

Winter Observations at Kanayama Megaliths

10/23 – 2/20, 60 days before and after the winter solstice, at Higashinoyama, the sunrise is viewed between Stones R and S.


Winter sunrise at Higashinoyama, Stones R and S.

The above four images are from the Guidebook of Kanayama Megaliths.


Twenty-five days before and after the summer solstice in Honolulu, the sun will pass directly overhead at local noon. This, too, can be an indicator of summer solstice day exactly midway between the zenith dates. This event is popularly called Lahaina Noon.


Winter Solstice Sunrise Observation at Ise Jingu

Sugisaka-san has provided the following information about the sunrise event. On winter solstice morning, the sun rises over the center of the eastern torii at Uji bridge. One month prior to, and one month after, winter solstice day, the sun rises from the trees on the left of the torii. This page on the Ise Jingu website shows the winter sunrise event,  



Winter solstice sunrise at Ise Jingu, postcard by Kankan.






Asadori Winter Matsuri 2018


Sacred and Science

The Asadori Myoujin Jinja has been observing a sacred winter solstice ceremony for thousands of years, since Jomon times. The Kanayama Megaliths have been tracking the path of the sun for the purpose of a solar calendar for five thousand years. How are they connected? For a ritual to be conducted exactly on the sacred day, in this case winter solstice day, the people had to know the calendar correctly to one day. Ancient Jomon people constructed the megalithic observatory which serves this purpose. Many old shrines, such as the Asadori Myoujin, have been laid out facing the direction of the winter solstice sunrise, and this also requires knowledge of solar astronomy.

Winter Solstice Matsuri, 2018

The Asadori Myoujin Jinja’s winter solstice matsuri took place at dawn on December 22, 2018. There was a driving rain, but many people were present. There was a bonfire outside the torii, for warmth and light. In clear weather, the rising sun would send its light through the torii to the altar at the small shrine. This morning, a canopy had been erected in front of the altar for some protection from the rain.

The ceremony opened with Baba-san, the negi-san (senior priest), leading with three calls of the Asadori (morning bird):

The group replied:
Senior priest Baba-san explained that they raised their voices joyously to greet the sun as it rises on winter solstice day. The guji-san chief priest recited a norito to Asadori Myoujin in gratitude for blessing the earth with the return of the sun to the northern skies.
After the formal ceremony, Baba-san lauded the kokoro (heart-mind) of those present for braving the heavy rain at dawn. Then, he announced that his 96th birthday would be the following day. After a lifetime of serving in this matsuri, he was stepping down and turning it over to his son.
96 year-old Baba-san
and Guji-san in foreground


Photos by Chika-san.