|Shrine at Hana no Ego|
|One of Yakushima's many shrines|
to Ebisu. This one is in Mugyo.
Ebisu is one of Japan's Seven Gods of Fortune. You can find a series of seven large statues erected at seven points around the island in 2011, each statue portraying one of the gods. In fact, let me save that for another blog post.
Today, I'll focus on Houju, the god of fortune of the mountains. Most Japanese may know him by one of his other names: Hoori or Yama no Sachi Hiko.
To understand his place in both religion and culture, let's trace the first Shinto gods and their descendants down to the first emperor of Japan, and stop along the way when we get to Hoori. I'm a newbie when it comes to the Shinto religion, so I'm going to pull out my books (i.e. the picture book versions of the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki) and charts now:
|Abbreviated lineage of Shinto gods and goddesses, as I understand it.|
Okay, stop there. Do you know the story of Urashima Taro and the underwater kingdom? It's a Japanese fairy tale (one of the three most famous Japanese fairy tales) about a boy (Urashima Taro) who rescues a turtle, and in return the turtle takes him to the undersea kingdom of the dragon god and turns into a princess. When Taro decides to go home after three days, she gives him a box and tells him not to open it. (Can you tell where this is going?) When he gets home everything has changed. He recklessly opens the box and instantly turns into an old man.
|Participants in Yakushima's|
Goshinsan Festival stage a
kind of tug-of-war between
the sea and the mountains.
|Yakushima is a favorite|
breeding ground of sea
But Hikohohodemi no Mikoto also has a Buddhist name, Hikohohodemi no Mikoto. In the mid-15th century, the ruler of the Tanegashima clan was introducing Nichiren Buddhism to the islands of Tanegashima, Yakushima, and Kuchinoerabu, but in Yakushima it wasn't a simple switch. You see, while things may have gone smoothly on the geographically flat island of Tanegashima, on the neighboring mountainous island of Yakushima, Shinto worship of mountain gods continued to be popular and the Ritsu school of Buddhism had also been established. In the mid-15th century, there were also a lot of earth quakes and un-fortuitous occurrences in Yakushima, which the islanders contributed to the deity’s resistance to the new religion. So when a monk named Shounin Nichizou from Kyoto came to spread the Nichiren school, it's not surprising that the islanders were reluctant to convert. It is said that, after the customary rituals failed to placate the gods, Nichizou resorted to hiking up Mt. Miyanoura where he stayed for several days and chanted a million times. Then a white deer appeared and knelt before him, and the earthquakes stopped. The islanders were deeply impressed and embraced the Nichiren school.
|A stone shrine erected in|
honor of Ippon Houju atop
Since that time Buddhism has fallen in and out of favor and temples and shrines in the towns of Yakushima have flourished and waned with the tides, but the stone monuments to Houju persist.
*Disclaimer: I don't know squat about Shinto traditions, except that Shinto stories make for great manga adventures. Especially in this land where Shinto and Shigendo and Buddhist schools have melded and flourished and fallen into decline and favor again, there are bound to be many details that have been cloaked in ambiguity. Everyone has their own opinions. For this blog, I've leaned heavily on the snippets written in books by Toshimi Shimano (下野敏見氏) as well as things I've picked up from friend, lectures, and hearsay, but if I've stated something odd, please let me know!