The Kashima Jingu Shrine
October 1, 2003 · 8:12am EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389

Every twelve years, an Imperial messenger visits Ibaragi-ken for the purpose of attending a grand festival at an ancient shrine. The festival is called Mifune Matsuri. The shrine is the Kashima Jingu.

The Kashima Jingu shrine is one of the seventeen shrines, called Chokusai-sha, where prayers by the Imperial messenger are held.

During the Nara and Heian periods, Imperial messengers often visited the shrine. So relevant was the journey that some historians have ventured to say that the shrine might have been one of the main reasons for the building of the Old Tokaido road. The shrine is believed to have been built approximately 2700 years ago, during the reign of the Emperor Jimmu.

The Kashima Jingu shrine is dedicated to a deity called Takemikazuchi-no-Okami, the deity of peace and martial valor. Many warriors worshipped there, Yoritomo Minamoto, founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, among them.

The shrine was frequently the last and most important stop in many samurai's pilgrimages, and figures prominently in the history of several Bujutsu ryu. It appears in the written and oral traditions of many families as the place where troubled ancestors found a deeper understanding of life, achieved a greater affinity with their martial art, or were even capable of creating the foundation of a new one.

One of the shrine's most pleasant tales is not a grandiose one, but a simple story whose meaning goes beyond that of realizing a better way to draw the sword. It is the tale of a samurai, who, after losing his former position as retainer, had lost his spirit. He had kept his skills, and had struggled to support his family, but he had lost his reason for life. There, as he walked through the sando, he considered many alternatives. None of them were uplifting. His troubled spirit felt heavy as he pondered what he considered to be a doomed and useless future.

Arriving at the shrine, he wondered if his shinsen (offering) would be welcome, for he was a man in disgrace. Regardless, he offered his respects, and sat quietly, although expecting nothing. It was then that he heard a scream and he ran to investigate.

In the direction of the gate, he saw an old lady who had fallen and was obviously injured, calling for help. Her basket of ripe persimmons had spilled, and the fruits had scattered. There were some bystanders close by, but none seemed to pay attention to her. The samurai rushed to her assistance, ashamed that those closer to her did nothing, but as he arrived, he could see the old lady no more. There were no footprints on the ground where she was supposed to have been. Only fallen leaves lay there, still wet with the morning dew. There was no trace of the basket or the persimmons.

He asked the bystanders about the old lady, but no one had seen her or heard her cries. The samurai was confused. Not only had the old woman vanished, but, even if she had somehow managed to run away unnoticed, where would anyone find ripe persimmons that time of the year? He felt uncomfortable as he could not find answers to the odd incident. He felt all the worse because having seen someone in need, he hadn't been able to help. The thought added to his uneasiness, and he was ready to discard it, but as he walked back to the shrine, he suddenly realized the meaning of his vision, and respectfully expressed his gratitude.

Upon returning home, after his long pilgrimage, he took brush in hand and drew the characters of a single word: Jihi - benevolence. His reason for life had been returned to him. He brushed many waka afterwards, referring to this moment. His skills developed even more and his spirit strengthened. He commanded for all his successors to visit the Kashima shrine at least once in their lifetime. His wishes have been faithfully kept.

The Shrine Today

The Main Shrine was donated by Hidetada Tokugawa, father of Masayuki Tokugawa (later Masayuki Hoshina). The Inner Shrine was a donation by Ieyasu Tokugawa. The Shrine Gates were a gift from Yorifusa Tokugawa, lord of Mito.

All the structures remain sound, retaining their ancient splendor and elegance, and are protected as important cultural properties of Ibaragi-ken.

The sword kept at the shrine, called Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi, is considered to be one of Japan's national treasures. It is believed to have been forged over 1300 years ago. Measuring 2.71 meters, it is the oldest iron sword remaining in Japan. The sword, as the ancient tale goes, was used by Takemikazushi no Kami himself to help Emperor Jimmu in time of hardships.

Other relics kept at the shrine include: the gold lacquered saddle, given by Yoritomo Minamoto, founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, along with many horses, as an offering to bring peace to the country; the Hitachi Obi, a belt worn by the Empress Jingu while she was pregnant, which she gave to the shrine in gratitude at the birth of her baby, the future Emperor Ojin; the Twenty-Four Jewels, a gift from the Empress Goichijo; the old copper seal presented by the Emperor Konin; the sumi-e paintings of one hundred horses (Hyakuba zu) by Sesson; the sword "Kageyasu" given by Tokugawa Yorifuza, lord of Mito; and the famous sacred scroll "Shingo".

The Kashima Jingu shrine is one of the most revered and significant places in the history of Japanese Bujutsu and Budo, and is certainly worth a visit for any traveler interested in history or spiritual matters, or just desiring to witness an unforgettable site, that allows the visitor to take a glimpse into a fascinating historical past.


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