Noilly Prattle: Road Trip to the Sea of Japan (2)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Road Trip to the Sea of Japan (2)

Izumo Taisha  出雲大社  
(the Grand Shrine of Izumo)

main entrance of Izumo Taisha
     After leaving Matsue we drove along the coast of Lake Shinji to one of the oldest and most historic Shrines in Japan—Izumo Taisha (出雲大社), the Grand Shrine of Izumo. The Shrine is associated with Japan's creation mythology and is often considered to have been in existence in the 8th Century according to the nation's oldest chronicles—Kojiki and Nihon Shocki. The Shrine is also associated with the Kagura (god entertainment) performances we were planning to see in the evening.

Okuninushi no Okami
        The principal kami (god or deity) enshrined in Izumo Taisha is the “gentle-hearted” Okuninushi no Okami. He is said to have created the land of Japan and was the ruler of Izumo and the deity of good relationships and marriage. Consequently, people wishing to obtain a good marriage come to Izumo Taisha to pray and buy good luck charms. If and when Mr. or Ms. Right is found they will often come to Izumo Taisha to celebrate their marriage.

        Perhaps the most characteristic oddities at Izumo Taisha are the shimenawas (sacred straw ropes). There are two of them, the largest of which is 13.5 meters long, weighs about 5 tons and adorns the entrance to the Kagura-den (an enormous hall). The twisted ropes (said to suggest sexual union) are the most easily recognized and distinctive features of Izumo Taisha.

wedding party in front of the Kagura-den and the large 13.5 meter shimenawa

the smaller of the two shimenawas

Amaterasu granting her favors to Okuninushi
        According to the creation myths, when Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, descended to earth Okuninushi gave him his country. As a reward Amaterasu gave Okuninushi Izumo Taisha and her favors as well. Shinto is an animistic nature worshiping belief system with a lot of hanky panky among the gods and, presumably, mortals as well.
one of two assembly buildings for
the 8,000,000 Shinto deities
        Izumo Taisha is also the meeting place for the annual convocation of Shinto's 8,000,000 deities from all over Japan. There are two long buildings which are said to house these numerous personalities and serve as seating for their convocation meetings. I couldn't quite figure out how they could fit 8,000,000 deities into these two relatively small although quite long buildings.

scale replica
        A record compiled around 950 (Heian period) describes the shrine as the highest building in the land, reaching approximately 48 meters. Evidence of the original sanctuary, part of one of the pillars for the structure has been discovered—three cedar trees with a three-meter diameter at its base. It is on display at the shrine. There is also a small scale model of what the sanctuary is thought to have looked like made by some college students.

        One will see lots of statues of rabbits strewn around here and there in Izumo Taisha. It turns out there is a story about the “White Hare of Inaba”. I had never heard of it, but It's well known among the Japanese. Briefly, the story goes like this:

white rabbits pounding pine nuts
        When Okuninushi was young he and his eighty brother gods wanted to marry one Princess Yakami and were all traveling to Inaba, her country, to court her. Along the way the ran across a poor hare along the seashore that had been flayed of its skin. The hare said that he was from an island and had tricked some crocodiles the line up and form a bridge that he could hop across. As the hare reached the mainland he bragged about having tricked the crocs but the last one heard his boast and tore his skin off.

the inner sanctuary of
Izumo Taisha
        Okuninushi's cruel brothers laughed and decided to torture the hare further. They told him to jump in the sea and he would feel soothed. Of course, the salt water only increased his pain and discomfort. The gentle-hearted Okuninushi took pity on him and told him to bathe in the fresh water of the river and then to gather the flowering spikes of some cattail plants and roll around in them until he was covered with fleece. The cured rabbit then predicted that Okuninushi would win the hand of Princess Yakami.

main Torii (gate) to Izumo Taisha
        After walking through the Shrine's Main Torii (gate) we spotted a Starbucks across the street and went in for a snack before driving the two hours along the coast of the Sea of Japan to Gotsu Hot Spring for an evening Kagura performance. 

the Sea of Japan

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