As I mentioned a little bit in my profile page, I am living in TOCHIGI prefecture of which a city called “NIKKO” is famous for its temples and shrines registered all together as UNESCO World Heritage in December 1999.
Last week, I participated in a MATSURI called “TŌHAI-SAI” of “FUTARASAN Shrine (Mt. FUTARA Shrine)” which is one of those shrines.
FUTARASAN Shrine is enshrining three Shinto Divinities: “ŌNAMUCHI-NO-MIKOTO”, “TAGORIHIME-NO-MIKOTO” and “AJISUKITAKAHIKONE-NO-MIKOTO” (“NO-MIKOTO” is a term of respect for a Divinity or an emperor. I will explain more about Shinto and its Divinities recorded in KOJIKI (the oldest Japanese mythology) in future articles.) .
“ŌNAMUCHI-NO-MIKOTO” is also known as “ŌKUNINUSHI-NO-MIKOTO” who is the Divinity enshrined in “IZUMO-TAISHA (IZUMO Grand Shrine)” which is one of the two major Grand Shrines in Japan together with “ISE-JINGŪ (ISE Grand Shrine)” .
“TAGORIHIME-NO-MIKOTO” is the wife of ŌNAUCHI and “AJISUKITAKAHIKONE-NO-MIKOTO” is a son of the couple.
On the way to the FUTARASAN Shrine, you can see a beautiful bridge called “SHINKYŌ (The Sacred Bridge)” which was built across the DAIYA River around 1,250 years ago which is now known as a gateway for NIKKO.
According to a legend, this bridge was originally built when a Buddhist priest “SHŌDŌ-JYŌNIN” wanted to cross the river to climb the Mt. FUTARA (also known as Mt. NANTAI) with his followers to build a temple in the mountain. At that moment, he was blocked in front of the river because it was flowing too fast, he prayed for God’s help at which a huge Buddhist guardian “JINJA-DAIŌ” appeared and threw two snakes. From the backs of these snakes, lots of “YAMASUGE (monkey grass)” grew forming a bridge.
Current splendid style of the SHINKYO was made in 1636 and greatly renovated in 2005. When I visited there, I saw many elementary students on a school trip crossing the bridge.
The FUTARASAN shrine has three buildings, one is called “HONSHA” located close to the most famous Shinto shrine in NIKKO “TŌSHŌ-GŪ” and also “RINNŌ-JI”, the second building called “CHŪGŪ-SHI” is in the half-way up the Mt. FUTARA and on the north shore of “CHŪZENJI Lake”, and the third building called “OKUMIYA” which is located at the summit of Mt.FUTARA.
TŌHAI-SAI is a ceremony based on the mountain worship for Mt. FUTARA in which you start climbing the mountain at midnight from the CHŪGŪ-SHI targeting at the OKUMIYA, then wait for the sunrise at the summit to pray for the sun.
During this event which is held from July 30 to August 7 every year, FUTARASAN Shrine is crowded by many people who want to climb the mountain and visit the OKUMIYA or to meet and pray for the three Divinities inside the “NAIJIN (an inner shrine)” of the CHŪGŪ-SHI. Both of them are allowed only once a year.
My target this time was the latter.
To visit the CHŪGŪ-SHI of FUTARASAN Shrine, you pass along the winding road called “IROHA-ZAKA” in which there are about 48 curves. Taking a break at “AKECHI-DAIRA Plateau” where you can see “AKECHIDAIRA Ropeway” and “KEGON Falls” from an observatory, you continue the route targeting at the CHŪZENJI Lake mentioned above.
Arriving at the CHŪGŪ-SHI , before entering into the NAIJIN, “HARAE” and “TAMAGUSHI-HŌTEN” are performed by Shinto priests.
“HARAE” means an ablutionary ritual to expel all your impurities, which is the most important thing in Shinto. “TAMAGUSHI-HŌTEN” means making an offering of “TAMAGUSHI (a sacred branch of a Japanese plant called “SAKAKI”)” before the Divinities because divine spirits are said to be drawn to such natural objects.
These rituals are always held in any Shinto shrines before entering its inner part.
After these rituals, at last you go into the inside of NAIJIN following the priests.
One by one, from the entrance, you crawl up on your knees slowly and silently to the statues of the three Divinities, and dimly see their faces as there is no light in this room.
Here, you take a piece of paper in your mouth not to breathe on the Divinities and must always keep your head lower not to look down at the Divinities, never allowed to stand up.
After getting out of the room, “OMIKI (holy SAKE)” is served to you so you drink it a little bit with a small plate.
TŌHAI-SAI, an event based on the mountain worship for Mt. FUTARA, is said to have more than 1,200 years history.
Thinking of the fact that people at that time climbed the mountain at midnight and pray for the sun at the summit (here you can see the combination with the sun worship) without enough tools, while it takes more than 30 minutes by car, I again felt the depth of the worship for the nature in ancient Japanese mind.
We Japanese have the way of thinking that each of our soul is coupled with a god’s spirit as a divided and separate version of its true form.
So it might be natural for Yamato Gokoro to long and thank for the nature because the God resides in it and we are part of it.
We are made by the God and the nature provides everything we need.
To be thankful just to the fact we are living, without expecting something in return, is the core idea of this philosophy.