ISE: THE HOLIEST SHRINE
The Ise Shrine is rebuilt on an adjacent lot every 20 years.
According to Japanese popular belief, the Ise Shrine complex is the holiest of Japan. It is located in Ise City in the Mie Prefecture on the South East coast. The shrine is composed of two similar complexes. The earliest complex, said to date from the third century, is called the Naiku, or Inner Shrine. It is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami. The second complex, the Geku, or Outer Shrine, is about six kilometers (3.7 miles) away. It is thought to have been built in the fifth century for Toyouke no Okami, the Grain Goddess. Building material from roof to floors for both structures and finishing comes entirely from Japanese white cypress, Hinoki. The main building of the Inner Shrine is designed in a special form of architectural style, called shimmei-zukuri. This style is prohibited for other shrines. It's simple rectangular design is said to derive from the granaries and treasure storehouses of prehistoric Japan.
The sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami is the mythical ancestor of the Imperial family. She is represented by the sacred mirror, one of the three objects (Imperial Regalia) symbolic of the divine authority of the imperial family. Legend holds that the inner shrine dates from when Princess Yamatohime, daughter of Emperor Suinin, was searching for a final resting place for the sacred mirror. When she reached Ise, she heard the voice of Amaterasu Omikami, saying, "This is a good place, and I would like to stay here."
Every twenty years the buildings at Ise are torn down and new ones are
built on an immediately adjacent site. In this way the site is purified
and building materials renewed while preserving the original design from
the third and fourth centuries. The new shrines, however identical with
the old ones, are not considered a replica of Ise, but are "Ise re-created."
That is, the recreation process reveals Shinto's understanding of nature
which does not make monuments, but "lives and dies, always renewed and
|IZUMO: THE OLDEST SHRINE:|
Izumo Shrine Entrance with torii and view of haiden.
|The Izumo Shrine, located in the town of Taisha on the northwest
coast facing Korea, is believed to be the oldest shrine in Japan. The Kojiki
in the 8th century describes the mythic origins of the shrine in the story
of its chief kami, Okuninushi no Mikoto (also Onamochi).
In this myth, Okuninushi no Mikoto is developing the world of mortal man
when Ninigi no Mikoto (grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami) descends
to earth. Okuninushi no Mikoto gives over temporal rule of the land to
Ninigi no Mikoto in exchange for control over divine affairs. The sun goddess
was so pleased by this gift to her grandson that she had a shrine erected
for Okuninshi no Mikoto on the Izumo site. He is traditionally regarded
as the god of marriage, good fortune, and agriculture.
Some scholars have suggested that this myth might represent a pre-historic territorial agreement between the Yamato (Japanese) invaders and another racial group previously in control of this northern approach to Korea. The design of the present shrine may date back to the first century. It has been periodically rebuilt. The last honden built in 1744 is the twenty-fifth building since the original.
One of the main festivals held at Izumo Shrine is Kamiari Matsuri (the "gods being present") in October. It is believed that at this time gods throughout Japan come to Izumo to discuss their respective kingdoms. For this reason one ancient name for October in many parts of Japan is Kanazuki,"month without gods." During this festival small box-shaped housed are placed in the shrine precincts to house the visiting gods.
The architectural style, taisha-zukuri, provides a different style from the the flat roof and almost square shape of the Ise Shrine. The Izumo Shrine is composed with two levels of roof curves and a long narrow hall (see photo 3). During the Nara period, when Buddhism was popularized, changes were made to the design of Izumo Shrine. The roof was made curved and the Chinese style gable-end boards and ridge-end ornament were added to the original structure. Legend holds that the high-floor dwelling style of the Izumo Shrine is meant to resemble the shape of the emperor's palace. A central post probably symbolizes "the august central pillar," a pillar with which Izanagi and Izanam-I, the first deities of Japanese, stirred the ocean as they created the islands of Japan.
The residence of the kami is centrally located in the honden. Pilgrims do not worship within the kami sanctuary. The haiden, or worship hall, for this purpose is considered to be a later addition to the shrine.
|More images of Izumo shrine can be found on Martin Gray's Sacred Sites at http://www.sacredsites.com/final40/217.html|
Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd. 1993.
William, Alex. Japanese Architecture. New York: G. Braziller, 1968.
H. Byron Earhart. Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity. Third Edition. California: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1982.
Robert Treat Paine and Alexander Soper. The Art and Architecture of Japan. Yale University Press, 1981.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Japanese mythology found in the Kojiki see the bibliography for the ORIAS web site on Prince Yamato at http://orias.berkeley.edu/hero/yamato/links_yamato.html
Vimalin Rujivacharakul, graduate student University of California Berkeley, Architecture Department
Donna Kasprowicz, photos taken during Fulbright Memorial Fund trip to Japan, Summer 2000.
Photo contributions from teacher participants in the Oakland-Japan Project, Summer 2000.
Michele Delattre, ORIAS Web Editor
Special thanks to Professor John Nelson, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Francisco.
|Return to ORIAS home page||Return
to Class Page