Last week I wrote about a Amida-in which is a Buddhist Temple. This week we’ll visit a Shinto Shrine called Sugawara-jinja. Jinja is one of the suffixes denoting a shrine and has nothing to do with black-clad Japanese assassins appearing from inside magic lamps. Other suffixes that indicate a shrine include -gu, -jingu, and -sha. Shrines appear on Japanese maps as a stylized torii gate. For karmic balance, I’d better tell you the suffixes for Buddhist temples. They include -in, -ji, -tera, and -dera, and are shown on maps as a swastika.
Sugawara Shrine, or Sugawara-jinja, is about a ten-minute walk from our apartment. As can be expected, it’s on a hill, but if you choose your route carefully it’s relatively painless to get there. From what I can tell, it’s a minor shrine, famous for the person it was built in honour of.
There’s a sign on the shrine grounds, in Japanese and English. Shrine grounds. It sounds like the residue of some special, deirrific drink. Which is interesting due to the fact that people come to Sugawara shrine not only to pray, but to get water from the spring. It’s said to be especially good for making tea. Regarding the sign, rather than typing it verbatim, I’ve made a few corrections without changing the basic meaning. Sorry, no encrypted English today. Here’s what the sign says, more or less:
In 901 (beginning of Engi), Sugawara Michizane was appointed mayor of Dazaifu. On his way to his new post he stopped off at Tobata’s Tenrai Temple.
Many years later in Dazaifu a mausoleum was built in memory of Sugawara. Since he had visited the Tenrai Temple, it was decided to dedicate a shrine to him there.
Fukuoka Prefecture has a number of historic shrines. Munakata Taisha, about halfway between Kitakyushu and Fukouka City, is supposedly the oldest of Japans 6,000 or so shrines. Dazaifu Tenmangu, in the same Dazaifu quoted above, is the primary, or “home” shrine for the education gods. As such it’s a major destination for students, especially right before entrance exams. Dazaifu is also host to the Omoshiroichi flea market and Komyozenji, a temple with a beautiful zen garden. These two highlights make Dazaifu one of Lia’s favourite places in Japan. But that’s a topic for one or more future posts.
If you have a decent memory for the random bits of Japanese I drop into these stories, you may recognize the name Tenrai Temple, more commonly known as Tenrai-ji (天籟寺). It’s the name of the neighbourhood elementary school Jarrod attends.
Every year there’s a big festival in Tobata called Tobata Gion Oyamakasa. In the days leading up to it, someone hangs strings of paper lanterns at each of the participating shrines. I’ll be writing about it in the near future as I’ve got some really nice photos to show off. Here’s a view up the stairs to Sugawara Shrine, with many lanterns and two gates, or torii. I took the photo on July 3, 2004.
The rest of these photos, except for the final one, are from last Saturday, April 23, 2005. Here’s a view of a young boy climbing up the same stairs pictured above. That’s the late afternoon sun, so I’d guess that the shrine faces east.
And here’s the opposite view: looking down through the three torii and down the stairs. I was standing on one of the lower steps of the shrine building for this shot.
On the north side of the main shrine building are a number of small altars. There are three plain stone ones, and two wooden ones that are painted red.
Here’s a closeup of the two wooden altars.
A peek inside the larger one:
And a detail of one of the baskets full of ceramic fox figurines:
I don’t have any decent pictures of the main shrine building, but here’s the best one from my photo expedition on Saturday. This is the building as viewed from the northeast, so the small altars are to my right.
Finally, a photo of the front of the shrine, taken on a snowy night in January 2004: