Rural Kitakyushu: Nishi Ono Hachiman Shrine, Part 3

This is the third installment about Nishi Ono Hachimangu, a shrine in one of the farming areas of Kokura-minami. There’s a photo honouring the previous emperor, speculation about the motives of the people who take care of shrines, plus detail shots of drums, lamps, and the underside of a building.

Here are the usual links the previous articles. I’ll be glad to be finished with this series, since it’s getting difficult to come up with original ways of introducing this boiler-plate section. The links: Introduction, Part 1: Snakes, Part 2: Not A Temple, Part 3: Frogs, Part 4: Farming Grannies, Part 5: Reservoir Mobs, Part 6: Dammed Rivers, Part 7: Sevenfold Waterfalls Post 1, and Post 2, and Part 8: Nishi Ono Hachiman Shrine Post 1 and Post 2.

This photo was hanging on the back of the main beam. To see it, I had to go to the back of the first building—just in front of the panel paintings—and look towards the front. One of the teachers at my school who helps me with translation said that this is a photo from the Emperor’s birthday in September of Showa Year 44 (昭和四十四年九月吉日). These days, Japanese eras are named, and the years counted, based on the reign of the emperor. The Showa Era was the 64-year duration of Emperor Hirohito’s reign, from 1926-1989, so Showa 44 would have been 1959. Each year has a corresponding year in the western calendar. The year 2005 is Heisei 17 (平成一七年), the Heisei Era having begun in 1989. Official documents are dated using the Japanese system, but the western calendar is used for most other things. There’s a bit of confusion caused by overlap: 1989 is Showa 64 and Heisei 1. You can read more about this topic in Wikipedia’s article about Japanese era names if you’re interested.

photo of the Showa Emperor on his birthday in Showa year 44

I’m not sure why the photo is in this shrine, and whether its placement has any significance. It appears to me that although it’s not hidden, it’s placed in such a way that casual visitors won’t see it. Shintoism has strong historic ties to the imperial family—a subject that I don’t have time, energy, or enough information to cover today—and was used to rally the Japanese people around efforts of industrialization in the late nineteenth century and military expansion in the first half of the twentieth century.

I’ve been told that there are many ultra-right-wing nationalists among Japan’s senior citizens, and many of them are stewards of shrines. As such, their devotion to the imperial family makes its presence felt in the way the shrines are decorated. As for the propeller from yesterday’s post, speculation among some English teachers at my school was that aviation is a hobby of one of the stewards of the shrine.

Shifting attention away from thoughts of Japan’s military and imperial aspirations, next up is a photo from the back-left corner of the front building. There’s a taiko—big drum—and what appears to be a simplified miniature shrine. The drum is the same height as the rear “wall,” about two-and-a-half feet in diameter. Drums like this are used in all sorts of festivals. In the 1970s taiko drumming was the subject of an effort by the government to preserve cultural history. Communities were given funding to start drum troupes so that the tradition wouldn’t be lost in Japan’s efforts to modernize. These days, it’s not unusual to see people practicing in the park next to Kokura Castle.

taiko and mini shrine gate at the back of the front building at Nishi Ono Hachimangu

Here’s a detail of the mini shrine gate. As with the ropes on the main beam, I couldn’t tell if it was here for storage or whether its placement had religious significance.

detail of mini shrine gate

Next is a photo of the second-stage building. There’s a sacred rope with paper streamers, and then a long rope hanging from the ceiling. If this latter rope is at all like the ones at other shrines, it’s attached to a large bell. I didn’t take pictures of the upper end of the rope, and can’t remember whether there was a bell. The standard worship procedure is to toss a few coins into the collection box, tug on the rope to sound the bell—it’s like a giant sleigh bell—and stand to one side if it’s crowded, then clap one’s hands together in a namaste-like gesture. After clapping, people close their eyes and bow their heads in silent prayer for a few moments.

view into the second shrine building

Here’s another view, looking up. I really liked the lamps here, as well as the ceremonial curtain.

second view of the second shrine building, showing some beautiful lamps and ornamental curtains

If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like under a shrine building, wonder no more. It looks like simple beams and support stones. No anti-gravity devices nor supernatural minions holding things up. At least none that were visible to my camera. And no tentacled beasts, either. I have another photo showing a tall aluminum ladder that was stored under here but I prefer the way this photo looks. At the back you can see the rock pile that skirts the raised ground of the third and final building.

a view under the second shrine building, showing support beams and assorted foundation stones

In keeping with usual practices, the final building was closed off. I don’t have interior pictures of it because I didn’t want to anger the gods of the shrine tempt fate with invasive camera pointing, so that’s it for the inside and under tour. Tomorrow I’ll show some of the small altars and the woods around the shrine.

[The next and final post in this series is Rural Kitakyushu: Nishi Ono Hachiman Shrine, Part 4]