- Ise Shrine
Officially known simply as Jingū or "The Shrine", Ise Jingū is in fact a shrine complex composed of a large number of
Shintoshrines centered on two main shrines, Naikū (内宮) and Gekū(外宮).
The Inner Shrine, Naikū (also officially known as "Kotaijingu"), is located in the town of Uji-tachi, south of central Ise City, and is dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu ōmikami. The Outer Shrine, Gekū (also officially known as "Toyoukedaijingu"), is located about six kilometers from Naikū and dedicated to
Toyouke no ōmikami, the deity of agriculture and industry [Ise Jingu official homepage, http://www.isejingu.or.jp/english/gegu/gegu.htm] . Besides Naikū and Gekū, there are an additional 123 Shinto shrines in Ise City and the surrounding areas, 91 of them connected to Naikū and 32 to Gekū. [ [http://www.isejingu.or.jp/english/isemairi/isemairi.htm Ise Jingu official homepage] ]
Ise Jingu's Inner Shrine, Naikū, has a national treasure in its possession. Purportedly the home of the Sacred Mirror, the shrine is arguably one of Shinto's holiest and most important sites. Access to both sites is strictly limited, with the common public allowed to see little more than the thatched roofs of the central structures, hidden behind three tall wooden fences. The High Priest or Priestess of Ise Shrine must come from the
Japanese Imperial Family, and is responsible for watching over the Shrine.
The two main shrines of Ise are joined by a pilgrimage road that passes through the old entertainment district of Furuichi. The region around the shrines consists of the
Ise-Shima National Parkand numerous other holy and historic sites including the 'wedded rocks' Meoto Iwa, and the Saiku(the site of the Heian period imperial residence).
The establishment of the Shrine
According to the
Nihon shoki, around 2,000 years ago the divine Yamatohime-no-mikoto, daughter of the Emperor Suinin, set out from Mt. Miwa in modern Nara Prefecturein search of a permanent location to worship the goddess Amaterasu-omikami, wandering for 20 years through the regions of Ohmi and Mino. Her search eventually brought her to Ise, in modern Mie Prefecture, where she is said to have established Naikū after hearing the voice of Amaterasu Omikamisaying "(Ise) is a secluded and pleasant land. In this land I wish to dwell". [Nihongi; Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697, trans. W. G. Aston (Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1972), 176.] Prior to Yamatohime-no-mikoto's journey, Amaterasu-omikami had been worshiped at the Imperial residence in Yamato, then briefly at Kasanui in the eastern Nara basin.
Besides the traditional establishment date of 4 BC. ["Encyclopedia Britannica - Ise Shrine" http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9368233] , other dates of the 3rd and 5th centuries have been put forward for the establishment of Naikū and Gekū respectively. The first shrine building at Naikū was erected by Emperor Temmu (678-686), with the first ceremonial rebuilding being carried out by his wife, Empress Jito, in 692. ["Sacred Places - Ise Shrine" http://witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/ise.html]
The Shrine High Priestess / High Priest
From the late 7th century until the 14th century, the role of High Priestess of Ise Shrine was carried out by a female member of the
Japanese Imperial Family, known as a Saiō. According to the Man'yōshū(The Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves), the first Saiō to serve at the shrine was princess Okunohime-miko, daughter of Emperor Temmu, during the Asuka periodof Japanese history. Mention of Ise Shrine's Saiō is also made in the Aoi, Sakaki and Yugao chapters of The Tale of Genji, as well as in the 69th chapter of The Tales of Ise(Ise Monogatari). The Saiōsystem ended during the turmoil of the Nambokucho Period.
Since the disestablishment of State Shinto during the
Allied Occupation of Japan, the offices of high priest and most sacred priestess have been held by former members of the imperial family or their descendants. The current High Priest of the shrine is Kitashirakawa Michihisa, a great grandson of the Meiji Emperor. He succeeded his cousin Kuni Kuniaki, the eldest son of former Prince Kuni Asaakira(brother of Empress Kōjun), in 2001. Kitashirakawa's grandmother, Kitashirakawa Fusako, the seventh daughter of the Meiji Emperor, served as most sacred priestess of the Ise Shrine from 1947 until her death in 1974. She was succeeded in that post by Takatsukasa Kazuko, the third daughter of the Shōwa Emperor, who held the post until ill health forced her retirement in 1988. Takatsukasa was succeeded by her younger sister, Ikeda Atsuko.
The architectural style of the Ise shrine is known as Shinmeizukuri (神明造) and may not be used in the construction of any other shrine. The old shrines are dismantled and new ones built on an adjacent site to exacting specifications every 20 years at exorbitant expense, so that the buildings will be forever new and forever ancient and original. The present buildings, dating from
1993, are the 61st iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2013.
The shrine at Naikū is constructed of Japanese cypress. Built on pillars set directly in the ground, the shrine building measures 10.9 by 5.5 meters and includes a raised floor, verandahs all the way around the building and a staircase leading to a single central doorway. The roof is made of thatched reed with ten billets (katsuogi) located on the ridge of the roof, the bargeboards of which project beyond the roof to form the distinctive forked finials (chigi) at the ends of the ridge. The roof ridge is supported by two free-standing columns called the munamochi-bashira. The katsuogi, chigi and munamochi-bashira are stylised forms of older storehouse building techniques that pre-date the introduction of Buddhist architecture in Japan. [Sir Banister Fletcher, "A History of Architecture" (p724), Architectural Press (1996), ISBN 0750622679]
The empty site beside the shrine building, the site where the previous shrine once stood and where the next will be built, is called the kodenchi. This area is strewn with large white pebbles and is left totally empty apart from the oi-ya, a small wooden hut containing a wooden pole a little over 2 metres in height called the shin-no-mihashira (sacred central pole). When a new shrine is built, it is built around the sacred central pole before the removal of the oi-ya, so that the central pole is never seen. The central pole of the old shrine will then have a new oi-ya erected so that the shin-no-mihashira also remains unseen. ["Sacred Places - Ise Shrine" http://witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/ise.html]
"The erection of a single post in the center of a sacred area strewn with stones represents the form taken by Japanese places of worship in very ancient times; the shin-no-mihashira would thus be the survival of a symbolism from a very primitive symbolism to the present day." [Kenzo Tange and Noboru Kawazoe, "Ise: Prototype of Japanese Architecture" (p 167), Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1965.]
Rebuilding the Shrine
The shrine buildings at Naikū and Gekū, as well as the Uji Bridge, are rebuilt every 20 years as a part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and as a way of passing building techniques from one generation to the next. The next scheduled rebuilding of Ise Shrine is due in 2013.
In the lead-up to the rebuilding of the shrines, a number of festivals are held to mark special events. The
Okihiki Festivalis held in the spring over two consecutive years and involves people from surrounding towns dragging huge wooden logs through the streets of Ise to Naikū and Gekū. In the lead-up to the 2013 rebuilding, the Okihiki festival was held in 2006 and 2007. A year after the completion of the Okihiki festival, carpenters begin preparing the wood for its eventual use in the Shrine.
From the late 7th century, when the festivals and offerings of Ise Shrine became more formalised, a number of annual events have been performed at both Naikū and Gekū. The Tukinamisai, which was held in June and December, as well as the Kannamesai in September, were the only three offerings performed by the
Saio, an imperial princess who served as high priestess of the shrine until the 14th century. [Saikū Historical Museum information booklet, "A Town of Bamboo Illumined Once Again".] These offerings are based on the cycle of the agricultural year and are still performed today.
The first important ceremony of the modern calendar year is the Kinensai, where prayers are offered for a bountiful harvest. Kannamesai, where prayers for fair weather and sufficient rains are made, is held twice a year in May and August at both Naikū and Gekū.
The most important annual festival held at Ise Shrine is the
Kannamesai Festival神嘗祭. Held in October each year, this ritual makes offerings of the first harvest of crops for the season to Amaterasu. An imperial envoy carries the offering of rice harvested by the Emperor himself to Ise, as well as five-coloured silk cloth and other materials, called Heihaku. [http://www.isejingu.or.jp/english/maturi/maturi5.htm - Annual Cycle of Ceremonies and Rice, Official Ise Jingu homepage.]
Besides the agricultural ceremonies already mentioned, ceremonies and festivals are held throughout the year at both Naikū and Gekū to celebrate such things as the new year, the foundation of Japan, past emperors, purification rituals for priests and court musicians, good sake fermentation and for the Emperor's birthday. There are also daily food offerings to the shrine kami held both in the mornings and evenings. [http://www.isejingu.or.jp/english/maturi/maturi2.htm - Annual Cycle of Ceremonies, Official Ise Jingu homepage.]
Naikū - The Inner Shrine
The official name of the main shrine of Naikū is Kotaijingu and is the place of worship of the goddess Amaterasu-omikami. The grounds of Naikū contain a number of structures, including the following: [The official Ise Jingu homepage: Naiku, http://www.isejingu.or.jp/english/naigu/naigu.htm]
The Uji Bridge
This 100 meter wooden bridge in traditional Japanese style stretches across the Isuzu river at the entrance of Naikū. Like the shrine buildings of Naikū, it is rebuilt every 20 years as a part of the Shikinen Sengu ceremony. On crossing the bridge, the path turns to the right along the banks of the Isuzu river and passes through large landscaped gardens.
After crossing a short, wide bridge, pilgrims to the shrine encounter the Temizusha, a small, roofed structure containing a pool of water for use in ritual purification. Visitors are encouraged to wash their hands and rinse their mouths at Temizusha as a symbolic act to clean the mind and body of impurity. The first of two large torii gates stands just beyond the Temizusha.
aikan and Anzaisho
After passing the first large torii gate, the Purification Hall (Saikan) and the Hall for visitors from the Imperial Household (Anzaisho) can be seen to the left. The Saikan is used by shrine priests to purify themselves before performing ceremonies at the shrine. They are required to spend one or two nights to free their minds of worldly issues, partaking in baths and eating meals cooked with the sacred fire.
This hall for special prayer, located just after the second large torii gate, is open to the public for the offering of individual prayers to the kami, the giving of donations and the purchase of special talisman of protection, amulets and hanging scrolls of Amaterasu Omikami.
This hall contains the sacred fire used to cook all of the food offerings to the kami of Ise Shrine. Rice and other offerings cooked on the sacred fire are stored in a box made of Japanese cypress, then purified at the Haraedo immediately in front of the Imibiyaden before being offered to the kami.
Kotaijingu - the main shrine
The pilgrimage path then approaches the main shrine of Naikū by a set of large stone steps. Though the actual shrine is hidden behind a large fence, pilgrims can approach the gate to offer their prayers. Photographs in this area are prohibited and this restriction is strictly policed.
Kotaijingu is said to hold the Sacred Mirror, one of three sacred items given to the first emperor by the gods. From a path that follows the line of the outer wall, the distinctive roof of the shrine building can be seen through the trees. In front of the walled shrine compound can be seen an open area which will be the location of the next rebuilding of the shrine in 2013.
Shrines and Facilities of Ise Shrine
There are 125 shrines within Ise Shrine ["Oise mairi" (『お伊勢まいり』, Jingū-shichō, Ise-Jingū-sūkei-kai, July, 1, 2006) p.105-118] .
* [http://www.isejingu.or.jp/english/ Ise Jingu]
* [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0422/is_2_83/ai_84192632/pg_1 Ise Shrine and a Modernist construction of Japanese tradition] (The Art Bulletin, June 2001)
* [http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=121671&imageID=1253779&word=japan&s=1¬word=&d=&c=&f=&lWord=&lField=&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&total=1807&num=132&imgs=12&pNum=&pos=141 New York Public Library Digital Gallery, early photograph of Ise Shrine compound]
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