Every year the Kokugakuin Shinto course organises a formal shrine visit for the students on the course. This is optional, partly because it isn’t covered by the course fee, but also because it involves an extra day coming to Tokyo. Since some people apparently travel enormous distances to attend the lectures, the extra thing should really be optional. Of course, the people who travel enormous distances are likely to be enthusiastic enough to attend the shrine visits as well. The visits so far have always been to two shrines on the same day, and to shrines within Tokyo. I’ve written about the previous ones I attended in my Japan Diary. This year’s visits were on July 5th, and I’ll write about them in separate articles, partly to make them easy to find.
These posts are about the visits, not the shrines themselves. I’m planning to write about the shrines at some point, but not just yet. Although a formal shrine visit has a fairly standard structure, so far all the visits I’ve been on with Kokugakuin have been different. The level of effort the shrine puts in seems to vary a bit, but there’s much more variation in where they put the effort.
Fudatenjinja put the effort into the ceremony. Fudatenjinja is a Shikinaisha (that means it’s recorded in the Engishiki, a compilation of court rituals from the early tenth century; there are just over 3,000 shrines from across Japan recorded there), and despite the “tenjin” in the name, the main kami is not Sugawara no Michizane Ko; it’s Sukunahikona no Kami. Sugawara no Michizane Ko is also enshrined there, however. It’s in Chofu, one of the cities outside the main central part of Tokyo, and it has a nice atmosphere; the shrine forest is still preserved.
We all filed into the haiden (the worship hall), where there were two shrine staff, an older man and a younger woman. I think the older man was the chief priest of the shrine. I’m not sure what the woman was, for reasons I will explain later. Once we were all seated, the ceremony started, with the woman beating a taiko (Japanese drum). She then briefly returned to her seat, before going to stand in front of the ohnusa (the wooden wand with paper streamers used in purification), and recite a harai norito (purification prayer). She then waved the ohnusa over the priest, the offerings, and us. Then she briefly returned to her seat, before going to take the lids of the bottles of sake placed on a table in front of the steps to the honden (the hall where the kami is enshrined). This is a standard abbreviated form for making offerings.
Next, the chief priest went up to the centre of the haiden, in front of the offerings, and read a norito. This was written for us, and, in addition to general protection, asked for aid with our studies. Since Sugawara no Michizane Ko, a kami of scholarship, is enshrined there, this was very appropriate.
After the norito had been recited, the woman danced kagura (sacred dance); a sakaki-mai, with a branch of sakaki.
Next, Professor Okada, representing the rest of us, offered a tamagushi, a branch of sakaki with shide (white paper strips folded into a lightning shape) attached. He received it from the woman, then put it on a table, bowed twice, clapped twice, and bowed once. We all bowed and clapped with him.
After he had returned to his seat, the woman put the lids back on the sake, which, like taking them off, is a standard short form of taking the offerings down again. The kami only get the offerings while the ceremony is happening; afterwards people eat and drink them.
Finally, the chief priest made a single bow, and that closed the ceremony.
Now, why am I not sure about the woman’s status? Her role in the ceremony was that of a subsidiary priest, and she was wearing the headgear specified for female priests. The dances are normally performed by miko, but there is nothing saying that a priest cannot do that. However, the woman’s hakama (trouser skirt) were the wrong colour. This isn’t as random as it sounds; the Association of Shinto Shrines has rules for the colour of hakama, and they depend on your rank as a priest. The lowest ranks, fourth and third, have pale yellow-green, the second rank has purple, the first rank has purple with designs, and the special rank has white with designs. Miko wear red hakama. Her hakama, however, were dark green, which isn’t on the list. My hypothesis, then, is that she is training to be a priest, but hasn’t formally received her rank yet. This may be wrong; someone who knows more about it than me might be able to tell me what it means.
After the ceremony the chief priest told us a bit about the shrine. Although it’s very old, it had to move after a major flood about five hundred years ago, and all the records were lost in the flood, so not much is known about its early history. The honden, however, is over three hundred years old, and recognised as a major treasure of the city (Chofu, not Tokyo). The haiden has been built entirely around it, so you can only see it from inside the haiden, and then only if you walk all the way in to the back. After the talk, the chief priest invited us to go and have a look, so, of course, we all did. After all, it’s rather unlikely that we’ll have another opportunity. It does have interesting carvings on it, and certainly looked old.
Naturally, we couldn’t see inside the honden. The honden’s doors are typically only opened once or twice a year, and even then no-one goes inside. At some shrines, wooden kami images centuries old got rotten and worm-eaten because no-one went into the honden to look at them for decades at a time. I think these days the practice is to go in once a year to clean (at least, that’s what happens at my local shrine), to prevent those sorts of problems. Anyway, the outside of the honden is all you normally get to see, and at most shrines even that is quite difficult. Having it entirely enclosed, as at Fudatenjinja, is a little unusual, but fences to restrict visibility are common.
When we left, we received a very small drink of miki (sacred sake), and an ume sweet, which had been offered to the kami. The ume (Japanese plum or apricot) is associated with Sugawara no Michizane Ko, which is presumably why that was chosen. It was rather tastier than the bonito flakes that seem to be the standard choice.
I enjoyed this visit, and liked the atmosphere of the shrine. It’s also fairly close to our home (about an hour door to door), so I may well go back in the future.