Hikawa Shrine

A red-and-white two storey gate, with copper roof, at Hikawa Shrine
The entrance to the main shrine compound at Hikawa Shrine.

A few weeks ago, I visited Hikawa Shrine, the Ichi-no-Miya of Musashi-no-Kuni.

That sentence probably needs a bit of explanation. “Hikawa Shrine” is the name of the Shinto shrine I visited; there are several other shrines called that, but this is the main one, and it is located in Saitama City, the capital of Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. Musashi-no-Kuni is one of the old (dating back to the seventh century or so) administrative divisions of Japan. They were all called “kuni”, using the Chinese character that is normally used for countries, and Musashi-no-Kuni covered the area of Tokyo, Saitama, and part of Kanagawa. The place where we live is within the boundaries of Musashi-no-Kuni.

“Ichi-no-Miya” means “Number One Shrine”. In the late Heian period (around the eleventh to twelfth centuries), the administrators of the kuni started formalising their duty to visit the shrines of their region. The most important shrine in the kuni became the Ichi-no-Miya, which was visited first, followed by the Ni-no-Miya (number two shrine), San-no-Miya (number three shrine), and so on. I’m not sure how low the numbers went, and it may well have varied by kuni, because this was not a centrally administrated system.

As a result of this devolution, there is some controversy in some areas over which shrine was actually the Ichi-no-Miya. Musashi is, in fact, one of the slightly controversial kuni, because at the “General Shrine”, where the kami from the main shrines were gathered to make things easy for the administrator, Hikawa Shrine is not the ichi-no-miya. However, the consensus is that Hikawa Shrine was the actual Ichi-no-Miya for the kuni.

A red-and-green open corridor, along the side of the main shrine complex at Hikawa Shrine
The cloister around the main shrine buildings

Visiting Hikawa Shrine was the first step in my plan to visit all of the Ichi-no-Miya in Japan. There were 68 kuni, so obviously this is a long-term plan. However, if I manage it, it will take me all over Japan, as well as exposing me to a wide variety of shrines. There were two reasons to start with Hikawa Shrine. The first is that, as noted above, it is the Ichi-no-Miya for the kuni where I live. The second, related to that, is that it is easy to get to. It was a short day trip, and the railway station, which is called “Big Shrine”, is close to the shrine.

The main shrine enshrines Susano-o, Inada-hime, his wife, and Ohnamuchi, his descendant (by how much depends on the legend) and the kami responsible for putting the finishing touches to Japan in legend. These kami are all originally from the Izumo area of western Japan, and it is thought that the name of the shrine comes from the Hi river (Hikawa) in that area, although it is not written with the same characters today.

I went on a Sunday, and the main shrine complex was quite busy, with lots of people having ceremonies done. I saw a lot of families with babies, doing their Hatsumiyamairi, and one wedding party. People who wanted ceremonies gave their names, and the nature of the ceremony, at the shrine office, and then waited until there were enough people to do a ceremony. Then everyone went into the hall of worship, and all the ceremonies were done at once.

I have to say that I much prefer the atmosphere at Shirahata-san, where you get an individual ceremony rather than having to share with lots of people, some of whom are having completely different prayers said. On the other hand, Hikawa Shrine is a famous shrine, and a lot of people want to have their ceremonies done at such a place. I suppose that’s a matter of taste. Of course, for some people Hikawa Shrine is their local shrine.

Like most large shrines, there are several shrines in the grounds, dedicated to various kami. These are divided into Sessha and Massha. Sessha enshrine kami who have some sort of close relationship with the main kami, while Massha enshrine those without such a relationship, at least in general. The Sessha at Hikawa Shrine enshrine Inada-hime’s parents, Susano-o’s daughters, and Sukunahikona, who is, in a sense that is rather obscure, a part of Ohnamuchi. The Massha include an Inari shrine, a shrine to Amaterasu, and a shrine to Sugawara no Michizane, all kami with no real connection to the main kami.

However, one of the Massha enshrines Ohnamuchi and Sukunahikona. This is a little peculiar; you would have thought that that qualified as a close relationship. I don’t know what the reason is, but I can offer an hypothesis. The shrine in question is “Mitake Jinja” (or possibly “Ontake”; both readings are used). This is a completely separate Shinto tradition from Hikawa, centring on a mountain in the Japan Alps. I’m pretty sure that it was heavily influenced by Buddhism, and the nature of the Shinto kami may not have been properly defined before the Meiji period. Thus, the shrine might have been established as a Massha at a time when the kami were not thought to be connected to the main kami of Hikawa, and then, when its status was fixed, the kami were changed to actually be one of the main kami. This is only a guess, however.

It was an interesting visit, and the normal rules applied. The main shrine compound was very busy, but if you wandered around to visit the other shrines in the precincts, things were much quieter. The shrine grounds are quite nice, with several ponds and, of course, a lot of trees, but they aren’t extensive enough to find anywhere really quiet, at least not on a pleasant Sunday.

One thing that I realised again on this visit is that I’m still working out what I want to know about the shrines I visit. That’s another reason for visiting Hikawa Shrine early in my program of visiting the Ichi-no-Miya; I can go back when I’ve worked out what I’m doing.






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