Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hakuto Jinja

In the afternoon of August 12th, hubby and I visited Hakuto Jinja. Hakuto Jinja is a Shinto shrine located in Tottori City of Tottori prefecture. The shrine is named after the legend of ‘Inaba no Shiro Usagi’ or the ‘hare of Inaba’. Inaba is the old province name for the eastern part of Tottori prefecture. A literal translation of Shiro Usagi is white rabbit but it actually refers to the Japanese hare, which is usually brown except for during the winter months when it turns white depending on its regional location. ‘Inaba no Shiro Usagi’ is one of the most well known myths in Japan, and has been recorded in Japan’s oldest written record Kojiki. According to the myth, a hare lived on the Island of Oki, which is located in the present day Shimane prefecture. The hare wanted to travel to the mainland near Cape Keta in Inaba province. Cape Keta is identified as the present day Hakuto Coast in Tottori City. The hare devised a plan that involved tricking some crocodiles that lived in the waters around Oki. Incidentally, the story is often told nowadays with sharks instead of crocodiles. The hare suggested to the crocodiles that the hare clan was much bigger than the crocodile clan, and to prove that he would need to count all the members of the crocodile clan. So the hare had all the crocodiles line up and then hopped across them, counting them as he went. He began to make his way to the mainland using the crocodiles as stepping stones. Nearing the end, the hare rather foolishly exclaimed that he had deceived the crocodiles in order to use them as a bridge. Upon hearing that, the last crocodile attacked the hare, and ripped his fur off him. At this point, the story intersects with another legend, that of Okuninushi, his eighty brothers, and Princess Yakami-hime. Okuninushi and all his brothers lived in the land of Izumo, which today is the eastern part of Shimane prefecture. One day, Okuninushi’s brothers heard of a beautiful princess named Yakami-hime who lived in the land of Inaba, and every one of them wanted to ask for her hand in marriage. So all the brothers set out for Inaba, and brought Okuninushi along to carry their baggage, which was so heavy that he lagged behind the group. When the brothers reached along the coast near Cape Keta in Inaba, they came upon the hare lying on the ground that had been stripped of its skin and was crying in pain. The brothers were quite cruel, and seeing the suffering hare they advised him to bathe in seawater and then stand in the wind, which naturally caused more pain and suffering to the hare. Following along the trail was Okuninushi. On reaching Cape Keta and seeing the suffering hare, Okuninushi told him to bathe in fresh water and then roll in the pollen of cattails. The hare did as he was told, and was completely healed. Afterwards the hare revealed his true form as a god. In addition, in gratitude the hare told Okuninushi that Princess Yakami-hime would fall in love with him and he would be the one to marry her. When Okuninushi finally arrived at the palace of Princess Yakami-hime, the hare’s prediction came true. I feel that this is a very nice story. Also I am sure that during my early childhood my mother had told me a similar legendary Indian story, though now I cannot recollect the animals in that story.

Hakuto Jinja Shrine is very small but it has a famous long legendary story. The shrine is located on a hill near Hakuto Coast. According to the old shrine classification system, the status of this shrine was Sonsha or ‘village shrine’. The foundation time of the shrine is unknown but the present shrine building was built in 1896. The principal deity enshrined at this shrine is named Hakutoshin or ‘hare god’. The shrine precinct is covered with evergreen virgin forest of Shii-no-ki (Castanopsis cuspidata), Tabu-no-ki (Machilus thunbergii), and ivy trees, which gives the surroundings a mysterious atmosphere. In 1937, the trees of the shrine precinct were designated as Natural Monument. In the shrine precinct, there is a pond where the hare is believed to have washed his body according to Okuninushi’s advice. People visit this shrine and pray to the hare god hoping to fulfill their wishes like the curing of skin diseases, the marriage tie, and returning to their hometown.

In the afternoon of August 12th, hubby and I visited Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori City about which I have written in the previous post. Afterwards, we visited this Hakuto Jinja Shrine, also located in Tottori City itself. The shrine is located about 14 kilometers west of the sand dunes, and after 25 minutes of car ride, we reached the shrine area at about 3 pm. We parked our car at a designated car parking area, and then walked for about one minute to reach the front of the shrine. The entrance to the shrine is marked by a large stone Torii Gate. On the left as well as the right side of the gate, we saw stone monuments with ‘Hakuto Jinja’ inscribed vertically on them in Kanji characters. Behind the gate, we saw stone steps that lead up to the shrine premises itself. We climbed up the steps and at the top of the steps to our left side, we saw a shed with a sand carving depicting a scene from the legendary story of ‘Inaba no Shiro Usagi’. The scene depicts Princess Yakami-hime agreeing to marry Okuninushi, while the hare looks on. Adjacent to this sand carving, a little further up the way on the hill, we saw another stone monument with the name of the shrine inscribed on it.
A large stone Torii Gate at the entrance area of Hakuto Jinja Shrine

I am standing in front of the Torii Gate next to the right side (orientation with respect to the gate) stone monument with ‘Hakuto Jinja’ inscribed on it

A sand carving depicting a scene from the legendary story of ‘Inaba no Shiro Usagi’

Hubby standing next to a stone monument with the name of the shrine inscribed vertically on it

Next, we started walking along a paved pathway that led to the shrine. The pathway is lined with many small stone statues of hares in various postures on stone pedestals. After walking along the pathway for about 70 meters, we reached another stone Torii Gate of the shrine. We noted that there were many small white stones on the top of the horizontal lintel Kasagi as well as the tie-beam Nuki of the gate. These stones are called Musubi-ishi and are very popular among the visitors nowadays. Musubi-ishi consists of five small white stones in a cute pink bag, and can be purchased from the shrine office. Each stone has a Kanji character stamped on it in red. The Kanji characters are for marriage, child, prosperity, health, and advancement (in job). Visitors throw the stones, one at a time, towards the top of the Torii Gate. It is believed that if the stones stay on the top of the lintel or the tie-beam of the gate, then the wish corresponding to the character on the stone will come true. The stones that fall back to the ground are collected and delicately arranged on the pedestals and the statues of the hares. We did not try throwing Musubi-ishi but I guess it is a fun activity.
Hubby walking along the paved pathway that leads to the shrine

A stone statue of a hare on a pedestal

Hubby standing in front of the second Torii Gate of the shrine

Musubi-ishi stones can be seen on the top of the horizontal lintel (upper) and the tie-beam (lower) of the gate

We passed through the second Torii Gate and walked further along the paved pathway. On our way we continued to see many stone statues of hares. After walking about twenty steps from the gate, to our left side we saw Temizuya which is a hand washing basin located inside a four pillared pavilion. We washed our hands with water at the basin and purified ourselves. As we neared the shrine, to our right side we saw a pond named Mitarashi-ike. According to the legendary story, the suffering hare washed his body in the freshwater of this pond on the advice of Okuninushi. There is also a mysterious legend about this pond that its water level remains the same in any kind of weather, so it is also called ‘Fuzou Fugen no Ike’ or ‘a pond with unchanged water level’.
I am standing next to a stone statue of a hare

Hubby washing his hands at Temizuya

Mitarashi-ike Pond

From the second Torii Gate, we walked along the paved pathway for about 70 meters and reached the main building area of the shrine, where we saw a wooden prayer hall named Haiden in front of us. We climbed up a few stone steps and walked along the pathway leading to Haiden Prayer Hall. In front of the hall, we saw a pair of stone guardian statues located on either side of the pathway. These guardian statues are lion-like creatures that are supposed to protect the shrine premises from evil spirits. The statue on the right side of the hall (orientation with respect to the hall) is close-mouthed and is called Ungyo Komainu, while the statue on the left side of the hall is open-mouthed and is called Agyo Shishi. Next to the guardian deities, we saw stone lanterns on either side of the pathway. We also saw many Omikuji fortunes hanging from trees located near the guardian deities and the stone lanterns. On reaching right in front of the entrance of Haiden Hall, I rang the bell located just outside the hall. Next, I offered some coins into the offertory box located on the veranda of the hall. We could not enter inside the hall as it was closed, so I prayed from outside standing on the veranda.
Haiden Prayer Hall and the stone steps in the foreground

Close-mouthed Ungyo Komainu located on the right side of Haiden Hall

Open-mouthed Agyo Shishi located on the left side of the hall

Two stone lanterns located on the right side of the hall

Two more stone lanterns located on the left side of the hall

Hubby standing in front of Haiden Hall

I am ringing the bell of the hall

I am offering my prayers

Next, we walked towards the backside of the main area of the shrine precinct, and saw a wooden main hall named Honden located behind Haiden Hall. The principal deity Hakutoshin or ‘hare god’ is enshrined in Honden Main Hall. At six places of the foundation of Honden Hall, there are stone sculptures carved into the shape of 28-petaled chrysanthemums. This sort of stone sculptures in the foundation of the hall is very rare in entire Japan. Since Chrysanthemum Flower Seal is a crest used by the Japanese Imperial Family, it is assumed that this shrine has some sort of relationship with the Imperial Shrines. We loved viewing the Haiden Hall and Honden Hall. These buildings are compact and very appeasing to the eyes.
Honden Main Hall as viewed from the south side of the main area of the shrine precinct

Honden Hall (left) and Haiden Hall (right) as viewed from the north side of the main area of the shrine precinct

Two of the stone sculptures (marked with red ellipses) carved into the shape of chrysanthemums, located in the foundation of Honden Hall

Afterwards we left the shrine precinct, and walked back along the paved pathway down the hill. It is a two minute walk and while walking down the hill we enjoyed the views of the Sea of Japan located right in front of us just 220 meters north of the shrine buildings. We returned back to the car parking area and went to a Roadside Station located nearby. It was about 3.40 pm and we had late lunch at a restaurant in the Roadside Station. Both of us had seafood lunch sets. The food was very fresh and delicious.
Sea of Japan as viewed while walking along the pathway down the hill

Roadside Station as viewed while walking along the pathway down the hill

My lunch

Hubby’s lunch

Hubby having lunch

After lunch, we went to the second floor balcony of the Roadside Station. From there, we got a wonderful view of Hakuto Coast along the Sea of Japan. The coast is famous for its association with the legendary story ‘Inaba no Shiro Usagi’. As I have written earlier in this post, a hare wanted to travel from Oki Island to Cape Keta in Inaba province. On reaching the cape, a crocodile attacked the hare and ripped his fur off him. Cape Keta in the story is identified as the present day Hakuto Coast. It is a beautiful coast of white beach and is selected as one of the 100 best beaches in Japan. It is a popular spot for sea bathing in summer and surfing in winter. We saw many people relaxing on the beach.
Hakuto Coast towards our left side, as viewed from the second floor balcony of the Roadside Station

View of the coast right in front of us

View of the coast to our right side

People relaxing at the beach

Hubby and I loved visiting Hakuto Jinja Shrine in Tottori City. It was about 4.30 pm when we left the city. Afterwards, we drove up to Shiga City in Shiga prefecture. Shiga City is located about 230 kilometers southeast of Hakuto Jinja, and it took us about five hours of car ride to reach Shiga City where we stayed at a hotel for the night. The next day we visited Hieizan Enryakuji Temple about which I will write in the next couple of posts.

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