A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Yamaki Jinja (八巻神社)- Connected (according to legend) with the Great 11th Century Warrior HACHIMAN TARO YOSHIIE – is one of Tsukuba`s Most Interesting Shrines – but remains unrepaired one year after tornado

The Yamaki Jinja Shrine before it was destroyed by the tornado of May 6th 2012. It is said that the famous 11th century warrior, HACHIMAN TARO YOSHIIE passed by here twice on his way from the capital (now Kyoto) to North-Eastern Japan where he would suppress a rebellion

The Yamaki Jinja Shrine (八巻神社) just after the killer tornado of 2012

By Avi Landau

Last week, on a fine May afternoon, I took a walk around my old neighborhood in Hojo, Tsukuba. I was impressed, even moved, by what I saw. Just a year earlier the place had looked as if it had been subjected to an air-raid: houses and shops stripped bare to their frames, cars flipped over, trees uprooted, utility poles knocked over, debris (of all shapes and sizes)  strewn everywhere.

Now, someone who did not know that a tornado had passed through the town on May 6th 2012, would never imagine that such a disaster had struck. In fact,I think the old neighborhood looks MUCH BETTER than it did before the twister struck. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the local residents and thousands of volunteers who poured in from near and far every day- for weeks (months?) – as well as the support of the Ground Self-Defence Forces (the Japanese Army) and various governmental and private agencies, the town was cleaned up- and then polished until it shined.

One key factor in Hojo`s new look was the fact that the City Government offered to pay for the demolition of damaged houses- many of which were already uninhabitable long before the tornado came along. Whole shanty-filled blocks were cleared with this money ( the owners of many of these places could not afford to have them knocked down) and some have been able to put up beautiful new homes.

Approaching the Yamaki Shrine. Nine hundred years ago HACHIMAN TARO YOSHIIE made a vow never to eat adzuki beans if his army was victorious- and to this day, in the old neighborhood of Yamaki, Tsukuba, the local farmers DO NOT GROW that popular crop

But as I continued my tour of last year`s scenes of devastation beyond Hojo- the tornado ad woven its path of destruction over a course 15 km long- I found that the only Shinto Shrine to have been destroyed- the Yamaki Jinja Shrine, in Yamaki, Tsukuba- had yet to be repaired (though the considerable wreckage of the shrine`s structures and of all the trees of its sacred grove which had been felled in the storm, had been cleared away).

Now the once lushly verdant and appropriately dark and mysterious sacred grove (鎮守の森, CHINJU NO MORI) amidst which the old shrine had been set has almost completely disappeared- the hill on which it grew now dusty and bare- while the still forested surrounding hills and the newly flooded rice fields which fill all the valleys show what a narrow path of devastion the tornado cut and how unlucky (and strange) it was for the 17th century shrine buildings to have been hit.

Click here for some video footage of the shrine just after the twister hit:


What remains of the Yamaki Shrine and its sacred grove

I say that it was strange because out of all the shrines in Tsukuba, the only one to have been destroyed by the tornado- the YAMAKI JINJA (八巻神社)- was the only one with the kanji character MAKI (巻)- which means scrolls or SWIRL or TWIST in it. This is the second kanji character in the two that are used to write the Japanese word for tornado- TATSUMAKI (竜巻), which literally means DRAGON SWIRLS. The thing that makes the coincidence all the more surprising is that the tornado struck in the Year of the Dragon according to the oriental zodiac. ( please do not imagine that I believe that this signifies anything beyond an amazing coincidence).

The remaining Honden

Walking up the followed pilgrims steps, now so rudely exposed to the light of the sun, I tried to conjure up in my mind, the army of troops which dispatched by the Emperor under the command of HACHIMAN TARO YOSHIIE* to suppress a rebellion in the North-East in the 11th century. Apparently many of the men had taken sick they had stopped on this spot, sometime between 1046 and 1053, and it was decided that special prayers should be held.

Praying to the deity of the IZU SHRINE (伊豆神社), in what is now Shizuoka Prefecture, Yoshiie made a vow that if his men recovered from their illness and were to be victorious, he and his men would never eat adzuki beans again. Perhaps this was because the character for bean (豆) is the second character in the place name Izu (the Japanese have traditionally placed great importance on such connections beween letters and sounds and things- this is called GORO AWASE).

Well, as you might have guessed, HACHIMA TAROs forces regained their health and eventually proved victorious, defeating both ABE NO YORITOKI and his son SADATO.

This mysterious stone wheel is said to have been left at this spot by the army of HACHIMAN TARO Yoriie

In the year 1063, the deity of the Izu Shrine was ritually split (BUNRI) and transported (KANJO) to the same spot in present day Tsukuba where years earlier  HACHIMAN TARO` s  prayers for health and victory had originally been held.

Astonishingly (to me, at least), if you ask the farmers in the surrounding fields, you will find out that they still maintain the custom of never growing adzuki beans.


A look from behind


The devastated sacred grove

I was relieved to find that this shrine`s most unusual feature- a large, flat and round stone with a hole in  its center was still there laying on the ground in front of what little remains of the shrines structure- what is in fact the HONDEN- in which the deity is actually enshrined.

According to legend, this stone was once a wheel on a vehicle in HACHIMAN TARO`s convoy.

This is hard to believe, however, and to me it seems more likely that this was some sort of amulet or stone for rain supplications. Maybe it was a foundation stone of some sort or the base of some other structure or object.

It also reminds me somewhat of the STONE MONEY which I saw when I visited the Micronesian island of Yap. I wonder if there could be a connection?

Contemplate these things for yourself at the shrine which is located in the hamlet of Yamaki (spelled 山木, different characters than those used in the name of the shrine). It is just north of the the High Energy Physics Laboratory (KEK) on the west side of Higashi Odori .

Turn right to go to the clean center and then make the first right and follow the narrow road for a few hundred meters.

This is one of the quietest, least developed parts of Tsukuba (possibly because of its proximity to the trash burning incinerator, and the old village was actually divided in two by the construction of the Higashi Odori road about 40 years ago.

The sacred grove before the tornado


Just after the tornado of 2012 in Hojo

On the same spot as shown in the picture above- stands a brand new hous


Right after the tornado struck Hojo main commercial street (the Sho-tengai) on May 6th 2012

The main street in Hojo- a few days after the May 6th 2012 tornado- the streets have already been cleared of debris

Hojo`s main commercial street one year after the tornado

The street that I lived on in Hojo, Tsukuba - the day after the tornado of May 6th 2012

The same street one year later

Hear are my articles about the tornado which I posted on TsukuBlog last year:






* Minamoto no Yoshiie (源義家),1039-1106, the scion of one of the great Japanese families, the Minamoto (or the Genji) had his coming of age ceremony held at the Ishikiyomizu Hachimangu Shrine and for that reason was affectionately dubbed HACHIMAN TARO (Hachiman shrines, dedicated to the God of War, are the titular shrines of the Minamoto Family). Yoshiie grew to encapsulate all the classic virtues of a Japanese warrior- not only bravery and skill in battle, but also  a love and cultivation of the arts (especially poetry- he supposedly let an enemy- Abe`s son, Sadato –  live after an elegant exchange of improvised verse).

The Emperor ordered Yoshiie and his father Yoriyoshi (頼義) to lead an expedition to supress a rebellion by the powerful aristocrat Abe no Yoritoki who had carved out his own sizeable territory in North-Eastern Japan. This was accomplished with the help of local strongman Kiyowara Noritake.

After the victory, Yoshiie was granted the  governorship of Mutsu Province in North-Eastern Japan, the area which the defeated Abe had controlled. .MUCH more famously than Tsukuba`s Yamaki Shrine, He also founded the Tsuruoka Hachimangu in Kamakura which is one of Japan`s most important Shrines.

Read more about this man who led his forces through the Tsukuba area more than 900 years ago here:




One Comment

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    It still remind me that Avi-san was very lucky because that tornado just passed 50 m right from your former house, I now think you hadn’t have eaten Azuki-bean and brought buck some doughnuts from Tokyo at that time!?
    Doughnuts shape stone ?? money??

    Yamaki-clan originally has descended from emperor KANMU and they were Heikes. Hachmantaro Yosiie (Genji) might paid regard to shrine because those are also descendants of Emperors (Genji from emperor SEIWA). Those time they were not hostile to each other like Taira Kiyomori vs Minamorto Yoritomo. Those people were just worriers, beginning of Samurai=Bushi, and later took political power.

    Tira-Kiyomori then Minamoto Yoritomo’s Bakufu (Power from Emperor’ s Permission. It was complicated story.

    This kind of power struggle is rather difficult even for Japanese, the easiest way is who got the emperor’ flag. Even Meiji revolution. Flag of Emperor is very important.

    Thanks Avi-san for your nice article.