TsukuBlog

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

The To-zaki Washi no Miya Shrine (東崎鷲の宮神社) in Tsuchiura – Why is there an anchor there?

 

An anchor

I wondered what this old anchor, encrusted in concrete, was doing at the Washi no Miya Jinja (The Eagle Shrine) in To-zaki, Tsuchiura`s oldest neighborhood.

By Avi Landau

Tsuchiura City is holding its February-long Hina Doll event (in imitation of the one in Makabe, Sakuragawa City), and when planning my visit there, I decided that I would wait until the second to last day, March 2nd, to go. I had checked and found out that that was the the festival at the Washi no Miya Shrine, the oldest in Tsuchiura (dating back to the 12th or perhaps even the 10th century) was supposed to take place- the 15th day of the new year (according to the lunar calendar). I had not only read about that festival (with the curious name of JAKAMOKOJAN) in various books, but I had heard it described nostalgically by my friend Shinozaki-san, who lived near the shrine as a boy (just after the Second World War). I was told that on the day of the festival the parishioners gave out (or sold) servings of a unique type of ODEN seasoned with a special miso sauce. Shinozaki-san  told me about all the excitement, the crowds, the music, the sumo wrestling, and all the various vendors. What really stuck out in his mind though, was his fond recollection of the ODEN called JAKAMOKOJAN  ( a name said to  derive from the sound of the festival`s music) – grilled tofu, konnyaku jelly and boiled yams – all covered in that delicious miso sauce. What made it eating it even more special for him was that it was supposed to keep you from catching a cold for a whole year!

Washi no Miya

Washi no Miya was established to “protect” the tiny village that eventually turned into Tsuchiura City. It is dedicated to two deities: Ame no Hi  Washi no Mikoto (天日鷲の命), who is connected at the same time to fire prevention, war, and the production of cloth and silk , and Tajikarao no Mikoto (手力雄命), who used his great strength to bring light back into the world by pulling Amatersu, the Sun Goddess , out of the cave she had been hiding in. The eagle is believed to be Ame no Hi Washi no Mikoto`s loyal servant – and thus the name Washi no Miya (Eagle) Shrine

So as I had already seen plenty of old Hina Doll sets on display in shops and homes in quaint Makabe, rather than looking at still more dolls at  the Tsuchiura Hina Matsura event, I was looking forward to the JAKAMOKOJAN Festival at the Washi no Miya Shrine. On the thirty minute bus ride that took me along the Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road and then across the Sakura River into Tsuchiura, I read about the history of the shrine. It had been founded by a fisherman  who had come by boat to what was then the mouth of the Sakura River (now To-zaki, Tsuchiura, which is a couple of kilometers from the river). He had come from Dejima (along with six other who founded different villages) to begin a new settlement, and in order to keep the area free of bad energies and evil spirits, he brought over with him (using a special ritual) the deities from his home-village`s Washi Shrine. The people who later came to inhabit that picturesque spot ( near the shores of Lake Kasumigaura, with a fine view of Mt. Tsukuba) combined fishing and farming to make their livings.

Chikara Ishi

Since one of the deities enshrined at the Washi no Miya Jinja is the powerful Tajikarao no Mikoto, festivals at this shrine (and former temple) involved tests of strength. These three stones are Chikara Ishi (strength stones) – used for such competitions. They also can be said to represent the “male force”. Inscriptions on them are dated 1812 (Bunka 9) and two of the stones have their weights written on them – 142.5 kg (38 KAN) and 225 kg ( 60 KAN) In past ages, sumo wrestlers held matches here – and some grand-champions of the past (i.e. Hitachi Yama 1874- 1922) worshiped there.

When the Tokugawa Family took control of Japan after the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), the neighborhood changed dramatically – the castle that the Tsuchiya family would rule their domain from was built only a few hundred meters away – and the Mito Kaido Highway, one of the most important arteries of travel during the Edo Period (1603-1868) passed right along the border of the rustic old village. Despite all the development though, the area between the lake and the village remained a peaceful carpet of rice and vegetable fields and reeds.

Chikara Ishi

Front view of the Chikara Ishi. Behind them is what remains of the once vast Benten Pond. To their left is an old Wisteria tree and the tall monument commemorates the visit of Hitachi no Yama, a sumo Grand Champion who had been born in Mito.

This large stone monument commemorates one of the local parishioners , a carpenter, who moved to Tokyo and went on to become extremely successful. Putting this stone in place was his way of saying thanks to the deity of the shrine.

This large stone monument commemorates one of the local parishioners , a carpenter, who moved to Tokyo and went on to become extremely successful. Putting this stone in place was his way of saying thanks to the deity of the shrine.

When I got off the bus and started walking north along the tracks for about 500 meters before turning left into To-zaki, I realized how much things had changed. No longer near the Sakura River (which I guess had shifted its course over the centuries) and no longer even near the lake ( which was now cut off by the embankment built to support the Joban Railroad Line- and prevent flooding), the whole area has now been built up. It was obvious, however, that the good ol` days are long gone…. the thriving shops and bustling residential neighborhoods that I guess had existed for most of the 20th century are now rusting… many commercial buildings and homes seemed empty, some even boarded up.

Washi no Miya

A sign explaining the history of the Washi no Miya Shrine and its old JAKAMOKOJAN Festival. It reads: The one and only guardian shrine in the old hamlet of To-zaki. Enshrined here is the agricultural deity Ame no Hi Washi no Mikoto. According to shrine lore it was founded in the early Kamakura Period. On its grounds can be found an old Buddhist stone tablet dating back to 1564, power-stones (chikara ishi, and other important cultural artifacts. In former days a festival called Jakamokojan, named after the sound of the drums created during the Buddhist Nembutsu prayers, was held on the 15th day of the first month of the year. Miso oden eaten on that day prevented people from catching cold for a whole year.

The festive lantern hung out on the main gate indicating that there was a festival going on at the Washi-no-miya Shrine in Tsuchiura

The festive lantern hung out on the main gate indicating that there was a festival going on at the Washi-no-miya Shrine in Tsuchiura

The neighborhood was depressing enough – but what really brought me down was what I found out when I reached the shrine – no vendors, no excited crowds… the JAKAMOKOJAN event had been cancelled – PERMANENTLY! Apparently all that goes on now for what is now called the Spring Festival is a private party for (the mostly elderly) parishioners who gather inside the old meeting hall beside the shrine.

When I asked this woman why the famous JAKAMOKOJAN oden wasn`t being served she said: "We`ve all gotten too old!". Inside the meeting hall behind her, the ujiko (parishioners) are having a party.

When I asked this woman why the famous JAKAMOKOJAN oden wasn`t being served she said: “We`ve all gotten too old!”. Inside the meeting hall behind her, the ujiko (parishioners) are having a party.

 

When I asked what had happened I was told what I had already realized on my walk over- the parishioners (UJIKO) had grown too few and too old to carry on the JAKAMOKOJAN tradition any longer. In fact the festival had been running on fumes since the war (during which it had also been temporarily cancelled). During the 1950 it had been given life by the War Widows` Association and later its cause had been taken up by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. Now there`s no one left to keep it alive.

Everyone I spoke agreed that it was a shame, but without any support from the city government or some other organization, there is just nothing that can be done.

The Prayer Hall

The Prayer Hall and the meeting hall to the right (photo taken on a different day).

Despite the great disappointment, I found plenty to interest me on the shrine grounds. Something that really caught my eye was curious artifact standing in front of the main hall – an old anchor embedded in a base of concrete. I asked one of the old parishioners who had come out of the party about it and learned that at some point during the Taisho Period (1912-1925) it had been brought to the shrine as an offering of thanks by some fishermen from Choshi,  Chiba Prefecture. Apparently, they had gone out to sea in their boat and got caught in some rough seas (Choshi sits at the point where the Tone River flows into the Pacific and sometime the currents washes ships far off shore). They had given up all hope, it seems, until an eagle suddenly appeared overhead and guided them (or so the fishermen believed) safely back to shore. The men were positive that the eagle was none other than the servant of the deity of the Washi no Miya Jinja Shrine in To-zaki.

Eight Choshi fishermen came to formerly present the anchor as a token of thanks to the deity of the shrine. They wore festive vests that revealed their tatoo covered arms.

Carvings

Elaborate Carvings on the shrine`s prayer hall show a connection to Shingon Esoteric Buddhism,

When I walked around the main hall and saw all the elaborate carvings on it, I realized that up until the Meiji Period (beginning in 1868) that this sight had been both a temple and a shrine. The work was probably done bu artisans who`s been doing repair work at the Tokugawa mausoleum complex in Nikko. There was an old stone slab behind the hall dated 1564. It has the Hokkekyo Sutra inscribed on it and records the fact that warriors from the Oda Castle fled to the temple after they had come under attack by the forces of the Uesugi Clan. Other stones on the grounds from 1571 (when the forces of the Satake Clan occupied Oda Castle),

A rabbit motif - perhaps the White Rabbit of Inaba!

A rabbit motif – perhaps the White Hare of Inaba!

To the left of the prayer hall are three stones sticking up out of the ground. Power-stones (CHIKARA ISHI) supposedly used in tests of strength on festival days – though I also believe that these stones (inscribed with the characters meaning MAN-STONES must also represent the male force …while the pond behind them represents the female (the importance of achieving balance between the male and female forces is a fundamental concept in Esoteric Buddhism.

The pond (the natural phenomenon which most probably prompted the founders to erect the shrine on that particular spot) is now apparently only a shadow of what it once was – and in the middle of it there is a small shrine for the goddess Benten ( I told you the pond represented the female!) and I was told of how a beautiful young woman, the daughter of one of a local priest, drowned herself in that pond after her father had passed away (shortly after he had driven away her husband whom he could no longer tolerate.

A little shrine dedicated to Benzaiten (Bentensan) sits in the middle of the shrines pond.

A little shrine dedicated to Benzaiten (Bentensan) sits in the middle of the shrines pond.

Anchor

I found out that the anchor had been brought to the shrine as an offering by some fisherman who believed they`d been rescued by an eagle, the messenger of the shrine`s deity.

Behind the pond I found a poetry stone – dated 1901. I guess back then the pond was much larger, and beyond it expanses of rice field and the lake because the stone has one of Basho`s haikus chiseled onto it:

KONO ATARI ME NI MIYURU MONO MINNA SHUZUSHI

Which I translate as:

Everything around here

All that meets the eye

Is deliciously cool! (1688)

Looking around the shrine today this poem stone seems sadly out of place… no matter how hard I tried to conjure up the beauty of the past.

This old picture hanging inside the prayer hall (I was able to enter on the day of the festival) shows how beautiful the shrine was in the past - before the area around it was developed.

This old picture hanging inside the prayer hall (I was able to enter on the day of the festival) shows how beautiful the shrine was in the past – before the area around it was developed.

A statue of the man  responsible for all the development work - Hisamatsu Gozaemon

A statue of the man responsible for all the development work – Hisamatsu Gozaemon

 

This old stone tablet

This old stone tablet dated 1564 has a few characters from the Hokekyo Sutra inscribed on it. On top is a Sanskrit character representing Jizo Bosatsu. Other valuable sacred stones from the Sengoku Period (16th century) have been found buried on the shrine grounds.

To be continued….

Unusual Chozuya

Unusual Chozuya basin for cleansing the mouth and hands

 

Poem Stone

Poem Stone

 

Hotate - the oldest restaurant in Tsuchiura

Hotate – the oldest restaurant in Tsuchiura

 

Hotate`s Kaki Ageh

Hotate`s Kaki Ageh

 

Zeppelin Curry

Zeppelin Curry a Tsuchiura specialty, served up at the Machi Kado Kura – a restaurant in an old brick store-house

 

Fried pork at Nakamura`s

Fried pork at Nakamura`s

 

Nakamura`s in Tsuchiura

Nakamura`s in Tsuchiura

 

Perhaps the dirtiest restaurant in Japan

It is perhaps the dirtiest restaurant in Japan – but it has its fans!

 

* The Jakamokojan Festival was traditionally held on the 15th, 16th, and 17th days of the new year. In the early Showa Period (some time in the 1920`s), though, they limited the festival to a single day – February 13th.

During the Edo Period there was always a big regional market held after the festival with vendor from all over the region plying their wares.

 

 



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