The To-zaki Washi no Miya Shrine (東崎鷲の宮神社) in Tsuchiura – Why is there an anchor there?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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),
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.
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.
To be continued….
* 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.