A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.
An Evening Bike-Ride – in search of the Dairokuten Shrine in Onigakubo, Tsukuba (鬼ヶ窪の大六天神社)
One of the six “Gateways to the Science City”（which surprisingly few people seem to have noticed) . Based on the ancient Chinese concept of there being “auspicious beasts” of specific color to protect each of the cardinal directions, these award winning (for their design) pillars (in sets of six at each location) were erected in March 1985 as a kind of homage to the “traditional sciences” (the I Ching, Feng Shui, Yin-Yang Theory, etc.) These six mark the Western Entrance into the city (near the Automobile Research Institute on the Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road) and are white – as in White Tiger (白虎), the Guardian of the West. Down the same road to the east (near the Hanamuro Intersection) are the Azure Dragon (青龍) posts guarding the East. Near the High Energy Physics Laboratory (along Higashi O-dori) are the Black Tortoise (玄武) pillars protecting the North and on Route 408, in front of the Forestry and Forest Products Institute are the Vermillion (red) Bird pillars protecting the South. Besides these four cardinal directions, two more gate-sets (both in steel color) were set up representing the Countryside (on Higashi O-dori near the Sasagi Intersection), and the “Research” (on Nishi O-dori near the Meterological Research Institute) See more photos here.
By Avi Landau
It was hellishly hot. And since I had spent the entire morning helping out with my son’s little-league baseball practice (I kid you not – neither the heat nor the pandemic stops them!), I was strongly tempted to spend the remainder of the day ( and perhaps the night as well) laying down in an air-conditioned room. There was another temptation, though… one that proved stronger – the allure of locating a shrine I had once been shown (many years ago) in Tsukuba’s Onigakubo (Demon’s Hollow), one that my friend had told me was dedicated to a “strange” deity… the ruler of the realm of lust, greed, desire and TEMPTATION… whom I had recently learned was called Dairokuten in Japanese (written either as 大六天 or 第六天) – and Mara, in English.
Rice growing by the Yatagawa River in Takada, Tsukuba. Notice how the paddy plants in the field on your left have already grown heavy with grain, while the stalks on the right have not sprouted their “beards” yet. This is probably due to a difference in transplantation time (and not variety of rice plant), but with this year`s extended period of cold and rainy weather, there is a strong possibility that the rice on the left will not be very good – since it did not get enough sunshine after bearing grain.
A few weeks earlier, I had cycled home from the northern part of Tsukuba and taken a country road running parallel (and just to the west of) the long and narrow Tsukuba University campus. At some point came across a simple shinto shrine, which a name plate on its torii gate informed me was called the Dairoku Shrine. I had never heard of such a deity… and still had a long way to ride (and many other things to discover) so I didn`t give it any more thought at the time.
Outstanding in mid-August is the abundance of lilium longiflorum – Teppo-Yuri 鉄砲百合, (literally: Musket Lilies), in Japanese – Easter lilies or Bermuda lilies, in English. Native to Okinawa and Taiwan, they were first reported to the West by Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg in the late 18th century and their bulbs first brought to The United Kingdom in 1819. Later, in 1853, another shipment was made and some bulbs ended up in Bermuda. They became popular in the Europe and North America after being exhibited at the Japanese Pavillion at the Vienna World`s Fair in 1873. In 1880, a man called Thomas Sargent brought some of these flowers to Philadelphia and they grew wildly popular after becoming associated with Easter. They became a great industry in Bermuda – until a devastating disease struck, and all the bulbs wiped out. Tragedy in the Caribbean, though, was an opportunity for Japanese growers and they became a major export item (about 30 million bulbs a year) until the attack on Pearl Harbor put a halt to the trade. Now 95% of these commercially available Easter Lilies are produced in the US – but in Japan`s old neighborhoods, we can see these flowers growing just about everywhere in August.
A couple days later, though, going through a collection of local (Tsuchiura) folktales (, I chanced upon a story called Tonozato’s Dairokuten (Tonozato no Dairokuten). It told of how in ages past certain people who had taken fallen leaves or branches off the shrine grounds for use as kindling or fertilizer had soon gotten sick and died. That was the whole story… but in the back of the short book there was a footnote about Dairokuten. It explained that in days of yore there were many shrines in what is now Ibaraki Prefecture dedicated to this deity who ruled the realm of lust, greed and desire and who could take other people’s pleasure away and turn them into one`s own. Hmmm… Dairokuten…. the name rang a bell…. AHA! It was the deity enshrined at the Jinja I had found a few days earlier!
I knew I had to learn more!
Riding through the narrow lanes of a village called Takada, I spotted this Torii gate… which beckoned me to enter its sacred precincts. The sign on top reads Takada Ten Shrine (高田天神社). I had never spotted this gate before, and the books I had with me in my backpack made no mention of it. Even the internet gave me only one hit for a Ten Shrine in Tsukuba – and the site said that it was a Tenjin Shrine dedicated to the spirit of Sugawara no Michizane (the deity of scholarship)
A quick online search of ‘Dairokuten Shrines’ showed me that there were very few such places remaining in Japan (since most were abolished after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 along with many others enshrining ‘syncretic’ deities) – and that they were ALL in Eastern Japan – with three listed in Tsukuba. The one in Kaname (which I had found earlier), one in Mizuhori (which is now known by its exclusively Shinto name – Omodaru Shrine… and one in Onigakubo! I thought to myself… wait… could it be the shrine I had been driven by once… the one I had been told enshrined the ‘strange’ deity?
Anyway… after baseball practice was my chance to find out (since I had some rare free time). I waited for the sun to get a little lower… and then set out!
I walked down the worshippers path through the cedar trees. The sweltering heat (even in late evening) and the intense buzzing of the cicadas made me feel more than a bit light-headed… some might call what I was feeling a spiritual experience.
As I stepped into the clearing I saw that there were two shrines there. One, the Ten Shrine – and the other an Inari shrine.
I approached this dilapidated old structure, the Ten Shrine – actually a protective covering to the shrine itself.
And I took a peek inside. On a very old-looking rustic shrine there was a candle and an image of Daikokuten – one of the Seven Lucky Deities . But was this really a Tenjin Shrine as the internet had informed me. Or was this another Dairokuten Shrine? There are several Dairokuten Shrines which are, in fact, called Ten Jinja. In fact, I might go out on a limb and say that the name of the village itself, Takada, derives from the fact that there is a Ten Jinja Shrine there. When I did a search for Ten Jinja, I found out that in Takada, Nara Prefecture, there is a major shrine called Takada Ten Jinja. The deity there is Takami musubi no Mikoto (the same deity enshrined at the Dairokuten Shrine in Tsuchiura!). Might not the Ten Jinja in Takada be a branch of the Nara-based shrine – and not a Tenjin shrine? I will have to interview some local villagers to find out.
After leaving the Ten Jinja and coasted down a slope through forest and through rice fields, I saw to my right a hill-top grove – and a cemetery. The cemetery, the Onigakubo Community Cemetery, had visitors, doing some cleaning and leaving some flowers for the O-Bon Festival. Little did I know that the Dairokuten (Mara) Jinja Shrine I was looking for was right on the other side of those trees!
In the cemetery I found this impressive (280 cm tall) Hokyointo monument dated 1740. It was apparently moved to this spot in 1968.
A close-up shows a large Bonji (Sanskrit-based)characters as well as detailed writing in Sino-Japanese. The
Instead of going up behind the cemetery I headed for the old main road that runs through Onigakubo – and ended up in Hakke the next village to the north. I dropped in at the Kannon-Ji Temple where the magical Ryusui Mando Fireworks event is held every September to honor ancestral spirits. The temple was also crowded with O-bon visitors. These are some 6 Jizo boards distinctive to the Tsukuba area.
One of the very special sacred stones on the temple grounds. This foreign looking stone is mysterious indeed. There is one very similar to it at the Hie Shrine in Tanaka, Tsukuba.
My heart almost stopped when a sudden breeze lifted this scarecrow into flight!
And after riding around in a circle I finally found what I was looking for – The Dairokuten Jinja Shrine of Onigakubo. I had was been taken by it in a car driven by a friend who grew up nearby. I remember her saying ” There is a strange deity enshrined here”! Note all the garbage dumped behind it – and the unswept grounds covered with fallen leaves (in summer!) Very, very unusual. Could there be a connection to certain folktales told about this deity (who loves disorder)? There is the one, for example, from Nagano, in which an old woman who scolds some children who’d littered the grounds of a Dairokuten Shrine and then quickly falls ill (because the deity preferred the mess) and the other (mentioned above, from Tsuchiura) in which those who removed fallen leaves from the ground got sick and died shortly afterwards.
Dairokuten Jinja. For those of you who want to know more about this curious deity who played such a crucial theological role in the blending of Shintoism and Buddhism that took place starting in the late Heian Period and running right through to the end of the Edo Period can read more in Muju Ichien’sShasekishu, and the Taiheiki which provide slightly varying legends telling of a secret pact between Mara (Dairokuten) and the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. *see bottom of this post for translation of this tale
Onigakubo scenery – turf grass, leek and rice fields – with Mt. Tsukuba in the distance. Onigakubo (鬼ヶ窪) is a strange place name indeed! Who would want to live in a place called Demon`s Hollow? I would have to assume that the name is what it is because of the presence of the Dairokuten Shrine. Another question is why this part of Tsukuba (Onigakubo) was under direct control of the Shogunate (tenryo, 天領) during the Edo Period?
Leek fields as the sun goes down….
The Dairoku Shrine in Kaname, Tsukuba, to the west of Tsukuba University`s Ichinoya Campus
Now called Takamusubi Jinja, this is another Dairokuten Shrine – which local legend says exacts revenge on anyone who took fallen leaves or branches from its grounds.
The Omodaru/Dairokuten Shrine in Mizuhori, Tsukuba, across the rice fields from the Kenkyu-Gakuen Station in Tsukuba. Omodaru Jinja (面足神社) is what many Dairokuten Shrines were renamed after the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism during the Meiji Period.
*In antiquity, when this country did not yet exist, the deity of the Great
Shrine [the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu], guided by a seal of the Great Sun
Buddha [Dainichi] inscribed on the ocean floor, thrust down her august
spear. Brine from the spear coagulated like drops of dew, and this was seen
from afar by Māra, the Evil One, in the Sixth Heaven of Desire. “It appears
that these drops are forming into a land where Buddhism will be propagated and people will escape from the round of birth-and-death,” he said,
and came down to prevent it.
Then the deity of the Great Shrine met with the demon king. “I promise
not to utter the names of the Three Treasures, nor will I permit them near
my person. So return quickly back to the heavens.” Being thus mollified,
Monks to this very day, not wishing to violate that august promise, do
not approach the sacred shrine, and the sutras are not carried openly in
its precincts. Things associated with the Three Treasures are referred to
obliquely: Buddha is called “The Cramp-Legged One [tachisukumi]; the
sutras, “colored paper” [somegami]; monks, “longhairs” [kaminaga]; and
temples, “incense burners” [koritaki], etc. Outwardly the deity is estranged
from the Law but inwardly she profoundly supports the Three Treasures.
Thus, Japanese Buddhism is under the special protection of the deity of
the Great Shrine. . . . Since all of this arose by virtue of the seal of the Great
Sun Buddha on the ocean floor, we have come to identify the deities of
the Inner and Outer Shrines with the Great Sun Buddha of the Two-Part
The cover of a book about the first of Japan`s three great national unifiers, entitled: “Dairokuten Mao Nobunaga” – one of the many biographies and histories that use Oda Nobunaga`s self-chosen nickname (Dairokuten Mao) in its title. And a perfect moniker it was, too, that of the DemonKing. the great opponent of Buddhism, for a man of great ambition, known for his cruelty – the man who had the great Enryakuji temple complex on Mt. Hie burned down – along with most of its monks. I felt that I that I couldn`t leave that bit of trivia out of this post since a google search of Dairokuten (and not Dairokuten Jinja (Shrine) in Japanese will bring up lots hits on Nobunaga – leading many who take just a quick glance at the result to mistakenly believe that a Dairokuten Jinja enshrines the spirit of Nobunaga. The controversial portrait used for this book-cover is the property of the property of the Sanhoji Temple in Tendo, Yamagata Prefecture and is said to be of Nobunaga and to have been made by the Jesuit artist Giovanni Niccolo (1560-1626)