Trusting in the wind
White wings across a blue sky
Jealous leaves rustle
Hirota Temple was one of the first places I stopped at during my trip. I was lucky to go as part of the Spokane-Nishinomiya Sister City Delegation and along with a tour of the temple, we watched a ceremony and then were able to talk with the head priest of the temple.
Hirota Temple was much like many of the temples of Japan; A large Torii gate, lions standing at the entrance, the purification fountain, bell, and offering / prayer vestibule. It was different in that it instead of being a single building with a shrine the complex had two primary buildings. Normally you walk through the Torii and up to the shrine itself. Here you passed through and intermediate building before arriving at the shrine.
This first one was usually missing at many of the shrines I've visited. It was more similar to a viewing area where people could watch ceremonies that occurred in front of the main shrine. While on my trip I learned that there are two types of Shinto Shrines in Japan, Government funded and family run temples. This temple has the distinction of being a kanpei-taishia. 官幣大社 (1), Which basically means that it is one of the foremost shrines of the Japanese Government. Probably having the funding to go along with it as well.
Here we see the primary shrine where offerings and 'prayers' are made. This courtyard also serves as the location for the ceremonies at the temple. Hirota Jinja was founded in the 3rd century by Empress Jingu. Ameterasu, the sun Goddess, is enshrined here at Hirota giving the temple a very high stature.
While we were there we watched a series of three ceremonies involving two priestesses accompanied by music. In the first (pictured) one priestess carries a dove (bronze) while another sports this bow, eventually shooting and killing the bird. The second the women moved in opposition to each other one holding a large dagger (tanto sized) and the other a straight sword common in China. The third dance the woman held a folding fan (sensu) in one hand while holding bells in their other hands. There was really not much explanation to the ceremony, but it was interesting to watch none the less.
Especially in the final act, while the women held the fan and bells they moved in an especially flowing manner. Their stark white Kimono and their movement really projected an image of cranes flying. It was really interesting.
In talking with a Priestess from Amagasaki Jinja I learned that the 'dance' (ceremony) was normally done by men, and that it was very unusual that women participated. The first sequence with the bow and quarry was obviously geared towards prosperity and possibly the others were on the same line.
For a little more information on the shrine, check out this website, It has a section discussing the origin of the name of the city Nishinomiya, as well as a discussion on the famous Azaleas, some of which were purportedly planted 150 years ago.
Hirota Shrine was a place of a tremendous amount of history. It was a popular pilgramage of nobles and had imperial favor throughout its long history.
The shrine had a very small minature pagoda at the location that was not available for public viewing. While photo's of the shrine were restricted, However, I was allowed to take a picture in front of it with the head priest. Out of respect the the shrine I've only included a portion of the pagoda (shrine) here to give you an idea of what I'm discussing. The head priest explained that the pagoda was known to have healing and restorative powers. Inside (not pictured) was a baseball sized glass sphere with a spiral fracture in it. The sphere had been a gift from the Empress 1200 years ago. It was referred to a Sword Cut Stone. Legend had it that the sphere had been struck with a Katana causing the spiral fracture.
The artistry on the pagoda was phenominal. The detail was incredible, as was the lacquer finish and gold leaf.
I learned something new about the lions this trip.... We'll revisit that on another date... Something I had never heard of before.... A little bit of superstition.....
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