Some remarks on the Shinto shrine

Entrance gate to the main court of Igusa-Hachiman-guu. According to the tradition of the shrine, it was established in 1186 by Minamoto-Yoritomo, the first "shogun" in the history. There was a huge pine tree, which was planted by Yoritomo himself. It unfortunately died in 1973. A slice of the trunk is now displayed in the corridor of the shrine.
According to the statistics of the ministry concerned there were 81,135 shrines and 75,905 temples in Japan at the end of 2006, as far as they were registered as legal persons.
The word "shrine" is used in Japan for the cult house of Shinto, the indigenous natural religion, while "temple" is the house of Buddhism.
Taking into account the number of municipalities in Japan, which is now 1,810 including wards in Tokyo, each municipality has in average some 50 shrines. You might think that this number is big. I guess that it is because every village had traditionally one shrine to protect it and its inhabitants from the evil. This type of village shrine is called "chinju". Chinju shrine has its own estate that is usually covered by sacred forests - "chinju-no-mori". Chinju forest is a very important element of our historical landscape and even now and in such an urban area as Suginami-Ward, we can find here and there small, but quiet and mysterious forests. I will show here some examples of those chinju shrines in my neighborhood.

You might also notice from the statistics at the beginning of this article, that the number of shrines and that of temples are almost equal. This has also its historical background.

In Autumn, carefully raised chrysanthemums are displayed in many shrines.

Komainu - Watchdog in the entrance of a shrine.
When Buddhism was introduced into Japan, Japanese people were overwhelmed by its sophisticated theoretical architecture and splendid and mystical rituals. Therefor, Japanese people tried to understand and justify the traditional religion "shinto" as specific expression of Buddhism in the local context of Japan. It was said that one and single Buddha's appearance could take different figures in different contexts. Therefore traditional Japanese gods were interpreted as special appearances of Buddha in Japan. Therefore, temples and shrines were closely connected, coupled and merged together. In the Edo Period, every person was obliged to register at a temple and all inhabitants were organized through the network of temples. When the Meiji government took over power, it attached importance to Shintoism as the basis of statehood and decided to break the ties between temples and shrines, and every person was obliged to belong to a shrine instead of a temple.

Nowadays, we still see the result of this policy of the Meiji government. At the beginning of Meiji period smallest administrative units, namely villages, have their "chinju". Nearly all shrines in my neighborhood are "chinju" shrines and they have certain geographical area - historical villages - of their supporters.

This shrine near Ogikubo JR station also enshrines Emperor Oujin. It was established around 890.

There often stand small shrines in the court of a shrine. These miniature shrines are called "sessha" or "massha" and their deities are either those related to the main god or native gods.
Though it is said that there are eight million gods and goddesses in Japan, there are certain deities who are so popular and enshrined in many shrines. The most popular shrine is called "inari" (about 32,000 in total). Inari is followed by "hachiman", "shinmei", "tenman" and so on. The most important god in inari shrine is "Toyouke no kami". She was originally a goddess of grain, but later came to be respected as protecting all commercial activities. On the other hand Hachiman shrine has the nineth Emperor Oujin as its main god and Emperor Oujin is the god for military. Shinmei enshrines the sun goddess Amaterasu, the origin of the Imperial family. Tenmanguu enshrines Sugawara-no-Michizane, a politician from 10th century and is thought to be the god for science. In the case of Sengen-jinja, the worshiped god is Mt. Fuji. Thus there are many different types of deities in Japan, from mythical existences to historical figures. It is generally accepted by Japanese people that a human becomes a god or a buddha after his deth, which is deeply rooted in the native religious feelings of the people.

Christians might find such polytheism somewhat strange, as they think that they only believe in one and single god. However, when I see churches in Europe, they are usually dedicated to certain patrons, for example Maria - mother of Jesus, Peter - the founder of catholic church and Nicolai - a saint to protect sailors and merchants and later appears as Santa Claus. In Europe, in particular in Catholic region, the worship of saints is extremely popular and sometimes I feel that the religious reality in Europe is not much different from the hedonic and polytheic world.

Omiya-Hachiman was established in 1063, in conjunction of a victorious military manouver by an influential samurai general. Apart from its political importance, Omiya-Hachiman was also a "chinju" of a nearby village, like other shrines on this page. Its forest stretches over 4.5ha and there are more than 10,000 trees.