Koma Shrine seen from the out-most torii gate. A queue starts here and continues about 200m till the main building where people perform worship ritual.

Koma Shrine and Shoten-in
- founded and kept to date by the ancient Goguryeo people

Koma Shrine is located in Saitama Prefecture on the rim of the Kanto Plain. The Chichibu mountains start just behind the shrine.

Koma Shrine enshrines a member of the royal family of Goguryeo, Koma Konikishi Jakko(1). Goguryeo was destroyed in 668 by an allied attack of Tang and Silla. Many aristocrats and monks of Goguryeo escaped the turmoil and came to Japan. According to the Shoku Nihongi, 1799 Goguryeo people who had once settled down somewhere in the east were ordered to move to Musashi Province in 716 and a new Koma County was founded. According to the record of Koma Shrine, Koma Konikishi Jakko was appointed as the Head of Koma County. He dedicated to the development of this area and died here in 748. The county people wanted to commemorate his untiring contribution to the Goguryeo community and enshrined him as Koma Myojin. Since then, the shrine has been protected by the descendants of Koma-Konikishi-Jakko as its chief priests.

(1)"Konikishi" means "king" in the old Korean, but in this context this title was given to him by the Japanese Emperor as "kabane".

This is the residence of the chief priest. It is assumed to have been built in the late 17th century.

In relation to Koma-Konikishi-Jakko, Nihon Shoki refers to a person named "Genbu Jakko" as deputy envoy of the Goguryeo delegation sent in 666 to seek the support of Japan. He seems to have remained in Japan after the fall of Goguryeo. In addition, a wooden plate reading "Koma Jakko" was excavated from the ruins of Fujiwara-kyo, which became Japan's capital in 694. Therefore, it is probable that Jakko was given the uji-name "Koma" by the then emperor and was living in Fujiwara-kyo. Furthermore, in the Shoku-Nihongi, there is an article that the jugoi-no-ge (2) ranked Koma Jakko was given a kabane of "Konikishi" in 703. The name "Koma Konikishi Jakko" appears in the Koma Shrine's official history book. But a question remains as to whether Koma-Konikishi-Jakko, who was living in the capital, really became Head of Koma County in Musashi Province and died there in 746.

(2)This is a rank he assumed in the emperor’s palace.

If he had come to Japan as deputy envoy in 666, he would have been a good adult. If the same person went to Musashi 50 years later as County Head and died there 30 years later, I would have to think that he had reached the age of about 100, but could that be the case? Also, County Head is too light for a post for a high-ranking official with jugoi-no-ge. That said, it is quite possible that Jakko, who had a kabane “Konikishi”, which indicates the royal origin of Jakko, played a symbolic role in developing land and improving life of Goguryeo people in Koma County.

Mausoleum of Koma Konikishi Jakko in Shoten-in

A pair of Jangseung standing in front of Koma Schrine.

After the emergence of powerful unified dynasties in China such as Sui and Tang, Baekje and Goguryeo were destroyed one after another on the Korean Peninsula in the middle of the 7th century, and Japan lost its foothold on the Korean Peninsula after the defeat in the Battle of Baekgang. In the midst of such turmoil, many people fled the Korean Peninsula and came to Japan. Although the Japanese side allowed them to live in Japan, they sent them far away in the eastern part of the country, such as the Kanto region, rather than in the western part of Japan or around Yamato, so that they were not able to get in touch with their homeland and play a dangerous role.

It is rather a common understanding of the Japanese people that we were made up of a mixed race of Jomon and Yayoi people. However, when it comes to the percentage of both people, recent researches show that the percentage of Jomon blood is less than 20% and that the current Japanese are essentially descendants of the people who came to Japan predominantly from the Korean Peninsula since the Yayoi period. We are therefore not entitled to say that we are descendants of the people who made Jomon pottery.

Indeed, only after the 8th century, when the Korean Peninsula was unified by Silla and Japan lost its leverage on the politics of the peninsula, Japan and Korea were virtually separated from each other and started to go their own ways. I think it is natural to conceive that there were neither Koreans nor Japanese if we go back to the 8th century or earlier. However, considering the role played by the "Japan-Korea single ancestry theory" in the 20th century Japan-Korea relations, it is not easy to argue this way.

When I decided to visit Koma Shrine, I thought that it stands in a peaceful place in the countryside. However, it was a complete misjudgment. My visit was on the 3rd of New Year. The shrine was awfully crowded with people who were paying the new year's visit, and there was a long queue in front of the main shrine waiting for their turn to worship. I came to be afraid of COVID19 infection and refrained from worship, and went instead to an old house built in the early Edo period. It is the former residence of the chief priest. Although it is large to some extent, it is made quite simple and I wondered if it was suitable for the descendants of the Goguryeo royal family to live in. However, seeing the bustle of worship-visitors, I came to be convinced that the present chief priest is surely enjoying a comfortable life in a luxury house.

Entrance of Shoten-in. Also here stand a pair of Jangseung. The Sanmon Gate was built during the Tenpo era, imitating the Kaminarimon Gate of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

Shrines and temples are integrated into single entities in Japan before the Meiji era. In that sense, it is natural that there is a Shingon Buddhist temple called Shoten-in next to Koma Shrine; both were founded by the same Goguryeo settlers. Jangseung stand in front of both Koma Shrine and Shoten-in and create a Korean atmosphere. However, they look quite modern. Were there the Jangseung of the same design when Koma County was established here? Even if some sorts of Jangseung existed, they would have been more archaic, I presume. In traditional Korean villages, so-called “sotte” with a bird perched on it also stands at the entrance as a talisman sign and plays a similar role to the Jangseung. I understand that “sotte” dates from the Yayoi period and has the same origin as the Japanese “torii“.

Shoten-in has Koma King Mausoleum and it is said to be the tomb of Koma-Konikishi-Jakko. A tower with five sandstones stands in a small house, but it has been so weathered that it is difficult to tell what it is.

rainy Auckland
View seen from the main temple of Shoten-in