We had been to hubby’s ancestral home in Ichinomiya city during the New Year holidays. On 3rd January, hubby and I visited Shirahige Jinja Shrine. Shirahige Jinja is a Shinto shrine located in Ukawa town of Takashima in Shiga prefecture. It is said to be the oldest shrine in Omi province. It is the head shrine of the Shirahige Shrines around the country. It is located along the national highway road route 161. This shrine is famous for a large vermilion lacquered Torii gate that stands in Lake Biwa across from the shrine. According to the legend and traditional historical documents, Princess Yamatohime no Mikoto founded the shrine in 5 BC (25th year of the reign of Emperor Suinin). In 674, the shrine was given the name Hira Myojin Shrine by Imperial order of Emperor Tenmu. It is classified as a Kokushigenzaisha Shrine, which means that it is mentioned in Rikkokushi (the six National Historical books). Hira god is mentioned in an article heading of January 18, 865 (old calendar) of Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku (one of the Rikkokushi History book written in Heian period), where it is described that Hira god was given a divine rank of Jushiinoge (junior fourth rank, lower grade). However, the shrine is not listed in Engishiki Jinmyocho (a registered list of shrines).The shrine was repeatedly reconstructed over the centuries. The shrine we see today is the reconstruction carried out in 1603. At that time, the shrine Main Hall Honden, Wakamiya Jinja Shrine (sub-shrine), Ise Ryogu Shrine (the collective term for two main Ise Jingu shrines named Naiku and Geku), and the three shrines of Hachiman were built by carpenters from Harima province under Bugyo Katagiri Katsumoto by order of Toyotomi Hideyori in order to execute the dying instructions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The principal statue of worship at this shrine is Sarutahiko no Okami. The god is personified as an old man with white beard. The shrine derives its name from ‘white beard’ which means ‘Shirahige’ in Japanese. People pray here for long life and longevity. A Noh play named ‘Shirahige’ is a tale about this shrine.
Shirahige Jinja Shrine is located about 120 kilometers west of hubby’s ancestral home and it took us 2.5 hours to reach the shrine by car. On reaching the shrine we parked our car at the parking area inside the shrine premises, and then went to see the famous huge Torii Gate of the shrine that stands in Lake Biwa. The gate in the lake and the shrine buildings stand across national highway route 161, which is a very busy road. However there is no crosswalk to the lake, and I had a tough time in crossing the road to reach the lakeside. The vermilion lacquered Torii Gate is really magnificent, and it is one of the best known landmarks of the lake. A pharmacy dealer from Osaka revived and constructed the gate in 1937, and dedicated it to the shrine. The current gate was reconstructed in 1981. It is located at a distance of 58.2 meters from the national highway. It has a height of 12 meters from the water surface of the lake. Diameter of the pillars is 1 meter and the spacing between the pillars is 7.8 meters. We spent about 30 minutes enjoying the views of Lake Biwa and the Torii Gate.
Torii Gate standing in Lake Biwa
Torii Gate and Lake Biwa
Torii Gate and a plaque with ‘Shirahige Jinja’ written on it
Me and the Torii Gate
Afterwards we crossed the national highway road again and re-entered the shrine premises from another red Torii Gate located right in front of the Hall of Worship named Haiden. The Torii Gate has a plaque with the name of the shrine written on it. Beautiful rotund Shimenawa straw rope festooned with zigzag shaped Shide hung from the gate.
Another Torii Gate at the entrance of the shrine premises
Shimenawa straw rope and zigzag shaped Shide papers hanging from the Torii gate
Torii Gate and a plaque with the name of the shrine written on it
We moved around inside the shrine premises and enjoyed viewing a few buildings and their wonderful architecture. The main shrine building is the Main Hall named Honden. On receiving the dying instructions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, this structure was erected using donations from his son Hideyori in 1603. The gabled and hipped roof of Honden Hall is made of cypress bark in Irimoya-zukuri style. The hall building has a distinctive architectural style of Momoyama period. In addition, a munafuda ridgepole tag with the seal of Katagiri Katsumoto dated 1603 still remains in the building. The hall building is 5.45 meters wide and 5.45 meters deep. Honden Hall has been designated as a national important cultural property in 1938. Another building named Haiden Hall of Worship was constructed in front of Honden Hall in 1879. At that time a continuous complex roof was built for Honden Hall and Haiden Hall. Haiden Hall is 6.36 meters wide and 3.64 meters deep. We loved viewing the architectural style of Honden Hall and Haiden Hall, and took a few photos of these halls from various angles.
Hubby standing in front of a map inside the shrine premises
Honden Hall as viewed from the southeast inside the shrine precincts
Beautiful architecture of the roof of Honden Hall
Haiden Hall as viewed from the south
Honden Hall (left) and Haiden Hall (right) as viewed from the west-northwest
Next, I stood in a long queue of worshippers in front of Haiden Hall. It was the third day of the New Year and many visitors had come to do Hatsumode prayers. After waiting in the queue for about 15 minutes, I reached the altar of Haiden Hall. I offered some coins into the offertory box, clapped my hands twice, and prayed for long life of hubby and well being of my family.
I am waiting in a queue of worshippers in front of Haiden Hall
Altar of Haiden Hall
I am ringing the bell that hangs from a rope at Haiden Hall
Adjacent to Haiden Hall we saw a beautiful structure named Temizuya. It is a water filled basin where worshippers wash their hands and mouth as a symbolic purification ritual before offering prayers at Haiden. The copper water basin was donated by a company named Kyoto Enreisha in 1881. The cypress roofed pavilion over the water basin was rebuilt in 1987. Temizuya looked so stately but we did not use it for washing our hands as we noticed it after offering our prayers at Haiden Hall.
Temizuya water basin
Next, we visited a sub-shrine named Wakamiya Jinja which is located to the west of Honden Hall. The foundation date of this small shrine is unknown. According to the records of Shirahige Jinja, this sub-shrine was reconstructed at the same time as Honden Hall by Toyotomi Hideyori in 1603. The current shrine was repaired in 2000. This shrine has been designated as the cultural property of Takashima in 1980. The deity enshrined inside is named Ota no Mikoto. It is considered to be another name or alias of Sarutahiko no Okami. However, some others consider him to be the descendant of Sarutahiko no Okami. I prayed at this shrine while hubby was busy taking pictures.
Wakamiya Jinja Shrine
I am ringing the bell hanging from a rope
On the hill behind Honden Hall, there are ten small shrines that are collectively called Ue no Miya. These small shrines are arranged in several rows with stairs leading up to them. There is a red Torii Gate at the bottom of the stairs from where we got a marvelous view of the shrines on the hill.
I am standing in front of a Torii Gate and stairs that leads up to the small shrines on the hill
After climbing up the stairs for some time, we reached the first row of small shrine buildings. There are three buildings in this row but actually there are five shrines. The building to the left is Hachimansanja no Aidono Shrine which was founded in 1540. This left building consists of three sub-shrines. Hachiman Jinja is located at the center of this building. Kora Jinja and Kamo Jinja are located on the left side and right side of this building, respectively. The adjacent middle building is Tensho Kotaijingu Shrine which is one of the Ise Ryogu Shrine. It is also known as Naiku and the deity worshipped is Amaterasu Omikami. This shrine was repaired in 2001. The building to the right is Toyouke Daijingu Shrine which is another one of the Ise Ryogu Shrine. It is also known as Geku and the deity worshipped is Toyoukehime no Mikoto. This shrine was repaired in 2002. Both the Ise Ryogu shrines are designated as the cultural properties of Takashima. All the shrines in this first row, that is Hachimansanja along with the two Ise Ryogu shrines, were built and dedicated by a feudal lord named Sasaki Yoshitaka. I offered some coins into the offertory boxes of all these shrines and prayed for the happiness and well being of my family.
First row of small shrine buildings
Hachimansanja no Aidono Shrine
Tensho Kotaijingu Shrine
Toyouke Daijingu Shrine
Next, we walked up a few more steps on the hill and reached the second row of small shrines consisting of four buildings. Tenman Jinja Shrine is the leftmost building in this row of small shrines. Sugawara no Michizane is enshrined in this shrine. This shrine was transferred and repaired in 1999. It was formerly located under the southern overhang of the roof of Hachimansanja. The adjacent building to Tenman Jinja, to the right, is a shrine named Namiyoke Inari Sha. The current shrine was repaired in 2005. The third building in this row is Juro Jinja Shrine. A deity named Jurojin is enshrined inside. This shrine was erected to commemorate one of the gods for the West Omi Shichifukujin (seven lucky gods) tour of 1988. The rightmost building in this row is a shrine named Naruko Benzaiten Sha. Benzaiten deity is enshrined inside this shrine. In 1926, this deity was initially installed in the office of Shirahige Jinja and then was moved to the chief priest’s residence. Later the followers from Osaka constructed this small shrine to enshrine the god. I offered some coins into the offertory boxes and prayed at all these shrines.
Hubby standing in front of two red Torii Gates along with the second row of small shrine buildings in the background
Tenman Jinja Shrine
Namiyoke Inari Sha Shrine
Juro Jinja Shrine
Naruko Benzaiten Sha Shrine
Next, we walked further up the steps and reached a small shrine named Iwato Sha. It is located at the topmost part of the precincts. Amano Iwato deity is enshrined in this shrine. Adjacent to Iwato Sha Shrine, to its right, we saw a big stone which is actually an ancient tomb. I prayed at the shrine as well as at the tomb.
I am walking up the hill towards Iwato Sha Shrine
Iwato Sha Shrine
A stone tomb adjacent to Iwato Sha Shrine
I am standing next to the stone tomb
After visiting all the small shrines on the hill behind Honden Hall, we left the shrine premises. We loved visiting Shirahige Jinja Shrine. It was already late evening and so we checked into a nearby hotel for an overnight stay. The next morning, we went to see boat racing in Lake Biwa about which I will write in the next post.