Kuni-Umi, Birth of a Land
Inland Sea. The Inland Sea of Japan separates three of the four major islands of Nihon retto archipelago. Among the countless islands in the Sea lying south of the western end of Honshu, the main island, is the major island of Shikoku. At the north-eastern tip of Shikoku lies the next major island, Awajishima. Awaji Island is about 50 km long. Its shape is a curious reflection of nearby Biwako, Lake Biwa near Kyoto. See map.
Awa-no Kuni. Recall our ealier posts about the hutakami, the kami couple Isanami and Isanagi, and how they taught the Awanouta in Awa-no-kuni, the area around Biwako (kuni, land or country). This is the largest lake in Nihon. The lake was then called Awa-umi (umi, sea), and the name morphed into Oumi. This was the name of the province, Oumi-no-kuni, until the Meiji period when it became the Shiga-ken prefecture.
In Oumi, a notable grand shrine is the Taga Taisha. Its kami are the hutakami and Isanagi is considered to be the Taga kami. When Isanagi and Isanami went around the kuni teaching Awanouta, they were unifying their people and building their country, in other words, doing kuni-umi (umi, birth). This is the Wosite version of kuni-umi as told in the Hotsuma Tsutae.
Birth and Death of Hutakami
Isanami, the daughter of Toyoke-sama, was born in Hitakami (now Tohoku) which her father governed. There are a number of Taga shrines connected to Toyoke. One of them spun off the shrine in Oumi which became the Taga Taisha. Isanagi was born in Ne-no-kuni on the north coast along the Japan Sea.
The hutakami couple were married in Hitakami and named the 7th Amakami in Tukuha (Tsukuba). Afterwards they moved their miya residence to the Ise-Kumano region of the Kii peninsula. Isanami gave birth to daughter Hiruko Wakahime, and sons Amateru, Tukiyomi, and Sosanowo. Isanami died in a fire in Kumano and is buried at Hana-no-Iwaya, an ancient shrine near the present Kumano City. However, there is another monument that is said to be her ohaka tomb in far-away Izumo. This is a mound of large rocks on a hill behind the Sada Jinja. Furthermore, the Hibayama Kume Jinja in Izumo is dedicated especially to Isanami, and her ohaka is said to be on top of the mountain.
After Isanami’s passing, Isanagi is deeply grieved. He passes away, Kojiki says, on the island of Awaji at a place called Taga. The honden of Izanagi Jingu is the site of his kakure-miya, his final resting place. There used to be from ancient times a mound of large rocks marking the spot. The rocks were buried in the Meiji period when the honden was constructed, with only one rock visible (honden in center of photo below). We can imagine that the monument may have looked like Isanami’s in Izumo.
The connection with Izumo is through their wayward son Sosanowo who moved there after being exiled. He became a leader of Izumo. It makes one wonder if it was he who built the monuments in Izumo as memorials to his mother. They may not be actual burial places since Isanami died in Kumano.
Izanagi Jingu is ichinomiya (first shrine) of Awaji-no-kuni. Both Isanami and Isanagi are enshrined there.
Kuni-umi in Awaji
In Awaji, there are some of the oldest shrines dedicated to Isanami and Isanagi. The residents of Awaji claim that theirs is the locale of kuni-umi, by which they mean that physical land was first created by the hutakami. The myth of kuni-umi is related in Kojiki, where the couple in “heaven” dip their lance into the ocean and the dripping water forms the islands of Nihon. The first is Onokoro. Where is Onokoro?
There are two jinja called Onokoro Jinja. One is on Awajishima and the other on its tiny neighbor to the south, Nushima. This latter shrine is reached by ferry and a climb up a narrow wooded trail followed by three flights of kaidan steps. At the top we look down and see the ferry port and the town. We are on Onokoro yama. After paying respects at the honden, we follow a footpath and find a statue of Isanami and Isanagi holding their lance and creating land.
The other Onokoro Jinja is in a more populated area of Awajishima itsef. It possesses a certain charm and a number of shrines to other kami. There is a huge red torii in front.
Taiyo no Michi, The Path of the Sun
There is a new-looking granite monument near the entrance of Izanagi Jingu. The latitude here is 34.5 degrees North, longitude 134.9 degrees East. It is a map centered on Izanagi Jingu. North and South, East and West, the two directions of summer and winter solstice sunrises, and the two directions of summer and winter solstice sunsets are shown emating from Awajishima. In each direction is a major shrine connected with Isanagi and Isanami, although we must confess that we do not know all the connections. Were the shrines situated deliberately so as to form this particular design? It has become a fad in Japan to find these “ley-lines” connecting important sacred sites. At first, we think that it is a simple matter to find any number of ley-lines since there are so many shrines. And yet, there may be a deeper meaning behind these observations. As this chart has pointed out, ancient shrines may have been connected to each other in a geographical as well as spiritual manner. Just how ancient people accomplished this surveying feat, over mountainous lands separated by ocean, is amazing!
We often check the orientation of shrines that we visit. We have found that shrines nearly always face east, toward the rising sun. If the shrine has been rebuilt in the Heian period, it may face south. Ancient shrines of Hinomoto are sun-oriented, as the name implies!
Is there a direct connection of Awaji to the Awa and Awa-no-kuni of Hotsuma Tsutae? On Shikoku there is a province called Awa-no-kuni. Is the similarity of names a coincidence?
At this time, we can’t explain why the myths of Kojiki say Isanagi died in Awaji-no-kuni. From the Hotsuma Tsutae we know that Isanami died in Kumano. Why would Isanagi go to Awaji to spend his remaining days? One may say that this is where the couple did kuni-umi, but it does not fit the Hotsuma history of kuni-umi taking place in Oumi.
Perhaps we’ll find the answer as we continue our study and research.
P.S. We are posting some thoughts about the mystery of Awa on Okunomichi. Do visit us there!