Koyurugi Jinja Shrine

Access Map


KoyuugiMHFounder Moritsuna Sasaki was an immediate vassal of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, from the very beginning, and contributed to his winning battle against the Taira clan, the arch-rival of the Minamotos. At one time, he paid a visit to Enoshima Jinja Shrine. On his way, he took a break around here and was deeply moved by its scenic beauty. It occurred to him that a shrine would suit the place nicely. As his father had faith in Hachi-oji-gu Shrine in Shiga Prefecture, which enshrined Hachi-oji, or the eight legendary deities (Susano-o is their father), he thought it would be a good idea to invite the deities as its offshoot. The Shrine was thus erected circa 1185 with the name "Hachi-oji-gu" enshrining Susano-o as a tutelary deity of the Koshigoe village in Kamakura.

In 1333 when Yoshisada Nitta (1302-1338) attacked Kamakura (see History), Nitta stopped by the Shrine and prayed for a victory. Back at the time, Kamakura seemed to be an impregnable fortress. His troops tried to attack Kamakura along the beach of Inamuragasaki, about 3 kilometers east of the Shrine, where there was a cliff running straight into the sea. He climbed up to the top of it and hurled away his golden sword begging gods for divine help. Miraculously, the tide began to ebb, leaving a passage along the cliff, and his troops could proceed to central Kamakura. (There is a stone monument at Inamuragasaki Park telling this folklore.) As a result, Nitta was able to destroy Kamakura and drive the Kamakura regime to the collapse, marking the end of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). In appreciation of the divine favor, Nitta donated gold bars to the Shrine, whereby the Shrine expanded its structures.

Later, with the syncretic mixture of Shinto and Buddhism elements, Shinto deities began to be viewed as temporary manifestation of Buddha, and each Shinto deity was identified with a Buddhist one. In case of Susano-o (also referred to as Takehaya Susano-o in Kojiki , or A Record of Ancient Matters), for example, it was thought to be a vicar of Gozu-Ten'no, or Gosirsa-devaraja in Sanskrit (the guardian deity of the Jetavana Monastery in India), because of their similarity in divine characters. Gavagriva is a Buddhist deity of good health and the guardian of the Jetavana Monastery in India, where Sakyamuni and his disciples are said to have resided.

In the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Shrine was under the supervision of nearby Josenji, a Shingon sect temple standing close by at the north side of the main road.

After the Meiji Imperial Restoration in 1868, however, all of the temple-shrine complexe had to segregate Shinto from Buddhism and were forced to change their names following government's directions. The Shrine was no exception, and changed its name to the present "Koyurugi Jinja."

A woodblock print of Susano-o and Kozu Ten'no at MFA.

Main Hall (Picture; top)

The main deity Susano-o is younger brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu (See Shinto) and known as the god of prowess or god of storm. The most famous tale on him would be his heroic episode killing a eight-headed and eight-tailed huge serpent. Once, he was travelling along a river in Shimane Prefecture, where he met an old couple and their daughter who were crying in sorrow. Asked why they were crying, the couple told him that there lived a monster serpent up the river and the serpent immolated a maiden every year. Their daughter was the only girl left in the village and they had to offer her to the serpent soon. Hearing the sad story, Susano-o promised that he would kill the monster and told them to prepare very hard liquor. Susano-o poured the liquor into eight earthenware pots and placed them separately at eight spots where the monster was likely to appear. As expected, the serpent came out looking for the maiden, but before finding her, he spotted the liquor pots and drank it out with his eight mouths. Drunk as a piper, the serpent was no longer able to catch the maiden and began to sleep. In the nick of time, Susano-o slashed at him with an extremely sharp sword and killed him finally. (Like Perseus in the Greek mythology killing the sea-monster to rescue Andromeda.) Found in his tails was a shiny, beautiful sword. Legend asserts that this sword became one of the three regalia of the Imperial Family, or the symbols of the imperial authority. They are: the sacred mirror (the symbol of the Sun Goddess), a sword and a comma-shaped bead called Magatama.

Magatama at MFA.

There are quite a number of shrines in Japan that are sacred to Susano-o, a major god in the Shinto deity pantheon. All shrines with the name of Yasaka Jinja, Hikawa Jinja, Ten'no-sha, or Gion-sha are dedicated to Him. The most famous is Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto.@

Annual Festival

Early July: Ten'no-sai (Picture; right)
KoyurugiFestJointly held with Yasaka Shrine in Enoshima, which also enshrines Susano-o, or Gozu-Ten'no in Buddhist term. Both used to hold a grand festival called "Ten'no-sai" to stave off epidemics in the height of summer when epidemic was most likely to spread. The tradition continued well into the era after the Meiji Imperial Restoration. It's a mini version of Gion Festival in Kyoto hosted by Yasaka Jinja. Beautifully decorated portable shrines of Yasaka Jinja of Enoshima parade, not on the bridge, but in the sea, with carrier wearing only loincloths, to the mainland shore. They meet with those of the Shrine at the site near Ryukoji and jointly parade the street to the Shrine. After ceremonial services at the Shrine, they leave for the site they had met earlier near Ryukoji, and bid farewell promising to see again the next year. The locals say summer begins with this festival.


Noh Play Fujito
Fujito is the name of an ancient battlefield in Okayama Prefecture, where the Minamotos fought against the Taira clan in 1184. The Taira troops were already driven from Kyoto and running away westward. The Minamotos were chasing them headed by Yoshitsune Minamoto (1159-1189), Yoritomo's half-brother. Sasaki, the founder of the Shrine, was a commander at the front line. At one point of the battle, Sasaki found the Taira troops on a island off the coast of today's Kurashiki city. Since Sasaki did not have enough boats to let his troops land the island, he sought shallows so that they ford over. Looking around the shore, he found a fisherman and asked him if he knew the shallows. The veteran fisherman knew exactly where it was and led him to the shallows. No sooner had he confirmed the shallows, however, than Sasaki slew him on the spot lest he should inform the Tairas the fact that he taught the location of the shallows. That night, Sasaki troops successfully landed the island and were able to defeat the enemy.

After the battle ended with Minamoto's overwhelming victory in 1185, Yoritomo Minamoto gave the area of the island to Sasaki as his domains in recognition of his distinguished services. A couple of years later, Sasaki came to the island as a new lord of the domains, and told the villagers to disclose whatever complaints they had in mind. Appeared first before him was an old woman, who said in tears, "You are damn cruel. It was my son who taught you where the shallows were and yet you killed him. You don't have an ounce of gratitude. You ungrateful wretch!" Sasaki sincerely apologized to her and brought her where the fisherman's body was buried. He also promised that he would hold a grand requiem mass for her son. During the mass, the fisherman's spirit appeared before Sasaki and said, "I thought I should make a reprisal on you becoming a water god. Now that you have held the mass for me, I was relieved." The spirit disappeared quietly, and Sasaki could live the rest of his life in peace. This is an outline of the Noh number Fujito. In Kurashiki, there are a lot of historic relics related to Sasaki.

Popular Novelist Osamu Dazai Committed Unsuccessful Suicide Here
Osamu Dazai (1909-1948) is a post-war novelist and his works attracted a large readership, depicting mainly his troubled life. Shayo (1947), or The Setting Sun, is a tragic story of an upper class family in postwar Japan. Ningen Shikkaku (1948), or Disqualified as a Human, tells episode of his own life involved in the turmoil of sex. Among his works is Doke no Hana (1935), or Flower of Buffoonery which deals with his own experience of double-suicide attempt in November 1930 right here at Koyurugi. He was a freshman at Tokyo University majoring in French literature and in love with a 17-year-old waitress of a bar in the Ginza, Tokyo. Dazai was sick, and sympathizing with him, the waitress persuaded him into committing a double-suicide. They came here and both took a fatal dose of sleeping pills. Though the waitress died, Dazai survived because he was an addict of the drug and was sent to a nearby hospital. His friends visit the hospital and comfort him. The story develops in the form of conversation between Dazai and his friends. Dazai attempted a double suicide three times, and ended his life in the third one with a married lover.

Koyurugi: Beautiful spot in Kamakura
In the Edo Period, Koyurugi and Enoshima were praised of its beautiful scene with Mt. Fuji appearing in the west. Here is a woodblock print of Koyurugi preserved by MFA.

(Updated July 2010)