Hotoku Ninomiya Jinja Shrine

Access Map


NinomiyaMHThe Shrine is dedicated to the spirit of a great agronomist named Sontoku Ninomiya, who was born near here and whose childhood name was Kinjiro. Not only did he contribute greatly to the development of agriculture in Japan, but also was revered as a man of Confucian virtue. Shinto shrines in Japan often enshrine divinized persons such as legendary ancestors of the Imperial Family, historic heroes and great men. For example, Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo, the most popular one in today's Japan drawing over three million worshipers during the first three days of a new year, is sacred to the spirit of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). He helped modernize Japan as the first emperor after the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868. Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture, a popular sightseeing spot among foreigners, is raised to Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In Kamakura, Egara Tenjin Shrine, Kuzuharagaoka Shrine, Kamakuragu Shrine, Goryo Jinja fall into the same category.

Likewise, the Shrine is one of many that enshrine real men who were respected as heroes or of high virtues. Born into a poor farmer in Odawara, Ninomiya had witnessed in his childhood that his parents worked real hard. Nonetheless, they remained extremely poor no matter how hard they worked. Worse still, their farmland was washed away by the flood of nearby Sakawa River in 1791 when he was 5 years old, followed by the another one in 1802. In addition, Ninomiya was bereaved of his father at age 14 and mother at 16. With no one to rely on, the orphaned Ninomiya had to labor day after day to feed the two younger brothers and himself. Despite extreme poverty and hard working, he pursued knowledge, mostly for enhancing productivity of farm crop, utilizing every spare moment and saving money by frugality.

Difficulty is the nurse of greatness and diligence is the mother of success. At age 24, he was already an independent farmer reaping a rich harvest no one could match. His ability as a agrarian reformer drew attention of a local official assigned to the office of Odawara feudal clan. Soon afterward, Ninomiya was invited to the Odawara local government to reform its finance, which was a considerable drain. Six years later in 1812, his efforts were rewarded. The clan's financial position greatly improved toward the sound budget. Odawara feudal lord Tadazane Okubo (1781-1837) officially commended his meritorious services, and later Okubo himself was reputed as a wise ruler. Thereafter, Ninomiya was invited by several local clans, mainly in Tochigi Prefecture, to make their finance healthy. Though all of them had been badly off, Ninomiya succeeded in reconstructing them one by one. There is a town called Ninomiya in southeastern part of Tochigi Prefecture. It was named after him in praise of his contribution.

He developed the idea of Hotoku, or to repay virtue, meaning that all benefits received should be repaid, whereby a prosperous and peaceful society would be created. The founder of the Shrine is called Hotoku-sha, or literally 'Association of Repaying Benefits.'

Statue of Ninomiya
Before the Pacific War, all of the Japanese elementary schools had a bronze statue of Ninomiya in the courtyard, exactly the same one as shown in the picture here. It demonstrates that the young Ninomiya is reading a book even at a time when carrying a bundle of firewood on his back. Ninomiya was a role model for schoolchildren, and the elderly Japanese born before 1935 must remember the statue vividly. Back at the time, ethics was an obligatory subject in all elementary schools. Textbooks praised him as a paragon of virtue combining his code of ethics with Confucian virtue of sincerity, diligence and thrift.

As Japan's defeat seemed certain in 1943 and 1944, however, all of those statues, as well as bells in temples, had to be delivered to arsenals for weapon production. The statue in the Shrine is one of the few that survived the confiscation. (The exact copy of the statue can be seen today at the entrance of Yaesu Book Center, a large bookstore situated near Tokyo Station.)

Today's schools do not teach ethics. However, Ninomiya's accomplishment has been told, and some schools have his statue in their school grounds even today. According to the Real Estate Surveyors' Association, there are 143 elementary schools out of 860 in Kanagawa Prefecture, which have a Ninomiya's statue in schools' grounds as of June 2010, but in different style from the old one. Some of them are sitting on a chair and reading a book.

Imperial Rescript on Education
NinomiyasontokuCoupled with the statue of Ninomiya in every elementary school before the War was a structure called Ho-anden. It was literally a hall to enshrine a holly material. Installed in the Ho-anden were imperial couple's picture, or His and Her Majesty's portrait to be exact, and a certified copy (certified by the Ministry of Education) of the Imperial Script on Education. In fact, the emperor back then was a living god. The original Rescript was issued in the name of Emperor Meiji in October 1890 and served as an instrument to politically indoctrinate schoolchildren. The 315-word text were made of three paragraphs. The first stated that Japan's national polity was based on the historical bonds between the benevolent emperors and loyal subjects. In the second, it exhorted the Japanese to follow 16 items of Confucian code of ethics, such as "Be filial to one's parents, affectionate to one's brothers and sisters, extend one's benevolence to all, observe the law," and so on. In case of emergency, one had to devote oneself mentally and physically to guarding the emperor. The third paragraph stressed that the virtues listed were the teachings passed on by imperial ancestors and had to be observed by all Japanese. The Rescript served as a powerful instrument to mentally unify Japanese under the system of centralized imperial rule and remained in effect until the end of World War II.

Japan's National Flag and Anthem
The Rescript on Education combined with Japan's national flag and anthem may evoke memories of Japan's imperialism before the War. The national flag has a crimson disk at the center of the white ground and signifies the rising sun, or the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, which was regarded as the progenitor of the Imperial Family. The national anthem Kimigayo is literally 'His Majesty's Reign', and starts with the phrase "May the emperor's rule last thousands of years."

Both national flag and anthem have been valid even after the War, and were formalized by law as recently as August 1999 amid harsh criticism. Every spring at entrance ceremonies, a controversy arises over whether public schools should raise the flag and students should sing Kimigayo. The Education Board instructs all principals to raise the flag and make the students sing the anthem whenever ceremonies are held. Japan's Teachers' Union stiffly opposes. Principals are always put in a dilemma. In February 1999, the principal at a high school in Hiroshima Prefecture was driven to suicide by hanging the day before the graduation ceremony.

(1) In 2002 in Tochigi Prefecture, newly elected Governor Fukuda began a campaign to cope with the ever-increasing budget deficit under the title of "Bundo Suijo", which roughly translates as "Know yourself, live within your means and build a cooperative society." However, the words are too difficult to understand for the prefectural citizens and the opposition parties of the prefectural assembly objected to the campaign. As a matter of fact, I looked into large Japanese dictionaries and found none carried the words. Governor Fukuda knew the words very well because "Bundo Suijo" was first advocated by Sontoku Ninomiya and Governor Fukuda was from Imaichi city, where Sontoku Ninomiya was once invited as a reformer.

(2) Dr. Akira Suzuki (1930-), professor emeritus at Hokkaido University, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2010, was born and grew up in a fishing village of Mukawa, Hokkaido. When he was young, his family was poor wth his father dead earlier, but he studied really hard working part-time to support his family, and was reportedly referred to as Mukawa's Ninomiya.

Odawara Castle

Historical Overview

keepThe Castle dates from nearly 600 years back. The founder Yoriharu Omori, of whom little is known including his date of birth and death, was a powerful samurai clan in Odawara area. Several generations later in 1495 when Fujiyori Omori was the lord of the Castle, another samurai clan named So-un Hojo (1432-1519), who was building up military power in the west of Odawara, or the Izu Peninsula, attacked the castle and destroyed the Omoris. (Note: The Hojos here have nothing to do with the Hojo family in Kamakura during the Kamakura Period. To distinguish the both, historians call Hojo of Odawara 'Go-Hojo', meaning post-Hojo.)

From 1495 onward, the Hojos owned the castle and ruled the region as the lord of Odawara for five generations up until 1590, during which period, they strengthened their power expanding the castle into a full-fledged one. It was one of the most enormous fortifications in eastern Japan surrounded with a 10 kilometers rampart, almost 100 times larger than today's castle, or as large as today's Osaka Castle. The town was prosperous and grew to be an economic and cultural hub. In 1590, however, the allied forces led by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), one of the most notable heroes in Japan's history, tried to take over the castle in an attempt to control eastern Japan with 170,000 troops as against Hojo's 130,000. Rather than resorting to arms, Toyotomi backed by Ieyasu Tokugawa mapped out a strategy to cut off the food supply seizing the castle, and starve the enemy into surrender. It took nearly 100 days before the Hojo finally gave in. Leaders of the Hojos were forced to take their own lives by seppuku, and Toyotomi succeeded in unifying Japan.

After the unification, Toyotomi ordered Tokugawa to be stationed in Tokyo, then called Edo. Until then, Tokugawa was a local warlord in Shizuoka. With the death of Toyotomi in 1598, the Tokugawas began to rule Japan placing its headquarters in Tokyo.@(The Tokugawa Shogunate lasted for 270 years until the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868. Tokyo has a history of only 400 years.) Ieyasu Tokugawa named his faithful vassals as the lord of Odawara castle, and downsized it greatly since a castle that size was no longer necessary under the new ruler. The lord of the castle changed hands from time to time. It was the Okubo era when Ninomiya, the founder of Ninomiya Shrine, was invited to the castle as a financial reformer.

The castle's chronology

1417: The original castle was built by Yoriharu Omori
1495: Taken over by So-un Hojo
1590: Captured by Hideyoshi Toyotomi
1614: Downsized by the order of Tokugawa Shogunate
1633: Greatly damaged by earthquake
1675: Reconstructed
1703: Havocked by another earthquake
1870: Abandoned by the order of new government
1923: Ravaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake
1960: New central keep was restored
moat Tokiwagi gate Akagane gate


Incidentally, Odawara has been hit by a great earthquake roughly every 70 years, and Odawaraites are cautious the next one could hit the area at any time. You will see few houses in this town are equipped with heavy roof-tiles.

Getting there:

  1. The bullet trains (Shinkansen) "Kodama" bring you from Tokyo to Odawara in 42 minutes, one stop after Shin-Yokohama, with a fare of 3,640 yen. The trains leave Tokyo every 20 minutes in daytime.
  2. Tokaido Lines, JR East, or the conventional trains, also bring you to Odawara in 80 minutes by local trains (1,450 yen), and in 60 minutes by limited express with extra charge of 1,240 yen.
  3. Odakyu Railway connects Shinjuku, Tokyo to Odawara in 35 minutes by express trains for 1,720 yen

All three stations in Odawara are under the same roof.

(Updated October 2010)