Oyama Afuri Jinja Shrine

Access Map and Photo Album of Oyamadera


Two volumes of picture scroll made in 1532 and preserved by the Shrine tell us a legendary tale on how the Shrine was established. Once upon a time in the 7th century, there was a powerful and rich man named Tadatoki Someya (his date of birth and death unknown). He is the founder of Amanawa Jinja in Kamakura), controlling the area of today's Kanagawa Prefecture. At age over 40, he was still childless. At one time, Tadatoki and his wife prayed to god so that they might be blessed with a child. Their wish was answered soon afterward, and they gave birth to a baby boy in 689. The couple raised him with tenderest care attaching a statuette of Kan'non Bosatsu (Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit) to his body as a guardian deity.

AfuriMHOne day when the boy was two years old, a golden-colored eagle flew down to their home and the eagle snatched him away. All that happened in a split second while they could do nothing.. The eagle flew away to the west, some 500 kilometers to Nara near Todaiji, carrying the boy, and put him down on a cedar-tree branch. By quite a chance, a priest named Gi-en (?-728) of Todaiji passed under the tree. The eagle asked him to take care of the boy and left. (The tree is today called "Roben-cedar" and stands near the Nigatsu-do Hall adjacent to Todaiji.)

Tadatoki and his wife went almost insane with grief losing their only child. They started a long journey heading west in search of the missing boy. After more than decade of hardships, they finally came across the boy in Nara, when they visited Todaiji. The child turned out to be a high-ranking priest of Todaiji with the name of Roben (689-773). The couple were able to identify him since Priest Roben produced the statuette of Kan'non he had been attaching to his body. Reunion of the family encouraged them to come back to their home in Kanagawa, where Priest Roben erected the Oyama-dera, the origin of the today's Shrine.

Another legend narrates that Priest Roben, who was de facto founding priest of Todaiji, came back to Kanagawa in 752 at the age of 48, shortly after the consecrating ceremony of the Great Buddha at Todaiji was over. First thing he did in Kanagawa was to climb Mt. Oyama, literally "a great mountain" and highly revered by the locals, where he found a stone statue of Fudo Myo-o, or Acala-vidyaraja in Skt. Interpreting it was a divine revelation, he made up his mind to found a temple (not a shrine) right on top of the mountain. He practiced asceticism in the mountain for three years. Getting the emperor's approval, he finally built a temple and named it Afurisan Oyamadera.

Admitting that Priest Roben was real and closely associated with Todaiji, the tale relating to the Shrine remains legendary and there is no clear evidence to show the Shrine was really built by him that early. Emperor Daigo (885-930), while he was on the throne, complied comprehensive rule books consisting of 50 volumes with more than 3,000 articles, whereby he laid down the social code and administrative legislation. Since Shinto was essential part of politics, the books elaborated on ritual code for Shinto and listed up the existing shrines throughout the country, ranking them in order of importance. The Shrine was ranked one of the 13 that were on the list in Kanagawa Prefecture, and therefore, it certainly did exist at least in the first half of the 10th century.

As is common in deep mountains like Hakone, religion of the Temple grew with the blend of Buddhism and Shinto elements. Mountains provided devotees called Yamabushi with holly grounds for practicing asceticism. They were engaged in austere exercises in the mountains to attain magic powers. Unlike Zen that focuses on meditative training through mind concentration, Yamabushi roamed around the mountains night and day, and their exercises were far more demanding. Included among the ascetic rituals are fasting, performing cold water ablutions by a fall, etc. They believed that through these practices, they could be endowed with supernatural powers such as to subdue demons. Those trained Yamabushi were often called upon to act as faith healers and mediums.

In the early times, there was a shrine called Sekison atop Mt. Oyama, which is 1252 meters above sea level, enshrining a natural, giant and holy stone as its principal object of worship. (Seki is a stone and son is a honorific suffix). Halfway up the mountain, they built a temple sacred to Fudo Myo-o in association with the stone statue Priest Roben had found. In other words, it had a Shinto shrine on the top, and Buddhist (Shingon) temple in the mid-slope of the mountain. Like other temple/shrine complex, however, Buddhist elements were more pronounced in this complex as well, and it was Buddhist priests, if anything, who controlled the institution. In the Shrine's case, Shingon Esoteric Buddhism prevailed under the name of Afurisan Oyamadera, which, is literally a "rainfall-inducing-great-mountain" temple and Sekison was called Sekison Daigongen. (Gongen denotes manifestation of Buddha).

Meanwhile, people in Kanagawa and western Tokyo knew that if the top of the mountain was veiled by clouds, it would rain momentarily. At a long spell of dry weather, they offered a prayer and petition for rainfall to Sekison enshrined at the top of the mountain as if Sekison had been a rain doctor. Hence the Shrine was called Afurisan, or rainmaker-mountain. Incidentally, the present name Afuri of Afuri Jinja is also short for a rainfall in Japanese.

In the early Kamakura Period (1185-1333), Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) , the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, patronized the Shrine and dedicated a holy sword to Sekison Gongen every year, praying for continued luck in arms. On the record is the fact that in 1192 he visited the Shrine and prayed that Masako Hojo (1156-1225), his wife, might have an easy delivery. Entering the Hojo Era in 1219, however, the Hojo Regents did not give as much support to the Shrine as Yoritomo had been, and the Shrine began to go downhill. It was Priest Gangyo (?-1295), who restored the declining Shrine, or rather the temple to be exact. He was a Shingon Sect priest of Sen'nyuji in Kyoto, which had long been the temple for the Imperial Family before the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868. Unable to tolerate the sight of the half-desolate temple, he determined to restore it. Collecting necessary alms and funds, he rebuilt the temple and made two iron-cast statue of Fudo Myo-o during the 1261 to 1274 period. The first one was dubbed "Trial Fudo," as he made it as a trial, which is now enshrined at Kakuonji in Kamakura. The second one was for the temple, which is 104 centimeter tall, and nearly as tall as 2 meters if its halo is included. The statue became the main object of worship of the temple, and the main hall was built precisely at the site where the Shrine's main hall stands today. Worshipers called the temple "Oyama Fudo" or "Oyama-dera."

After the restoration of the temple, it gained both popularity and power gradually, and began to flourish again. In the 16th century, Japan was in the warring state and was called the age of civil wars with internal strife breaking out throughout the country. The temple turned stronghold like Enryakuji in Shiga Prefecture, the mecca of Tendai Sect, armed with hundreds of military-trained priests, and once resisted stoutly in the battle when Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598) attacked Odawara in 1590 to unify Japan.

AfuriMH2In 1603, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616) unified Japan and established the Tokugawa Shogunate in Tokyo. He gave the temple the same status as Daimyo, or feudal lord, and promised to protect it on condition that the temple disarm. The temple had no choice but to follow his order since the Shogunate then was so powerful that nobody could compete it any longer. As a result, a host of priests had to leave the temple and began to earn a living by themselves. Fortunately, they were familiar with the Esoteric Buddhism and had practiced asceticism in the mountains. Lay people believed that they were practitioners endowed with supernatural powers through ascetic disciplines in the holly grounds.

What they did was to form religious groups, something like a fraternity, district by district and performed incantations for the locals, to whom those priests must have looked like faith-healers. As fraternity-leaders, they led the group members to visit the temple frequently. In the mid-18th century in particular, the number of such fraternities totaled over 150, and visiting the temple by group was quite popular with the number of such visitors reaching 200,000 a year. Near and along the the temple approach were more than one hundred inns for them. They visited and worshiped the statue of Fudo-Myo-o enshrined in the main hall of the temple. The hall then was as big as 20.7 meters square. However, lay worshipers were not usually allowed to go up to the top of the mountain. Only in mid-summer, or three weeks beginning late June, were they permitted to climb it to worship Sekison Gongen, and it was the time traffic jam used to peak. (The mountain was always closed to women though.)

A postcard of Oyama Shrine in the early 20th century on display at MFA.

The temple, like others, had to undergo a drastic change after the Meiji Imperial Restoration of 1868. The new government employed a new policy making Shinto the state religion and ordered to strictly separate Shinto from Buddhism. An amalgam of religions that mixes elements of Buddhism and Shinto as exemplified by the Shrine, and Hakone Shrine as well, were no longer able to exist. They had no alternative but to choose Shinto, and were purged of all Buddhism elements in order to survive. The statue of Fudo Myo-o, the main object of worship, had to be removed somewhere else. As noted earlier, Buddhism elements were more pronounced in the case of the Shrine and the majority of the adherents were depending more on Buddhism than Shinto. Once Buddhism elements were deprived of, a lot of people who had been relying their spiritual salvation on the temple would lose not only spiritual support but also a means of living. They fiercely opposed to the government instruction and were on the verge of a riot. At the last moment, a compromise was reached, whereby a new temple was established about 500 meters down the present main hall of the Shrine and the statue of Fudo Myo-o was enshrined there. At first, this temple was named Myo-o-ji, and only in 1916 was it permitted to restore the old name Afurisan Oyamadera. Even though the main object of worship was narrowly saved, many valuable structures and assets related to Buddhism were destroyed or thrown away.

This stormy movement shook the religious world throughout Japan and a number of Buddhist temples had to be abolished. The extent of loss varies depending upon regions. In Toyama Prefecture, for example, 1,629 temples out of 1635, or 99.6 percent were ruined. Likewise, you will see few temples in Miyazaki and Kagoshima Prefectures. The world famous five-story pagoda of Kofukuji in Nara Prefecture, now listed as a National Treasure, was almost put on a sale for auction at ridiculously low price. An extreme case occurred at Oki Island off the coast of Shimane Prefecture, where Retired Emperor Gotoba (1180-1239) and Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) were exiled by the Kamakura Shogunate (see History) in the 13th and 14th centuries. A statue of Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana in Skt.) enshrined at a leading temple in the island was vandalized by cutting off its head, and a number of holy sutras were thrown into night-soil buckets. Scores of priests had to give up orders and turned farmers.

Main Hall

The Shrine's main hall was first constructed in 1900 at the site exactly where Afurisan Oyamadera used to stand. The hall was ravaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Construction of the present hall started in 1973 immediately after the first oil crisis, and took five years to be completed in 1978. The enshrined deities of worship are three mythological ones that appear in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) as noted at the beginning of this page. Oyamatsumi is the god that controls mountains. Taka-okami is also for mountains and is a divinized dragon while O-ikazuchi denotes the god of thunder. All are related to rain as its original name of Afuri or rain-inducing suggests. According to Japanese mythology, the Japanese archipelago was created by Izanagi when he scooped up sea water with his halberd, and drops of water created lands that were the origin of Japanese archipelago. His wife Izanami gave birth to scores of children and among them were such well know deities as Amaterasu Sun Goddess and Oyamatsumi.

To the right-hand side of the hall is an entrance to a corridor, which lead us to the rear and left side of the hall. Several items reminiscent of the old days are on display on both sides of the corridor.


Rain Doctor
The name Afuri of the Shrine is short for Amefuri, which is literally "rainfall." As the word indicates, Oyama is believed to be a rain doctor, and in time of drought, farmers conducted special service of prayers to the god of the Shrine for rain. A typical ritual for farmers wishing rain was to relay a bracket of water taken from the Roben Fall, which is located down the Shrine and never ran dry, back to their homeland. Unless they successfully carry the water, rain was believed never to fall on their farmland but on the land where water was spilled.

Getting there: From Isehara Station of Odakyu Railway, bus starts every twenty minutes for Oyama Cable-Car Station, and it takes 25 to 30 minutes one way (300 yen) if traffic is normal. From the bus terminal, you have to walk up to the Oyama Cable-Car Station for 15 to 20 minutes. The walkway, lined with various souvenir shops, restaurants and inns, has stairs of about 360 stone-steps. From Oyama Cable-Car Station (here, it is already 400 meters above the sea), the cable-car having 100-passenger capacity also starts roughly every 20 minutes (400 yen one way) and takes six minutes to climb 280 meters up to the Shrine, which stands 700 meters above sea level.

There are two walkpaths leading to the Shrine from the Cable-Car Station: One is easier and called Path for Women and the other is tough called Path for Men. Both take 50 minutes to one hour. Halfway through the Path for Women is Afurisan Oyamadera Temple, wherein the statue of iron-cast Fudo Myo-o is preserved and enshrined. The Cable-Car has a station named "Fudo Mae" in between, near where the Temple stands.

Better to avoid weekends since the bus roads are narrow and awfully crowded. Weekdays are recommended. If you want to visit here on weekends, try to reach Isehara Station before 8:30 a.m. Otherwise, you may see a long line of passengers waiting the bus.

(Updated April 2010)