Mishima Taisha Shrine (in Shizuoka)

Access Map


It is not clear exactly when and by whom the Shrine was founded , though it seems to have already existed in the Nara Period (710-794). Records indicate that the 55th Emperor Montoku (827-856) conferred an official rank on the Shrine in 850, and the 56th Emperor Seiwa (850-880) upgraded the rank in 859. At one point, it held the top position of the shrine list in the Izu Peninsula, and it still retains the status as the most authoritative in the area.

mishimamhMaking the Shrine renowned is the fact that Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, repaired to the Shrine to pray for good luck in the war against the arch-rival Taira Clan. His prayer was eventually answered, winning a total victory over the Tairas. Earlier in his boyhood, Yoritomo had been exiled from Kyoto to Nirayama in Izu, about 10 kilometers south of Mishima. After in exile for nearly 20 years, he rose up in arms against the Tairas in 1180. He was already 33 years old. Before the challenge, he had visited the Shrine almost every day. Tradition runs that he rose to action after he fulfilled the vow to repair to the Shrine in 100-day stretch. Although the initial battle in Ishibashiyama near here turned out a crushing defeat and he had to seek refuge at Hakone Shrine, he gradually gained power getting support from a host of samurai clans in the Kanto region.

A painting of Ishibashiyama battle at MFA.

Five years later in 1185, Yoritomo established the military government in Kamakura as a new ruler of Japan. It was for the first time Japan was put under the sovereignty of the samurai class. He believed he was able to win the war through divine grace, particularly the deities of Mishima and Hakone Shrines. In appreciation of the divine aid, he patronized the two shrines cordially and warmly, making it an annual rule to visit both on the New Year's Day. The Shrine preserves plenty of ancient treasures, many of which were donated by Yoritomo and his family.

Even after the Minamoto era ended in 1219 with the Third Shogun Sanetomo's assassination, the Shrine continued to earn acclaim as a prestigious one, and was patronized by succeeding samurai class headed by Shogun. They always gave aids financially whenever it was damaged by fires, earthquakes or the like.

In the Edo Period (1603-1868), Mishima became an important post-town of the 503-kilometer-long Tokaido Highroad connecting Tokyo to Kyoto. Travellers who were to go over or came down from the 15-kilometer-long steep Hakone mountains usually stayed in Mishima, and the Mishima post-town prospered with a horde of tour groups. Under the Tokugawa Shogunate rule, Daimyo, or feudal lord, of each prefecture had to live one year in Tokyo and the next in his home prefecture leaving his family in Tokyo as hostage. On the occasion that a Daimyo went up to Tokyo or came back home for the alternate-year residence system, an entourage of more than 100 men followed him, making a long line of procession. This system helped develop traffic flows throughout Japan and the Tokaido Highroad was the busiest one. (Daimyo's travel was so gorgeous that even today, travelling in a very expensive way is dubbed "Daimyo travel.") Really, Mishima was one of the most popular post-towns of old-time 53 stages on the Highroad.

Meanwhile, the number 53 is based on a Buddhism tradition. According to the Garland Sutra, or Avatamska in Skt., a Bodhisattva named Zenzai Doshi (Sudhana Sresthidaraka in Skt.) made a round of calls on 53 priests of high virtue to ask for teachings before he became a Bodhisattva, which suggests there are 53 steps for a priest to be a real Buddhist. Following this legend, the 53 post towns were placed in this Tokaido Highroad in the early 17th century. Of those, 22 are located in Shizuoka Prefecture. If you are familiar with Ukiyo-e woodblock color prints, Hiroshige Ando (1797-1858), one of the most famous Ukiyo-e artists, painted many scenes of those post towns. Naturally, there were a number of inns and taverns, including the official one to accommodate Daimyo. As usual in the busy post-towns, Mishima was also popular with brothels and prostitutes, and a local folksong, which is well known to Japanese nationwide, says prostitutes of Mishima are beautiful but take a lot of time for makeup. Anyhow, those travellers never failed to visit the Shrine to pay homage and pray for their safe journey. @

You can view all of the 53 post-towns at Ukiyo-e collection site launched by Keio University.

Main Hall
Probably the most magnificent structures in the Izu Peninsula, it consists of three parts like Hakone Shrine: Haiden, or oratory, Honden, or sanctum where the deities dwell, and Heiden in between, which is a room to dedicate sacred staff to the god. Amazing is the size of Haiden, one of the largest in Japan and measures 23 meters high, comparable to Izumo Taisha Shrine in Shimane Prefecture. The gargoyle, or a tile shaped like an ogre's head, is as long as four meters and will give you a good chance to see what the Japanese gargoyles look like.

The ancient building was often destroyed by fires in 1268, 1296, and by earthquakes in 1744, 1855. The current one was rebuilt in 1860s and designated as an ICA in 2000.

Enshrined two deities are those that appear in Kojiki, or The Ancient Chronicle and Nihon Shoki, or The Chronicle of Japan. Oyamatsumi is the god of mountains as in the case of Oyama Afuri Shrine.

There are nearly 11,000 shrines called Mishima in Japan, all of which enshrine Oyamatsumi as their main object of worship, and the Shrine is the de fact headquarters.

Kaerumata wood-carvings
The transoms of the main hall are enriched with elaborate wood-carvings. They are called Kaerumata, literally "frog-crotch" since it looks like a frog spreading its legs. Under the eaves of the Haiden, for example, are three pieces of wood-carving, which were carved in 1875 and 1876 by skillful wood-carvers following instructions of the then chief priest Moriharu Yatabe (1824-1871). The carving in the center shows the famous mythological story of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, thought to be the progenitor of the Imperial Family. According to the mythology, there was the goddess of the sun named Amaterasu in the heaven, who ruled the universe. She was once so offended by the misdeeds of her brother on the earth that she came down to the earth and hid in a cave. The universe was plunged into pitch darkness and evil thrived. The gods and goddesses gathered near the cave to talk about how to get her out. They held a party and a goddess began to dance in front of the cave, causing the crowd to roar with delight. As she whirled about, her clothes fell off, drawing cheers from the other gods. Curious about the fuss, Amaterasu peeked out from behind a jumbo rock blocking the cave's entrance. The dancing goddess held up a mirror and said, "We are dancing to celebrate for a new goddess." Amaterasu came out to see the new goddess, but what she saw was her own reflection in the mirror. A powerful god grabbed her out of the cave and the earth restored brightness. The wood-carving in the transom shows the scene when Amaterasu came out of the cave and began to shine.

For your reference, Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture is sacred to Amaterasu.

Treasure House (picture; right)
mishimaTHThe House was newly opened in 1998 and is located on the right-hand side of the courtyard. Admission: 500 yen. Notable articles are as follows, but they are not necessarily on regular display.

A fragrant olive tree
Planted on the right-hand side of the courtyard is a 1,200 years old fragrant olive tree, or Osmanthus fragrans. Its girth measures 3 meters and 15 meters in height. In September, tiny, yellow blossoms give a sweet fragrance. A Natural Monument.

Annual Observances

January 7: Ota-u-e Festival
A unique festival takes place here on this day at Maidono, or a stage for dancing, which stands right in the center of the courtyard, following the tradition of rice-planting, as the term Ota-u-e, or rice-planting, suggests. From the ancient times, rice has been the staple food for Japanese just like wheat is to the Westerners. The ceremony demonstrate process of rice cultivation from the very beginning to harvest. To be more specific, the first step is to till the field, followed by seeding, taking care of rice nursery and transplanting seedlings. Before harvest, the farmers have to scare birds away from growing crops.

In the ceremony, those events are observed in a series of Shinto rituals. To make the stage look like a rice field, the floor is covered with pine needles. The ceremony is performed by 14 players led by two leaders: One wearing a black mask and the other white one, both garbed with Shinto costumes. The two masked leaders preside the ceremony giving a dialog. Basically, the ceremony is to pray to God for bumper crops. It is an Intangible Cultural Asset designated by Shizuoka Prefecture.

August 16: Annual Grand Festival
Yoritomo is believed to have risen in arms on the evening of August 16, 1180 after visiting the Shrine. To commemorate his first challenge, the festival has annually been held on this particular day. In imitation of his uprising, a procession together with floats parade the street of Mishima. Yabusame, or horseback archery, is also observed.
A Yabusame photo album at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.


Rakuju-en Park
To the southwest of Mishima Station is a beautifully maintained 62,000-square-meter park named Rakuju-en. The former residence for Prince Akihito Komatsu (1846-1903) was transferred to the City of Mishima in 1952, and since been made open to the public. A typical villa for the Imperial Family, the park must have been picturesque with Japanese gardens and ponds with a brimming clean water. When I visited here in May 2001, the ponds were dry and rocks in the bottom were showing. According to the city officials, the ponds run dry except for rainy season probably because too much water are drawn up for industrial use by factories near Mishima Station. Worth to see is the old wooden house built in Sukiya style with a tea-ceremony room attached. Pictures painted by famous artists on sliding doors and ceilings are also beautiful. Admission: 300 yen. Open from 9:00 to 5:00 p.m. (4:30 p.m. in winter). Closed on Monday.

(Updated June 20P0)