Monzen-machi is a town that was established around the prominent temples and shrines as stores and business developed to serve visitors to the temples and the shrines.
A town that is developed around a shrine is called aTorii-mae-machi (a town in front of torii) and a town established by religious followers is called Jinai-cho or Shake-machi, all of which are widely categorized as Monzen-machi.
Some noted Monzen-machi are: Narita City, Chiba Prefecture, - developed around the Shinshou-ji Temple, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture - developed around theTosho-gu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine and Rinnou-ji Temple, Ise City, Mie Prefecture - developed around the Ise Shrine, Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture - developed around the Izumo Taisha Shrine, located in Kotohira-cho and Nakatado-gun, Kagawa Prefecture - developed around the Kotohira-gu Shrine.
Monzen-machi is sometimes defined as a religious city. It embodies the urban culture (chounin bunka) born and developed during the Edo Period when society was relatively peaceful and people’s lives were influenced by and served by temples and shrines.
Masaru is an indispensable lucky charm bow toy for New Year’s celebrations in the Fukushima region. At the top of a bamboo stick is a flag inscribed with the words “Good Fortune”. Attached to a hair-string is an unglazed earthenware bell with white rabbit hari on top. When the bell is released from the top of the string, it comes down swinging and making simple yet delightful sound.
At the end of the year, people place this Masaru toy at their household altar, believing it will bring prosperity in business and a rich harvest. From the end of one year to the beginning of the next, major business streets all over Fukushima Prefecture are filled with music and the accompanying calls of “ kyonen ni masaru, fuku masaru, kawansho, kawansho (this new year will be even better than last year, bringing more prosperity. Why don’t you buy? Why don’t you buy?)”. Masaru is a boy’s name and it also means to excel or to be superior. This is why it is associated with the idea of a better year and more prosperity. Masaru also can mean “drive away evil spirits” when it is written with different kanji or Chinese characters. The rabbit hair is said to be associated with “profits”.
At major ceremonies in main shrines and temples such as a year-end fair at the Fukushima Inari Shrine, Juusan Mairi (visit to celebrate being 13 years old), at Kuroiwakokuzouson Mangan-ji Temple and for Dawn Prayer on New Year’s day at Mt. Shinobu Haguroyama Shrine, visitors flock to buy Masaru toys for New Year’s luck. The streets are filled with the pleasant sound of the Masaru bells.
Kagura is a traditional theatrical dance in the Shinto religion and Musashi Mitake Shrine Daidai Kagura is one of these dances that have been passed down since the Edo period. Musashi Mitake Shrine sits on the top of Mount Mitake in Okutame, Tokyo.
The dance is said to have originally come from the Masaki Inari Shrine in Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, and it is based on the Izumo-style of Kagura dance.
The shrine still serves many different kinds of “kou” each of which represents a group of followers. The people in a kou believe that the highest form of praying to their god is to dedicate a dance and Daidai Kagura is performed on special occasions.
There are two different types of performing style in Kagura dance. In one type, masks are worn and in the other they are not. Masked Kagura has more of an entertainment aspect with clear story lines, many of which are based on popular mythologies from folktales such as Kojiki. The non-masked dance has a more religious or ritualistic aspect and it is performed to purge the place of evil spirits. These two dance performances used to have 12 titles each, however only 17 in total have survived and are still performed.
Because Daidai Kagura is dedicated to god, the dancers kneel down and bow at the start and at the end of their dance. Also, all of these dances are performed facing the image of god.
Daidai Kagura preserves the essence of true Kagura which encourages people to enjoy themselves while they honor god.
Kofuku (Good Luck and Wealth) Shrine in Hyuga City, Miyazaki Prefecture, was founded in 1776 by Ibi Tomijiro, the magistrate of Hida Magistrate’s Office, which managed “tenoryo (the Tokugawa Shogunate’s landholdings)” in Hyuga province (present-day Miyazaki Prefecture) as the guardian god of the branch office in Takatomi village. The deities of shrines ranked Sho-Ichii (the 1st of the 1st) in Fushimi (in present-day Kyoto) were collectively transferred as the main deity.
Later in 1868, the minor deities of local shrines were collectively enshrined and also Okuninushi no Mikoto, Kotoshironushi, Uka no Mitama (Inari God), Sukuna Hikona no Kami, Iwanagahime no Mikoto and Sugawara no Michizane were transferred. Of the shrine name, “ko (good luck)” derives from Inari God, the god of food and agriculture and “fuku (wealth)” from Okuninushi no Mikoto, the god of wealth.
A pair of camphor trees, which are said to be several hundred years old, stand in the precinct. They are called “Meoto Kusunoki (Husband and Wife Camphor Trees),” which finely matches the shrine name. As the symbol of the shrine, they are worshipped by visitors who wish a happy life.
Tatekoshi Shrine located at the top of the hill next to Guzeiji Temple in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine known for housing the guardian god of this area. The enshrined deities are Ukano Mitama no Kami, Omiyahime no Kami and Sarutahiko no Kami.
It is said that Kobodaishi Kukai transferred the deity of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto to this place and founded this shrine as an attached shrine of the temple when he founded Guzeiji Temple in 811. As the area around the shrine was on the Old Oshu Kaido Road and the Abukuma River, it was called “Tatenokoshi,” which meant “the strategic spot to protect the lord’s residence” from the enemies; hereby the shrine was named Tatekoshi Shrine. In 1867, the shrine was separated from the temple according to the ban of Shinbutsu Shugo (the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) by the Meiji government.
At the entrance of the shrine is a unique stone lantern erected in 1924. The lantern is supported by four Sumo wrestlers and a fox is placed inside the lantern. The main gate and shrine pavilions were burned down by fires and the present buildings were all constructed in the Showa period.
Isesaki Shrine is a historic shrine located in Honcho, Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture. The enshrined deities are Ukemochi no Kami and Yachimatahiko no Mikoto. It is said that the shrine was founded by Miura Yoshizumi in 1213 under the name of Iifuku Shrine. Since then, being called “Iifuku-sama,” it has been worshipped by local people.
The shrine was relocated to the present place by Nitta Yoshisada in 1329, when he was governor of this province. Yoshisada ordered to repair the shrine building and enshrined Yasaka no Kami (the deity of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto), Inari no Kami and Sugawara no Kami (Sugawara no Michizane) together.
In 1759, the shrine building was destroyed by fire. The present Honden (main hall) was constructed in 1848. Elaborate and gorgeous carvings are given to every part of the building.
In 1926, several shrines in the town were united together into this shrine and it was renamed Isesaki Shrine. It is visited by a lot of people on many occasions all through the year including New Year’s visit, the Seven-Five-Three Festival, and protection from evils.
Okiku Inari Shrine in Shinmachi, Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture is a shrine with legends associated with a fox. In the battle of Kannagawa in 1582, the Hojo clan won a victory after a white fox appeared, which they appreciated and founded an Inari shrine at this place.
Another legend has it that, during the Horeki era (1751-1763), a girl named Okiku was working in Daikoku-ya, an inn in Ochiai-shinmachi-juku post town. She was a very beautiful and amiable girl but fell ill and was confined to her bed in a small hut behind the shrine for three years. One night, the spirit of Inari stood at the head of her bed. After this, Okiku got over form her illness by a miracle, which she appreciated and devoted herself to the service of the shrine. Thereby people began to call the shrine Okiku Inari.
Koizumi Inari Shrine is in Koizumi-cho, Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture. The enshrined deities are Ukano Mitama no Mikoto and Onamuchi no Mikoto. According to the shrine record, it was founded during the reign of Emperor Sujin (reigned B.C. 97-30), when Fushimi Inari Daimyojin of Fushimi in Kyoto was transferred to this place by the Imperial order. Large-scale repair works were given to the shrine buildings by the lord of the province Hisanaga Genbei in 1600.
The shrine is characterized by its torii gates. More than 200 torii gates that were dedicated by worshippers are erected in front of Haiden (the oratory) in three lines, continuing as long as 100 m. Together with the O-torii Gate, 22.17 m in height and the largest in the prefecture, the torii gates create a fantastic landscape.
Believed to have the power to bring business success, the shrine is visited by a lot of worshippers not only on New Year’s Day but also on the 1st and the 15th day of each month.