The character 羊 shows the form of a 'sheep.' It can often be seen as an element in Kanji. The reason for this is that in antiquity sheep were often used in rites. 'Sheep' stands out among Kanji with abstract meanings like 善 'good,' 美 'beauty,' and 義 'justice.' The character 'bi' 美 ('beauty') shows the whole body of a sheep. While 羊 shows the upper part of a sheep including the horns, in 美, its lower body including the hind legs are added. A person who possessed sheep was already considerably wealthy.
In the world of polytheism one tries to receive the favor of gods by beautiful and precious offerings. It was believed that offering a dog to the highest god was most effective. Offers to receive godly favor became especially important at the time of trials. As trials took the form of an ordeal by the gods, both parties submitted a sheep to be variously tested by the gods.
The origin of Shirakawa Kanji science follows the idea that characters were formed and developed as a means of communication between gods and man. From this standpoint, beauty has to be acceptable to the gods, or warranted by the gods. Interestingly, the Biblical idea of offering a sheep to God can also be found in Gospel St John 1, 29 and I Corinthians 1, 7.
Chizenji Temple worshipping Benzaiten is located on Awajishima Island. Benzaiten is the Japanese name of the goddess Saraswati, who is the goddess of wisdom and performing art and one of Shichifukujin (Sevn Gods of Fortune) in Japan. The temple belongs to Shingon Sect and the Sango (the name of the mountain in which it is located) is Daiko-zan. The time of its establishment is unknown, but its history is as long as its earliest record can be found in a copied sutra “Dainehan-kyo” written during the Nanboku-cho period (1336-1392). The main hall was built in the middle of the Edo period, where the statues of Dainyorai and Benzaiten are located. The temple is one of the Awaji Shichifukujin Pilgrimage temples and visited by as many as a hundred thousand pilgrims during the year. Especially during the winter there is a day when more than 2,000 pilgrims visit the temple. On the first prayer day to Benzaiten on January 7 and at the ritual of Sentai Jizo Nagashi (the floating of the talisman representing Jizo) held on August 23, a lot of pious visitors come to dedicate their prayers.
The Shiiba Kagura dance is a Shinto ritual handed down in Shiiba Village, Miyazaki Prefecture. It is designated as a National Important Folk Cultural Property.
The worship for mountains has been practiced in Shiiba Village since the times of slash-and-burn agriculture and hunting. The Shiiba Kagura dance has been handed down in 26 sub-villages today as the prayer to the mountain god. It is performed at a private house or a shrine all through the night on one of the days from the middle of November to the end of January. The styles of the dance including the number of dances performed at a time differ from village to village.
One thing that is distinctive to this area is that people put an importance on Shogyo (the words dedicated to the gods). Since many special words to be used for gods have been handed down and used in people’s everyday life in the villages of Shiiba, words play a significant role in the Kagura dance.
Yanaizu Kokuzoson is a temple in Tsuyama-cho Yanaizu, Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture. Together with Fukuman Kokuzoson at Enzoji Temple in Yanaizu-machi, Fukushima Prefecture and the one at Shokoan Temple in Yanai City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, this Kukuzoson is counted as one of Japan’s Three Finest Kokuzoson.
Yanaizu Kokuzoson was founded in 726, when Priest Gyoki, who had been traveling all over the country preaching and carrying out civil engineering works, visited this place and carved out the image of Kokuzo Bosatsu, praying for peace and stability of the country. The temple is widely known as one of the few most historic temples in the Tohoku region.
The Grand Festival held from 12th to 13th in April and October every year is visited by a lot of worshipper from inside and outside the prefecture. It features the meal serving ritual called Kenzen Procession and the Goma fire ritual.
At noon, a procession of the priests and the temple laymen carrying trays with delicacies from sea and mountains leaves the Kuri (priests’ quarters) for the main hall to dedicate a meal to the principal object of worship, Kokuzo Bosatsu. After the procession, the Goma fire ritual is performed, in which a lot of Gomagi (prayer sticks) with people’s written prayers for family safety, traffic safety and passing entrance examinations and so on, are burned with holy fire. All the attendants quietly offer their prayers to Bosatsu.
Terashita Kannon is a temple located in Akabonai, Hashikami-cho, Sannohe-gun, Aomori Prefecture. The principal object of worship is Sho Kannon. It was founded in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) as the 1st Holy Place of 33 Kannon Pilgrimage in Oshu Nukabe.
In the Kannon Hall surrounded with dense forest of cedar trees, a statue of Kannon, 65 cm tall, which is said to have been carved out from Japanese judas wood by a high priest Gyoki in 724.
It is believed that if you worship 33 Kannon statues of this temple, you will receive the same benefit as you visit 33 Kannon Holy Places in Kinki. As the idea of Shinbutsu Shugo (fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) has been practiced in this area, Ushioyama Shrine is located in the precinct. Today it is visited by a lot of pilgrims, who quietly offer prayers in the precinct.
The waterfall in back of the main hall was the training ashram for mountain practitioners in the old days. Local people have come to worship and take this water as the miracle water to give perpetual youth and longevity. It was selected as the prefecture’s fine water by the governor in 1989.
From May 3rd to the 4th every year, Hanayu (Flower Bath) Festival is held in Misasa Hot Springs to give thanks to hot waters in the town. The highlight of the festival is a large-scale tug-of-war ritual called Jinsho. The huge male rope and the female rope are made of wisteria vines and are 80 m in length, 2 m in circumference and 2 tons in weight. After they are combined together, the male rope is place in the east of the En-mon gate erected in the center of the Honcho Street, while the male rope is placed in the west of it. The tug-of-war sometimes takes as long as over 30 minutes. It is said that if the east side wins, the town is blessed with rich harvest, and the west side, the business success. Not only local people but also tourists join the tug-of-war. Whichever side wins, it will bring luck to this hot spring town of Misasa. Jinsho is a very popular event that tells people of the arrival of early summer.
The Yayama-shinko festival is a shrine ritual held in Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture. The festival itself is held at Yayama Shrine, which is located on top of Hachimen Mountain. The object of worship is to the left of the shrine and is a gigantic rock monument; and there is also a large pond a kilometer southwest of the shrine.
Yayama Shrine is said to have been founded by a monk named Horen in the 1st year of the Taiho era (701). To the left of the mountain path leading to the shrine there is a kakutoba, which was founded in the Kamakura period to commemorate Horen's opening of the mountain shrine. This kakutoba is designated a tangible cultural treasure by the prefecture.
The chitosegaku traditional dance, which includes elements of powerful Buddhist chant dances performed by children, is performed as a dedication to the shrine during the festival. This dance dates to the 1st year of the Keicho era (1596), when a large-scale drought in the region led to rain-praying dance performances. It is said that these performances brought much rain and an abundant harvest in the following year. The chitosegaku is a thanksgiving dance.
The Yayama-shinko festival is a traditional ritual held to pray for abundant harvests and family safety.
Saijo Inari Shrine is one of the three most famous Inari shrines in the country, and is a noted Buddhist shrine for prayer. The shrine is located in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture, a city famous for its picturesque views of the Kibi Plains.
The shrine was built around 1200 years ago by Houon Daishi. The main building of the shrine suffered losses from fire when Toyotomi Hidetoshi attacked the Bichuu Takamatsu Castle during the Warring States period. Yet, since the patron deity of the shrine was hidden under the building in a secret compartment 8 tatamis large, and covered by rock slabs, it was kept safe from harm.
Since that time, the patron deity became famous across the country for its miraculous efficacy, drawing the faith of the masses. The deity is famous for answering prayers for success in business, traffic safety, and for increased scholastic ability. Every March during the Hatsuuma Festival, the shrine overflows with people who have come to pray for luck and good health.