Kashima Shrine in Kami Town, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded in around 782 by Sakanoue Tamuramaro, who was appointed shogun to conquer the Emishi people.
There is a legend concerning the statue of a young lady called “Omonome-sama” enshrined in a hall in the precinct. Once upon a time, a young woman in Kami Town fell in love with a handsome young man, who was actually a personified serpent, and she got pregnant. A toad, who lived in her house and knew that the man was a serpent, felt sorry for her and told her the truth but she did not believe what the toad said. The toad advised her to put a mark on him, saying, “Next time he comes, push a needle with long thread through the rim of his clothes.” She did as she was told and the man never visited her.
Prostrated with sorrow, the young woman went into a wood and found the tip of the thread. When she drew the thread, she found a dead serpent, which was presumably her loved one. Overcome with heartbroken, she threw herself into the nearby pond, saying that she would be a goddess of marriage to bring happiness to all men and women in the world. To hear this, the villagers felt sorry for her and enshrined “Omonome-sama” at the shrine.
Yakutanabata Festival (Start Festival) is held in early August in Noshiro City, a city facing the Sea of Japan in the northern part of Akita Prefecture. Yakutanabata Festival is a kind of the Nebuta lantern festival, which originates in an old episode that Abe no Hirafu (about 1,300 years ago) and Sakanoue Tamuramaro (800 years ago) used lanterns as decoys to attract attention of the enemy when they fought against the Emishi (the aboriginal inhabitants of ancient northern Japan). It is also said that the custom of lantern float was carried out to shake off drowsiness in the midsummer as well as to pray for a good harvest in coming fall and drive away the ill luck.
In Yakutanabata Festival, a castle-shaped giant lantern float are pulled around the city. Leading the parade are the Dengaku musicians, who powefully beat drums and produce peaceful tone of Japanese flute. At the end of the festival, shachi or dolphin-like ornaments attached to the top of the lantern are burned and set afloat to the Yoneshiro River.
In the evening when the ohayashi music stops and street lamps along the river are turned off, the area is dominated by silence. Then the shachi ornaments placed on rafts in the river are set on fire. In the solemn music played by the ohayashi musicians, they are floated away into the Sea of Japan.
Shurokusai located at the foot of Mt. Takadate in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a temple of the Soto sect of Buddhism. It used to be one of the attached temples to Kumano Shingu Shrine at the top of the mountain, and is known as the 2nd holy places of 33 Kannon Pilgrimage in Oshu.
It is said that the temple was founded about 1,200 years ago, when Sakanoue Tamuramaro offered a prayer for his victory in the war to conquer the people in the north land.
The principal image of worship is the statue of Sho Kanzeon Bosatsu, which is said to have been carved by Unkei, a master sculptor in the late Heian to early Kamakura periods.
The temple was originally called Shuroku-ji Temple, but as Date Masamune used it as the study (“sho-sai” in Japanese), it came to be called Shuroku-sai. It is one of the very few temples with the suffix of “sai” instead of “ji” used in the temple name.
There is a fine Japanese maple tree named “Risho no Benishidare” in the precinct.
The view from the top of Mt. Takadate is also wonderful. You can command a panoramic view of the Natori Plain at the foot and the Pacific Ocean and Kinkazan Island in the distance.
Konpoji Temple, or popularly called Nonodake Kannon, is located at the top of Mt. Nonodake, known as a holy mountain since the ancient times. Konpoji is the 9th of Oshu Holy Place of 33 Kannon. The principal image of worship is Juichimen Kannon (Kannon with 11 faces). Together with Tomiyama Kannon in Matsushima Town and Makiyama Kannon in Ishinomaki City, it is counted as one of the three holy Kannon in the Tohoku region.
Konpoji Temple was founded in 770 by the order of Emperor Konin. The Kannon Hall was constructed by Sakanoue Tamuramaro in 802 after he had conquered the Emishi. As the mountain was often wrapped in a dense fog, the temple was named Mugakusan (literally meaning “Fog Mountain”) Shofukuji Temple. In 849, when Jikaku Daishi visited this place on his missionary tour, he extended a temple building and renamed it Muizan Konpoji Temple.
Going up the steep stone steps, you will get to the eight-legged temple gate, in which two Nio statues are placed. Interestingly, they have cute round eyes. In the precinct stand historic and stately buildings including Hondo (the main hall), the Goma Hall, the Monju Hall, the Amida Hall and the Kannon Hall. The Kannon Hall was destroyed by fire twice in the past and the present building was constructed in 1851.
Akiu Shrine in Akiu-cho, Taihaku-ku, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine founded in 1513. It is said that in this year Akiu Morifusa, the 15th head of the Akiu clan, transferred the deity of Suwa Shrine in Shinano province (present-day Nagano Prefecture) and founded Suwa Shrine to pray for his victory in the battle with the Nagai clan in Natori. It is said that he decided on this place because it was where Kumano Shrine founded by Sakanoue Tamuramaro used to have been located.
Being called “Osuwa-sama,” the shrine had been faithfully worshipped by local people since then as the guardian god of nearby five villages. In 1909, all the minor shrines in the Akiu area were integrated into this shrine and it was renamed Akiu Shrine.
Surrounded with old trees including the gingko tree, which is designated as a protected tree of the city, and weeping cherry trees, the precinct is filled with tranquil atmosphere. However, it is bustled with visitors on the days of Akiu Grand Festival held in September.
Furukawa Taiko is a dynamic drum performance handed down in the Furukawa area in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. A lot of drum performing groups join and play at Furukawa Festival held in early August every year.
This drum performance has its origin in a legend pertaining to Sakanoue Tamuramaro’s expedition to the north land. Furukawa Taiko drumming style is unique in that the six drummers take turns beating one drum. Praying for a rich harvest of the year, the drummers valiantly beat the drum by turns to drive the demons away from their farming land. The stage reaches its climax when their brilliant drum-stick techniques and dynamic rhythm is greeted with thunderous applause from the audience.
During the festival period, about 200 Tanabata-kazari streamers are displayed in the town and the Furukawa Taiko mikoshi parade is held. The colorful Tanabata streamers and roaring sounds of drums put the whole town in a festival mood. Furukawa Festival is the biggest summer event of the city.
Himuro Yakushi, or formally named Murakamiji Temple, is a historic temple founded by Sakanoue Tamuramaro in 807 to pray for safety of his soldiers. The temple has been worshipped by local people for its divine power to bring national safety and people’s happiness.
Yakushi Nyorai at this temple is especially famous for curing eye diseases. Votive tablets, on which faces with big black round eyes are drawn, are hung at the side of the Yakushi Hall. Also, many pieces of paper, on which pictures of eyes are drawn, are dedicated and hung inside the hall. You will feel strong religious faith dedicated to the temple from these votive articles.
There is an interesting legend about this temple. Once upon a time, there lived an extremely cowardly warrior in a nearby village. He wanted to cure his cowardice and visited the temple on 100 consecutive nights. On the 100th night, a specter appeared in front him. Then he gathered his courage and struck at it with his sword only to find that it was a pillar of the hall. Visitor can see the scar made by him even today. It’s a heart-easing story for a temple with such a solemn atmosphere, isn’t it?
Gion Yasaka Shrine in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a historic shrine, which is widely known as “Gion-sama” in the area. Though its origin is not clear, it is said that it was founded in 804 by Sakanoue Tamuramaro.
The shrine had been left desolated for a long time until 940, when it was restored by Fujiwara no Hidesato, who was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Defense of the North and put down the rebellion of Taira no Masakado. The shrine buildings were, however, destroyed by battle fires in the later periods.
It was in 1601 when the shrine was at last restored again by Date Masamune. Since then, it was worshipped as the guardian god of Shida County (present-day Osaki City). During the Edo period (1603-1868), it was revered by the successive domain lords as Ichinomiya (the highest-ranked shrine) among Japan’s three important Gion shrines. The decorative paintings on the ceiling of the main hall were painted during this period.
The annual festival is held in July every year, when the shrine is crowded with people who come to enjoy seeing the mikoshi (portable shrine) parade and the daimyo’s procession.
You will feel the honorable history of the shrine from the solemn atmosphere of the precinct.