Asama Jinjas role in today's world Adapt to the cultural changes while keeping their original stance
“Kai no Kuni Ichinomiya Asama Jinja” in Fuefuki City is a Shinto shrine with a long history, which was established 1155 years ago. The shrine holds the lively annual festival called “Omiyukisan (Yamamiya-Miyuki-sai)”, which signifies the arrival of spring and it has been a very popular event to date. Many people also visit this shrine on different occasions such as Hatsumode*, Omiyamairi*, Shichi-Go-San*, etc. This month we’ll talk about Asama Jinja, which has been walking alongside the local industries over the ages.
*Hatsumode … The first shrine visit of the year. People traditionally visit shrines (or temples) in the New Year’s period (typically between the 1st and 3rd of January)
*Omiyamairi … Newborn’s first shrine visit. Traditionally parents bring their newborn babies to shrines about one month after birth.
*Shichi-Go-San … It means seven-five-three, and girls aged three and seven and boys aged five visit shrines traditionally on November 15th dressed in kimonos to pray for their healthy growth and well being.
Chief Priest, Kai no Kuni Ichinomiya Asama Jinja (Shinto shrine)
Mr. Furuya has been the Chief Priest since 2013. Not only does he conduct annual events but also he is putting effort into disseminating “Jinja (Shinto shrine)” while maintaining the role and stance of shrine. He also created unique good luck charms incorporating local produce.
Shrine that was established to quell eruptions of Mt. Fuji
“Kai no Kuni Ichinomiya Asama Jinja” was established in 865, 1155 years ago.
“The question people often ask us is ‘Is it Sengen or Asama?’ about how to read the name of our shrine. There are two ways of reading the Chinese characters used for our shrine but ours is ‘Asama Jinja’. ‘Asama’ is kunyomi. Kunyomi is traditional Japanese pronunciation (Japanese reading of Chinese characters), which indicates that our Asama Jinja was established before new culture from China such as Chinese characters came to Japan.
This shrine was established to quell eruptions of Mt. Fuji. However you cannot see Mt. Fuji from Asama Jinja and there is of course a reason for that. It was built at this location with some distance from Mt. Fuji so that it wouldn’t get damaged in case of an eruption. Moreover, the main building of the shrine is facing away from Mt. Fuji to a 90-degree angle so that the god enshrined wouldn’t receive damage from the front in case of an eruption.”
Mr. Masahiro Furuya, the Chief Priest of Asama Jinja tells us how the shrine was established.
The god enshrined at Asama Jinja is “Konohanasakuya-hime-no-Mikoto”. She is a god that quells fire and one of the gods that were initially enshrined at Yamamiya Jinja, which is located in the area with a higher altitude than the area where Asama Jinja is. People built a shrine and moved the god there to the village to quell fire in case Mt. Fuji erupts and this is the beginning of Asama Jinja.
Japan Heritage listed “landscape interwoven with vineyards” and the god of winemaking
Kofu Basin is known to have the largest fruit production in Japan. In the eastern part of Kofu Basin, vineyards spread from the flatland up to the sloping land, which shows different faces of each season. This beautiful landscape was registered in Japan Heritage list as “A landscape interwoven with vineyards” in 2018.
“Japan Heritage” is a list of tangible and intangible cultural properties and assets with histories and stories designated by the Agency of Cultural Affairs. The Japan Heritage are scattered across the country and each local community manages and makes use of the heritage in their area and disseminates their charms both inside and outside Japan. Asama Jinja is listed as one of the constituent cultural properties.
“There is this ‘Shakado Ruins’ near our shrine where Jomon pottery (ancient Japanese pottery) was dug up. This proves that there has been a community and people have lived in the area since a very long time ago. It also shows that this area has been always blessed with fertile land that’s suitable for growing crops.”
It is thought that people mainly cultivated rice in this area for a long time then fruit farming such as peaches and grapes began in Meiji Period and winemaking started for the first time in Japan around the same time. Between 1955 and 1965, there was a change in the local farming industry and they shifted to fruit cultivation from rice cultivation. Today Yamanashi Prefecture is known as the largest producer of wine in Japan.
However Mr. Furuya tells us his point of view.
“I think it’s the blessing of the god. Konohanasakuya-hime-no-Mikoto is actually the god of alcohol making. When Konohanasakuya-hime became pregnant, her father ‘Oyamatsumi-no-Kami’ rejoiced and made alcohol to celebrate, which is said to be how alcohol making started. According to Kojiki*, the alcohol he made then was Sake, but where Konohanasakuya-hime lived was on top of a mountain. So I though you could think this way… He went into the mountain, picked wild grapes and made alcohol with them, which led to today’s wine. You know, there’s a sense of romance when you imagine that wine has been made in this area since the mythological era. I’m for myths that reflect the characteristics of local areas.”
*Kojiki … “Record of Ancient Matters”, which is the oldest written record in Japanese history.
Try new things while preserving the history
Since around 1965, at “Yamamiya-Miyuki-sai”, which is held every March at Asama Jinja, local wineries have been offering new wines every year to the shrine. At Asama Jinja, they offer these wines as sacred wine (usually sake is used) to special visitors who come from a long way. Also in recent years Asama Jinja holds Otakiage* called “Wine Corks Thanksgiving Festival (a service for corks)” to burn used wine corks and give them back to the nature. You can feel the close connection between the god and the local industry.
*Otakiage … A Shinto ceremony where they burn old charms from the previous year in a bonfire at a shrine.
“We have 1-sho bottles* of wine displayed within the precincts of the shrine, which is a rare sight to see so many people take photos of that. We also sell “Wine Lucky Charms” which have wine enclosed at our shrine. This wine lucky charm is unique itself but there’s also our wish behind it that we want people to know more deeply about this area.”
*1-sho bottle … A 1.8 liter bottle commonly used in Japan, which was originally made for sake
Apart from the wine lucky charm, Mr. Furuya, who hopes to build a connection between his home prefecture’s industries and shrines, came up with other kinds of lucky charms filled with stories of local communities. Those include “Dancing Lucky Charm” which uses jewelry from Kofu City that is known for gem cutting and “Victory Bug (Dragonfly) Lucky Charm” which uses umbrella fabric from Nishikatsura that is known for textile manufacturing.
“When we create new lucky charms, we of course follow the theory of lucky charms. It’s important for our shrine to gain people’s attention and get them to have interest in shrines. When we’re able to attract people to visit here, that’s the start of disseminating jinja.”
“Feel what you want to feel”
Goshuin trend*, new styles of visiting shrines and new kinds of lucky charms. Shrines have become closer and more familiar to us these days. However shrines never let it threaten the line between them and the entertainment industry.
*Goshuin trend … Most temples/shrines have their own unique stamps called Goshuin. It’s a popular activity these days amongst people in Japan to visit temples/shrines to collect those stamps in their Goshuin stamp books.
“Our shrine’s working to creates a more inviting environment for visitors but we never treat our visitors lightly. There are more and more people who say things like ‘I know that the shrine’s there but have never been there (or never have a chance to go there)’ and shrines and people become more distant. That is why it’s necessary for us to grasp the changes of culture and people’s needs even though it’s a shrine with a long history. I feel it’s required for us shrines to have willingness to compromise and adapt to the times. However we must not forget the original stance of shrines, which is how we can provide an environment for our visitors to spend a pleasant time. That is our foundation.”
Visiting shrines is always voluntary. Mr. Furuya tells us that if you feel like visiting a shrine, you can choose a shrine that you think will help you move forward.
“Rather than feeling like ‘I have to visit’ or ‘I should visit’, you can just follow your heart and visit a shrine when you feel like it. Then just feel what you want to feel. Your mindset is reflected in the action of visiting a shrine itself. You take time and effort to visit a god. I think that means your mind is already making a move, which leads you to move forward.”
＼Let’s go to see Mr. Furuya／
Place： Kai no Kuni Ichinomiya Asama Jinja
Address： 1684 Ichinomiya, Ichinomiyacho, Fuefuki city
Tel： (+81) - 553 - 47 ‐ 0900
URL : http://asamajinja.jp/