There are some unique and unusual things in Japan that are not normally seen or talked about, especially those that are old & have a long history. For example, in a few posts in my blog I discussed about tales of certain oni¹ (or demons in English) viewed as beings to be revered. While oni are generally seen as being scary and bringers of misfortune in Japanese culture, there are groups that are opposite of this, and instead give praise to particular oni for the sake of luck and protection².
One of the more unusual practices of giving praise to oni can be found in shrines. Take for example Kijin Jinja³, a shrine located in Saitama Prefecture. It is 1 of the 4 shrines found on Japan’s east side that are dedicated to worshiping oni⁴. At Kijin Jinja, the oni is viewed as a model of unwavering effort, resilience, and having the will to win. This shrine is well known for it’s small ornamental statues of demons on the roof tops, paired red and blue demons drawn on “ema⁵” (small wooden plaques) used for writing one’s prayers & wishes, and small omamori⁶ (charm for protection) in the form of a “oni no kanabo⁷” (demon’s metal club). Thus, visitors that frequent here come to get “powered up” in passing entrance exams into universities, making their homes safe, thriving business, and the like.
Records of Kijin Jinja state that it was established in 1182, nearing the end of the Heian period. Its history lies with a military commander by the name of Hatakeyama Shigetada⁸ (1164 – 1205) , who was owner of the castle called Sugaya Shiro⁹ in Musashi no Kuni (present day Saitama Prefecture). In order to protect his castle at its point of misfortune¹⁰, Shigetada built a shrine there. To make things even more interesting, the deity of worship in this shrine was devised to be that of a demon itself, to counteract bad luck that is usually associated with demons themselves. Thus is the beginning of Kijin Jinja.
One of the festivals that take place throughout Japan is called “Setsubun¹¹”. It’s a celebration of the end of winter, and a period to rid one’s household of bad luck. Part of the celebration called “mame maki¹²” is where roasted soybeans are spread along the ground in one’s residence to drive away demons, then swept up as if “sweeping away misfortune”. A phrase that goes along with this is “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi¹³”, which means “demons (bad luck) go outside, good luck stays inside”. At Kijin Jinja, since (good) demons are respected, the celebration of Setsubun has some tweaks to it. Along with demons not associated with bad luck, the phrase used at the celebration there is “fuku wa uchi, oni wa uchi, akuma wa soto¹⁴”, which means “good luck stays inside, demons stay inside, evil demons stay out”.
There is another tale that is attached to the Kijin Jinja, which is about “Kijin-sama¹⁵”, the actual demon deity that is worshiped here. Kijin-sama (with -sama being the honorific title) is said to be enshrined within Kijin Jinja upon its establishment. The version of the tale I am about to share is from the publication “Ranzamachi Shi” reproduced on the website called “Kijin Jinja“. Below is the Japanese version of this tale, followed by an English translation done by myself.
Tale of Kijin-Sama
A long time ago, there was a blacksmith that made swords who lived in Kawajima. From morning to night, he put his heart into making swords as the clanking sounds from his hammer could be heard from his shop. One day, a young man came to the blacksmith’s shop.
“I want to make swords, so please teach me.” The young man requested. Having a lot of work to be done at his shop, an extra pair of hands would help the blacksmith greatly.
“Okay, you’re in.” The blacksmith acknowledged his request.
The young man, full of enthusiasm, put his all into making swords, for he didn’t take breaks or sleep at night. In the home of the blacksmith, was a beautiful girl, who was his daughter. The young man requested to his new boss that he be allowed to make the daughter his wife. The blacksmith gave the request some thought, before giving his answer.
“If you can produce 100 swords in one night, then you may take my daughter as your wife.” the blacksmith replied.
Excitedly, the young man made all sorts of preparations at the shop for his task at hand, and waited for that designated nighttime. Once nightfall came, the young picked up his hammer, and swung it making lots of clanging sounds as he proceeded to making swords. In a blink of an eye, he had already produced 35 swords.
It became late at night. Worrying about the matter at hand, the blacksmith went to the shop to take a look at how the young man was doing. Secretly watching the young man at work, he eyed how quickly the swords were being made one after another. In such a short time the swords were piling up!
Just then the blacksmith stared at the young man as he was making swords. Suddenly, the man before him was no longer a man! Bearing eyes that pierced like daggers, and horns protruding from his head, the being before the blacksmith’s eyes was none other than a demon!! This demon stood before what seemed like a sea of fire, as sparks scattered around the demon like fireworks as he clanged away repeatedly with his hammer, producing with his hands one sword after another.
Shocked at what he was witnessing, the blacksmith rushed out of the shop. “There’s no way I can allow my beloved daughter be taken by the likes of such a person!” He thought. Frantically, the blacksmith ran to the chicken coop, thinking that if he could get the rooster to crow, this will signal that the night is over.
“Cock-doodle-doo!” The rooster crowed (through the blacksmith’s efforts).
Afterwards, the blacksmith snuck back into the shop. There stood the man-turned-demon, who was in the middle of striking a sword with his hammer. However, just then the sky to the East began to light up as the night truly came to a close. The demon-man then fell down dead to the ground, still clutching his hammer. He was not able to accomplish his goal, for he managed to produce only 99 swords.
Feeling pity for the man who’s life was lost in work he put his heart into, the blacksmith picked up his lifeless body and carried it outside. He left the body in the hands of Shinto priest, who in turn buried it at the edge of a garden. Later, this same place was turned into the shrine for Kijin-sama, where the celebrations in honor of him take place.
By reading this, one can tell that Kijin-sama’s inspiring points are going beyond what may be seen as the impossible in order to accomplish one’s goals. That unyielding drive to produce nearly 100 swords in one night is definitely beyond human…which in turn is that same drive visitors wish to acquire to succeed in their tasks at hand.
That sums up this post about Kijin Jinja and its relationship with demons. There are plenty more unique and unsual things of old to be discovered that are a part of Japanese cultures, so please stay tuned for more posts regarding them.
1) 鬼. Along with the image of a large frightful creature with horns and dressed in tigerskin loincloth, oni (demons) are liken to bad luck and disasters according to certain superstitions and practices specializing in reading fortune.
2) Certain demons that do good for the sake of mankind are said to be similar to deities, thus can be revered as a god. Usually these demons are considered “dehorned”. See my posts here and here for more on this.
3) 鬼鎮神社. Kijin can be translated as “Demon Quelling” (or if referring to someone, “Demon Queller”), and Jinja as “shrine”
4) The other 3 shrines are located in Aomori Prefecture, Ōita Prefecture, and Fukuoka Prefecture.
5) 絵馬. Literally meaning “horse-drawing”, originally a picture of a horse was drawn on these wooden boards. Reason behind this is that there was an old belief that gods travel by horses. To offer one’s wishes and prayers to the gods, one method was to draw a picture of a horse on paper or a wooden board, for those who couldn’t do so in front of a shinme (神馬, a divine horse). Later, the drawn image varied depending on the god of worship.
10) According to Onmyōdō (Japanese divination system based off of Taoist beliefs and the 5 Elements), northeast is believed to be the direction where evil spirits come from. The name common for the northeast direction is kimon (鬼門, demon’s gate). In the past, one way to block these evil spirits away was to build a shrine in that direction, and have a particular deity enshrined inside for protection. Thus, many land owners had a shrine built to the northeast of their estate or castle. This practice is called “kimon yoke” (鬼門除け, repelling the demon’s gate).
11) 節分. This takes place usually the 1st week of February, either on the 3rd or 4th day. Originally, Setsubun symbolized the change in seasons, and was celebrated 4 times a year at the end of each season according to the Japanese calendar. Now, there is only one Setsubun celebration for the close of winter.