Chapter Eleven. Notes on Kitzuki


KITZUKI, July 20, 1891.

AKIRA is no longer with me. He has gone to Kyoto, the holy Buddhist city, to edit a Buddhist magazine; and I already feel without him like one who has lost his way - despite his reiterated assurances that he could never be of much service to me in Izumo, as he knew nothing about Shinto.

But for the time being I am to have plenty of company at Kitzuki, where I am spending the first part of the summer holidays; for the little city is full of students and teachers who know me. Kitzuki is not only the holiest place in the San-indo; it is also the most fashionable bathing resort. The beach at Inasa bay is one of the best in all Japan; the beach hotels are spacious, airy, and comfortable; and the bathing houses, with hot and cold freshwater baths in which to wash off the brine after a swim, are simply faultless. And in fair weather, the scenery is delightful, as you look out over the summer space of sea. Closing the bay on the right, there reaches out from the hills overshadowing the town a mighty, rugged, pine-clad spur - the Kitzuki promontory. On the left a low long range of mountains serrate the horizon beyond the shore-sweep, with one huge vapoury shape towering blue into the blue sky behind them - the truncated silhouette of Sanbeyama. Before you the Japanese Sea touches the sky. And there, upon still clear nights, there appears a horizon of fire - the torches of hosts of fishing-boats riding at anchor three and four miles away - so numerous that their lights seem to the naked eye a band of unbroken flame.

The Guji has invited me and one of my friends to see a great harvest dance at his residence on the evening of the festival of Tenjin. This dance - Honen-odori - is peculiar to Izumo; and the opportunity to witness it in this city is a rare one, as it is going to be performed only by order of the Guji.

The robust pontiff himself loves the sea quite as much as anyone in Kitzuki; yet he never enters a beach hotel, much less a public bathing house. For his use alone a special bathing house has been built upon a ledge of the cliff overhanging the little settlement of Inasa: it is approached by a narrow pathway shadowed by pine-trees; and there is a torii before it, and shimenawa. To this little house the Guji ascends daily during the bathing season, accompanied by a single attendant, who prepares his bathing dresses, and spreads the clean mats upon which he rests after returning from the sea. The Guji always bathes robed. No one but himself and his servant ever approaches the little house, which commands a charming view of the bay: public reverence for the pontiff's person has made even his resting-place holy ground. As for the country-folk, they still worship him with hearts and bodies. They have ceased to believe as they did in former times, that anyone upon whom the Kokuzo fixes his eye at once becomes unable to speak or move; but when he passes among them through the temple court they still prostrate themselves along his way, as before the Ikigami.

KITZUKI, July 23rd

Always, through the memory of my first day at Kitzuki, there will pass the beautiful white apparition of the Miko, with her perfect passionless face, and strange, gracious, soundless tread, as of a ghost.

Her name signifies 'the Pet,' or 'The Darling of the Gods,'-Mi-ko.

The kind Guji, at my earnest request, procured me - or rather, had taken for me - a photograph of the Miko, in the attitude of her dance, upholding the mystic suzu, and wearing, over her crimson hakama, the snowy priestess-robe descending to her feet.

And the learned priest Sasa told me these things concerning the Pet of the Gods, and the Miko-kagura - which is the name of her sacred dance.

Contrary to the custom at the other great Shinto temples of Japan, such as Ise, the office of miko at Kitzuki has always been hereditary. Formerly there were in Kitzuki more than thirty families whose daughters served the Oho-yashiro as miko: to-day there are but two, and the number of virgin priestesses does not exceed six - the one whose portrait I obtained being the chief. At Ise and elsewhere the daughter of any Shinto priest may become a miko; but she cannot serve in that capacity after becoming nubile; so that, except in Kitzuki, the miko of all the greater temples are children from ten to twelve years of age. But at the Kitzuki Oho-yashiro the maiden-priestesses are beautiful girls of between sixteen and nineteen years of age; and sometimes a favourite miko is allowed to continue to serve the gods even after having been married. The sacred dance is not difficult to learn: the mother or sister teaches it to the child destined to serve in the temple. The miko lives at home, and visits the temple only upon festival days to perform her duties. She is not placed under any severe discipline or restrictions; she takes no special vows; she risks no dreadful penalties for ceasing to remain a virgin. But her position being one of high honour, and a source of revenue to her family, the ties which bind her to duty are scarcely less cogent than those vows taken by the priestesses of the antique Occident.

Like the priestesses of Delphi, the miko was in ancient times also a divineress - a living oracle, uttering the secrets of the future when possessed by the god whom she served. At no temple does the miko now act as sibyl, oracular priestess, or divineress. But there still exists a class of divining-women, who claim to hold communication with the dead, and to foretell the future, and who call themselves miko - practising their profession secretly; for it has been prohibited by law.