Chapter Eight. Kitzuki: The Most Ancient Shrine of Japan

SHINKOKU is the sacred name of Japan - Shinkoku, 'The Country of the Gods'; and of all Shinkoku the most holy ground is the land of Izumo. Hither from the blue Plain of High Heaven first came to dwell awhile the Earth-makers, Izanagi and Izanami, the parents of gods and of men; somewhere upon the border of this land was Izanami buried; and out of this land into the black realm of the dead did Izanagi follow after her, and seek in vain to bring her back again. And the tale of his descent into that strange nether world, and of what there befell him, is it not written in the Kojiki? [1] And of all legends primeval concerning the Underworld this story is one of the weirdest - more weird than even the Assyrian legend of the Descent of Ishtar.

Even as Izumo is especially the province of the gods, and the place of the childhood of the race by whom Izanagi and Izanami are yet worshiped, so is Kitzuki of Izumo especially the city of the gods, and its immemorial temple the earliest home of the ancient faith, the great religion of Shinto.

Now to visit Kitzuki has been my most earnest ambition since I learned the legends of the Kojiki concerning it; and this ambition has been stimulated by the discovery that very few Europeans have visited Kitzuki, and that none have been admitted into the great temple itself. Some, indeed, were not allowed even to approach the temple court. But I trust that I shall be somewhat more fortunate; for I have a letter of introduction from my dear friend Nishida Sentaro, who is also a personal friend of the high pontiff of Kitzuki. I am thus assured that even should I not be permitted to enter the temple - a privilege accorded to but few among the Japanese themselves - I shall at least have the honour of an interview with the Guji, or Spiritual Governor of Kitzuki, Senke Takanori, whose princely family trace back their descent to the Goddess of the Sun. [2]


I leave Matsue for Kitzuki early in the afternoon of a beautiful September day; taking passage upon a tiny steamer in which everything, from engines to awnings, is Lilliputian. In the cabin one must kneel. Under the awnings one cannot possibly stand upright. But the miniature craft is neat and pretty as a toy model, and moves with surprising swiftness and steadiness. A handsome naked boy is busy serving the passengers with cups of tea and with cakes, and setting little charcoal furnaces before those who desire to smoke: for all of which a payment of about three-quarters of a cent is expected.

I escape from the awnings to climb upon the cabin roof for a view; and the view is indescribably lovely. Over the lucent level of the lake we are steaming toward a far-away heaping of beautiful shapes, coloured with that strangely delicate blue which tints all distances in the Japanese atmosphere - shapes of peaks and headlands looming up from the lake verge against a porcelain-white horizon. They show no details, whatever. Silhouettes only they are - masses of absolutely pure colour. To left and right, framing in the Shinjiko, are superb green surgings of wooded hills. Great Yakuno-San is the loftiest mountain before us, north-west. South-east, behind us, the city has vanished; but proudly towering beyond looms Daisen - enormous, ghostly blue and ghostly white, lifting the cusps of its dead crater into the region of eternal snow. Over all arches a sky of colour faint as a dream.

There seems to be a sense of divine magic in the very atmosphere, through all the luminous day, brooding over the vapoury land, over the ghostly blue of the flood - a sense of Shinto. With my fancy full of the legends of the Kojiki, the rhythmic chant of the engines comes to my ears as the rhythm of a Shinto ritual mingled with the names of gods:

Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami, Oho-kuni-nushi-no-Kami.


The great range on the right grows loftier as we steam on; and its hills, always slowly advancing toward us, begin to reveal all the rich details of their foliage. And lo! on the tip of one grand wood-clad peak is visible against the pure sky the many-angled roof of a great Buddhist temple. That is the temple of Ichibata, upon the mountain Ichibata-yama, the temple of Yakushi-Nyorai, the Physician of Souls. But at Ichibata he reveals himself more specially as the healer of bodies, the Buddha who giveth sight unto the blind. It is believed that whosoever has an affection of the eyes will be made well by praying earnestly at that great shrine; and thither from many distant provinces do afflicted thousands make pilgrimage, ascending the long weary mountain path and the six hundred and forty steps of stone leading to the windy temple court upon the summit, whence may be seen one of the loveliest landscapes in Japan. There the pilgrims wash their eyes with the water of the sacred spring, and kneel before the shrine and murmur the holy formula of Ichibata: 'On-koro-koro-sendai-matoki-sowaka' - words of which the meaning has long been forgotten, like that of many a Buddhist invocation; Sanscrit words transliterated into Chinese, and thence into Japanese, which are understood by learned priests alone, yet are known by heart throughout the land, and uttered with the utmost fervour of devotion.

I descend from the cabin roof, and squat upon the deck, under the awnings, to have a smoke with Akira. And I ask:

'How many Buddhas are there, O Akira? Is the number of the Enlightened known?'

'Countless the Buddhas are,' makes answer Akira; 'yet there is truly but one Buddha; the many are forms only. Each of us contains a future Buddha. Alike we all are except in that we are more or less unconscious of the truth. But the vulgar may not understand these things, and so seek refuge in symbols and in forms.'

'And the Kami, - the deities of Shinto?'

'Of Shinto I know little. But there are eight hundred myriads of Kami in the Plain of High Heaven - so says the Ancient Book. Of these, three thousand one hundred and thirty and two dwell in the various provinces of the land; being enshrined in two thousand eight hundred and sixty-one temples. And the tenth month of our year is called the "No-God-month," because in that month all the deities leave their temples to assemble in the province of Izumo, at the great temple of Kitzuki; and for the same reason that month is called in Izumo, and only in Izumo, the "God-is- month." But educated persons sometimes call it the "God-present- festival," using Chinese words. Then it is believed the serpents come from the sea to the land, and coil upon the sambo, which is the table of the gods, for the serpents announce the coming; and the Dragon-King sends messengers to the temples of Izanagi and Izanami, the parents of gods and men.'

'O Akira, many millions of Kami there must be of whom I shall always remain ignorant, for there is a limit to the power of memory; but tell me something of the gods whose names are most seldom uttered, the deities of strange places and of strange things, the most extraordinary gods.'

'You cannot learn much about them from me,' replies Akira. 'You will have to ask others more learned than I. But there are gods with whom it is not desirable to become acquainted. Such are the God of Poverty, and the God of Hunger, and the God of Penuriousness, and the God of Hindrances and Obstacles. These are of dark colour, like the clouds of gloomy days, and their faces are like the faces of gaki.' [3]

'With the God of Hindrances and Obstacles, O Akira I have had more than a passing acquaintance. Tell me of the others.'

'I know little about any of them,' answers Akira, 'excepting Bimbogami. It is said there are two gods who always go together, - Fuku-no-Kami, who is the God of Luck, and Bimbogami, who is the God of Poverty. The first is white, and the second is black.'

'Because the last,' I venture to interrupt, 'is only the shadow of the first. Fuku-no-Kami is the Shadow-caster, and Bimbogami the Shadow; and I have observed, in wandering about this world, that wherever the one goeth, eternally followeth after him the other.'

Akira refuses his assent to this interpretation, and resumes:

'When Bimbogami once begins to follow anyone it is extremely difficult to be free from him again. In the village of Umitsu, which is in the province of Omi, and not far from Kyoto, there once lived a Buddhist priest who during many years was grievously tormented by Bimbogami. He tried oftentimes without avail to drive him away; then he strove to deceive him by proclaiming aloud to all the people that he was going to Kyoto. But instead of going to Kyoto he went to Tsuruga, in the province of Echizen; and when he reached the inn at Tsuruga there came forth to meet him a boy lean and wan like a gaki. The boy said to him, "I have been waiting for you" - and the boy was Bimbogami.

'There was another priest who for sixty years had tried in vain to get rid of Bimbogami, and who resolved at last to go to a distant province. On the night after he had formed this resolve he had a strange dream, in which he saw a very much emaciated boy, naked and dirty, weaving sandals of straw (waraji), such as pilgrims and runners wear; and he made so many that the priest wondered, and asked him, "For what purpose are you making so many sandals?" And the boy answered, "I am going to travel with you. I am Bimbogami."'

'Then is there no way, Akira, by which Bimbogami may be driven away?'

'It is written,' replies Akira, 'in the book called Jizo-Kyo-Kosui that the aged Enjobo, a priest dwelling in the province of Owari, was able to get rid of Bimbogami by means of a charm. On the last day of the last month of the year he and his disciples and other priests of the Shingon sect took branches of peach-trees and recited a formula, and then, with the branches, imitated the action of driving a person out of the temple, after which they shut all the gates and recited other formulas. The same night Enjobo dreamed of a skeleton priest in a broken temple weeping alone, and the skeleton priest said to him, "After I had been with you for so many years, how could you drive me away?" But always thereafter until the day of his death, Enjobo lived in prosperity.'


For an hour and a half the ranges to left and right alternately recede and approach. Beautiful blue shapes glide toward us, change to green, and then, slowly drifting behind us, are all blue again. But the far mountains immediately before us - immovable, unchanging - always remain ghosts. Suddenly the little steamer turns straight into the land - a land so low that it came into sight quite unexpectedly - and we puff up a narrow stream between rice-fields to a queer, quaint, pretty village on the canal bank - Shobara. Here I must hire jinricksha to take us to Kitzuki.

There is not time to see much of Shobara if I hope to reach Kitzuki before bedtime, and I have only a flying vision of one long wide street (so picturesque that I wish I could pass a day in it), as our kuruma rush through the little town into the open country, into a vast plain covered with rice-fields. The road itself is only a broad dike, barely wide enough for two jinricksha to pass each other upon it. On each side the superb plain is bounded by a mountain range shutting off the white horizon. There is a vast silence, an immense sense of dreamy peace, and a glorious soft vapoury light over everything, as we roll into the country of Hyasugi to Kaminawoe. The jagged range on the left is Shusai- yama, all sharply green, with the giant Daikoku-yama overtopping all; and its peaks bear the names of gods. Much more remote, upon our right, enormous, pansy-purple, tower the shapes of the Kita-yama, or northern range; filing away in tremendous procession toward the sunset, fading more and more as they stretch west, to vanish suddenly at last, after the ghostliest conceivable manner, into the uttermost day.

All this is beautiful; yet there is no change while hours pass. Always the way winds on through miles of rice-fields, white-speckled with paper-winged shafts which are arrows of prayer. Always the voice of frogs - a sound as of infinite bubbling. Always the green range on the left, the purple on the right, fading westward into a tall file of tinted spectres which always melt into nothing at last, as if they were made of air. The monotony of the scene is broken only by our occasional passing through some pretty Japanese village, or by the appearance of a curious statue or monument at an angle of the path, a roadside Jizo, or the grave of a wrestler, such as may be seen on the bank of the Hiagawa, a huge slab of granite sculptured with the words, 'Ikumo Matsu kikusuki.'

But after reaching Kandogori, and passing over a broad but shallow river, a fresh detail appears in the landscape. Above the mountain chain on our left looms a colossal blue silhouette, almost saddle-shaped, recognisable by its outline as a once mighty volcano. It is now known by various names, but it was called in ancient times Sa-hime-yama; and it has its Shinto legend.

It is said that in the beginning the God of Izumo, gazing over the land, said, 'This new land of Izumo is a land of but small extent, so I will make it a larger land by adding unto it.' Having so said, he looked about him over to Korea, and there he saw land which was good for the purpose. With a great rope he dragged therefrom four islands, and added the land of them to Izumo. The first island was called Ya-o-yo-ne, and it formed the land where Kitzuki now is. The second island was called Sada-no-kuni, and is at this day the site of the holy temple where all the gods do yearly hold their second assembly, after having first gathered together at Kitzuki. The third island was called in its new place Kurami-no-kuni, which now forms Shimane-gori. The fourth island became that place where stands the temple of the great god at whose shrine are delivered unto the faithful the charms which protect the rice-fields. [4]

Now in drawing these islands across the sea into their several places the god looped his rope over the mighty mountain of Daisen and over the mountain Sa-hime-yama; and they both bear the marks of that wondrous rope even unto this day. As for the rope itself, part of it was changed into the long island of ancient times [5] called Yomi-ga-hama, and a part into the Long Beach of Sono.

After we pass the Hori-kawa the road narrows and becomes rougher and rougher, but always draws nearer to the Kitayama range. Toward sundown we have come close enough to the great hills to discern the details of their foliage. The path begins to rise; we ascend slowly through the gathering dusk. At last there appears before us a great multitude of twinkling lights. We have reached Kitzuki, the holy city.


Over a long bridge and under a tall torii we roll into upward-sloping streets. Like Enoshima, Kitzuki has a torii for its city gate; but the torii is not of bronze. Then a flying vision of open lamp-lighted shop- fronts, and lines of luminous shoji under high-tilted eaves, and Buddhist gateways guarded by lions of stone, and long, low, tile-coped walls of temple courts overtopped by garden shrubbery, and Shinto shrines prefaced by other tall torii; but no sign of the great temple itself. It lies toward the rear of the city proper, at the foot of the wooded mountains; and we are too tired and hungry to visit it now. So we halt before a spacious and comfortable-seeming inn, - the best, indeed, in Kitzuki - and rest ourselves and eat, and drink sake out of exquisite little porcelain cups, the gift of some pretty singing-girl to the hotel. Thereafter, as it has become much too late to visit the Guji, I send to his residence by a messenger my letter of introduction, with an humble request in Akira's handwriting, that I may be allowed to present myself at the house before noon the next day.

Then the landlord of the hotel, who seems to be a very kindly person, comes to us with lighted paper lanterns, and invites us to accompany him to the Oho-yashiro.

Most of the houses have already closed their wooden sliding doors for the night, so that the streets are dark, and the lanterns of our landlord indispensable; for there is no moon, and the night is starless. We walk along the main street for a distance of about six squares, and then, making a tum, find ourselves before a superb bronze torii, the gateway to the great temple avenue.


Effacing colours and obliterating distances, night always magnifies by suggestion the aspect of large spaces and the effect of large objects. Viewed by the vague light of paper lanterns, the approach to the great shrine is an imposing surprise - such a surprise that I feel regret at the mere thought of having to see it to-morrow by disenchanting day: a superb avenue lined with colossal trees, and ranging away out of sight under a succession of giant torii, from which are suspended enormous shimenawa, well worthy the grasp of that Heavenly-Hand-Strength Deity whose symbols they are. But, more than by the torii and their festooned symbols, the dim majesty of the huge avenue is enhanced by the prodigious trees - many perhaps thousands of years old - gnarled pines whose shaggy summits are lost in darkness. Some of the mighty trunks are surrounded with a rope of straw: these trees are sacred. The vast roots, far-reaching in every direction, look in the lantern-light like a writhing and crawling of dragons.

The avenue is certainly not less than a quarter of a mile in length; it crosses two bridges and passes between two sacred groves. All the broad lands on either side of it belong to the temple. Formerly no foreigner was permitted to pass beyond the middle torii The avenue terminates at a lofty wall pierced by a gateway resembling the gateways of Buddhist temple courts, but very massive. This is the entrance to the outer court; the ponderous doors are still open, and many shadowy figures are passing in or out.

Within the court all is darkness, against which pale yellow lights are gliding to and fro like a multitude of enormous fireflies - the lanterns of pilgrims. I can distinguish only the looming of immense buildings to left and right, constructed with colossal timbers. Our guide traverses a very large court, passes into a second, and halts before an imposing structure whose doors are still open. Above them, by the lantern glow, I can see a marvellous frieze of dragons and water, carved in some rich wood by the hand of a master. Within I can see the symbols of Shinto, in a side shrine on the left; and directly before us the lanterns reveal a surface of matted floor vaster than anything I had expected to find. Therefrom I can divine the scale of the edifice which I suppose to be the temple. But the landlord tells us this is not the temple, but only the Haiden or Hall of Prayer, before which the people make their orisons, By day, through the open doors, the temple can be seen But we cannot see it to-night, and but few visitors are permitted to go in. 'The people do not enter even the court of the great shrine, for the most part,' interprets Akira; 'they pray before it at a distance. Listen!'

All about me in the shadow I hear a sound like the plashing and dashing of water - the clapping of many hands in Shinto prayer.

'But this is nothing,' says the landlord; 'there are but few here now. Wait until to-morrow, which is a festival day.'

As we wend our way back along the great avenue, under the torii and the giant trees, Akira interprets for me what our landlord tells him about the sacred serpent.

'The little serpent,' he says, 'is called by the people the august Dragon-Serpent; for it is sent by the Dragon-King to announce the coming of the gods. The sea darkens and rises and roars before the coming of Ryu-ja-Sama. Ryu-ja. Sama we call it because it is the messenger of Ryugu-jo, the palace of the dragons; but it is also called Hakuja, or the 'White Serpent.' [6]

'Does the little serpent come to the temple of its own accord?'

'Oh, no. It is caught by the fishermen. And only one can be caught in a year, because only one is sent; and whoever catches it and brings it either to the Kitzuki-no-oho-yashiro, or to the temple Sadajinja, where the gods hold their second assembly during the Kami-ari-zuki, receives one hyo [7] of rice in recompense. It costs much labour and time to catch a serpent; but whoever captures one is sure to become rich in after time.' [8]

'There are many deities enshrined at Kitzuki, are there not?' I ask.

'Yes; but the great deity of Kitzuki is Oho-kuni-nushi-no-Kami, [9] whom the people more commonly call Daikoku. Here also is worshipped his son, whom many call Ebisu. These deities are usually pictured together: Daikoku seated upon bales of rice, holding the Red Sun against his breast with one hand, and in the other grasping the magical mallet of which a single stroke gives wealth; and Ebisu bearing a fishing-rod, and holding under his arm a great tai-fish. These gods are always represented with smiling faces; and both have great ears, which are the sign of wealth and fortune.'


A little wearied by the day's journeying, I get to bed early, and sleep as dreamlessly as a plant until I am awakened about daylight by a heavy, regular, bumping sound, shaking the wooden pillow on which my ear rests - the sound of the katsu of the kometsuki beginning his eternal labour of rice-cleaning. Then the pretty musume of the inn opens the chamber to the fresh mountain air and the early sun, rolls back all the wooden shutters into their casings behind the gallery, takes down the brown mosquito net, brings a hibachi with freshly kindled charcoal for my morning smoke, and trips away to get our breakfast.

Early as it is when she returns, she brings word that a messenger has already arrived from the Guji, Senke Takanori, high descendant of the Goddess of the Sun. The messenger is a dignified young Shinto priest, clad in the ordinary Japanese full costume, but wearing also a superb pair of blue silken hakama, or Japanese ceremonial trousers, widening picturesquely towards the feet. He accepts my invitation to a cup of tea, and informs me that his august master is waiting for us at the temple.

This is delightful news, but we cannot go at once. Akira's attire is pronounced by the messenger to be defective. Akira must don fresh white tabi and put on hakama before going into the august presence: no one may enter thereinto without hakama. Happily Akira is able to borrow a pair of hakama from the landlord; and, after having arranged ourselves as neatly as we can, we take our way to the temple, guided by the messenger.


I am agreeably surprised to find, as we pass again under a magnificent bronze torii which I admired the night before, that the approaches to the temple lose very little of their imposing character when seen for the first time by sunlight. The majesty of the trees remains astonishing; the vista of the avenue is grand; and the vast spaces of groves and grounds to right and left are even more impressive than I had imagined. Multitudes of pilgrims are going and coming; but the whole population of a province might move along such an avenue without jostling. Before the gate of the first court a Shinto priest in full sacerdotal costume waits to receive us: an elderly man, with a pleasant kindly face. The messenger commits us to his charge, and vanishes through the gateway, while the elderly priest, whose name is Sasa, leads the way.

Already I can hear a heavy sound, as of surf, within the temple court; and as we advance the sound becomes sharper and recognisable - a volleying of handclaps. And passing the great gate, I see thousands of pilgrims before the Haiden, the same huge structure which I visited last night. None enter there: all stand before the dragon-swarming doorway, and cast their offerings into the money-chest placed before the threshold; many making contribution of small coin, the very poorest throwing only a handful of rice into the box. [10] Then they clap their hands and bow their heads before the threshold, and reverently gaze through the Hall of Prayer at the loftier edifice, the Holy of Holies, beyond it. Each pilgrim remains but a little while, and claps his hands but four times; yet so many are coming and going that the sound of the clapping is like the sound of a cataract.

Passing by the multitude of worshippers to the other side of the Haiden, we find ourselves at the foot of a broad flight of iron-bound steps leading to the great sanctuary - steps which I am told no European before me was ever permitted to approach. On the lower steps the priests of the temple, in full ceremonial costume, are waiting to receive us. Tall men they are, robed in violet and purple silks shot through with dragon-patterns in gold. Their lofty fantastic head-dresses, their voluminous and beautiful costume, and the solemn immobility of their hierophantic attitudes make them at first sight seem marvellous statues only. Somehow or other there comes suddenly back to me the memory of a strange French print I used to wonder at when a child, representing a group of Assyrian astrologers. Only their eyes move as we approach. But as I reach the steps all simultaneously salute me with a most gracious bow, for I am the first foreign pilgrim to be honoured by the privilege of an interview in the holy shrine itself with the princely hierophant, their master, descendant of the Goddess of the Sun - he who is still called by myriads of humble worshippers in the remoter districts of this ancient province Ikigami, 'the living deity.' Then all become absolutely statuesque again.

I remove my shoes, and am about to ascend the steps, when the tall priest who first received us before the outer gate indicates, by a single significant gesture, that religion and ancient custom require me, before ascending to the shrine of the god, to perform the ceremonial ablution. I hold out my hands; the priest pours the pure water over them thrice from a ladle-shaped vessel of bamboo with a long handle, and then gives me a little blue towel to wipe them upon, a Votive towel with mysterious white characters upon it. Then we all ascend; I feeling very much like a clumsy barbarian in my ungraceful foreign garb.

Pausing at the head of the steps, the priest inquires my rank in society. For at Kitzuki hierarchy and hierarchical forms are maintained with a rigidity as precise as in the period of the gods; and there are special forms and regulations for the reception of visitors of every social grade. I do not know what flattering statements Akira may have made about me to the good priest; but the result is that I can rank only as a common person - which veracious fact doubtless saves me from some formalities which would have proved embarrassing, all ignorant as I still am of that finer and more complex etiquette in which the Japanese are the world's masters.


The priest leads the way into a vast and lofty apartment opening for its entire length upon the broad gallery to which the stairway ascends. I have barely time to notice, while following him, that the chamber contains three immense shrines, forming alcoves on two sides of it. Of these, two are veiled by white curtains reaching from ceiling to matting - curtains decorated with perpendicular rows of black disks about four inches in diameter, each disk having in its centre a golden blossom. But from before the third shrine, in the farther angle of the chamber, the curtains have been withdrawn; and these are of gold brocade, and the shrine before which they hang is the chief shrine, that of Oho-kuni- nushi-no-Kami. Within are visible only some of the ordinary emblems of Shinto, and the exterior of that Holy of Holies into which none may look. Before it a long low bench, covered with strange objects, has been placed, with one end toward the gallery and one toward the alcove. At the end of this bench, near the gallery, I see a majestic bearded figure, strangely coifed and robed all in white, seated upon the matted floor in hierophantic attitude. Our priestly guide motions us to take our places in front of him and to bow down before him. For this is Senke Takanori, the Guji of Kitzuki, to whom even in his own dwelling none may speak save on bended knee, descendant of the Goddess of the Sun, and still by multitudes revered in thought as a being superhuman. Prostrating myself before him, according to the customary code of Japanese politeness, I am saluted in return with that exquisite courtesy which puts a stranger immediately at ease. The priest who acted as our guide now sits down on the floor at the Guji's left hand; while the other priests, who followed us to the entrance of the sanctuary only, take their places upon the gallery without.


Senke Takanori is a youthful and powerful man. As he sits there before me in his immobile hieratic pose, with his strange lofty head-dress, his heavy curling beard, and his ample snowy sacerdotal robe broadly spreading about him in statuesque undulations, he realises for me all that I had imagined, from the suggestion of old Japanese pictures, about the personal majesty of the ancient princes and heroes. The dignity alone of the man would irresistibly compel respect; but with that feeling of respect there also flashes through me at once the thought of the profound reverence paid him by the population of the most ancient province of Japan, the idea of the immense spiritual power in his hands, the tradition of his divine descent, the sense of the immemorial nobility of his race - and my respect deepens into a feeling closely akin to awe. So motionless he is that he seems a sacred statue only - the temple image of one of his own deified ancestors. But the solemnity of the first few moments is agreeably broken by his first words, uttered in a low rich basso, while his dark, kindly eyes remain motionlessly fixed upon my face. Then my interpreter translates his greeting - large fine phrases of courtesy - to which I reply as I best know how, expressing my gratitude for the exceptional favour accorded me.

'You are, indeed,' he responds through Akira, 'the first European ever permitted to enter into the Oho-yashiro. Other Europeans have visited Kitzuki and a few have been allowed to enter the temple court; but you only have been admitted into the dwelling of the god. In past years, some strangers who desired to visit the temple out of common curiosity only were not allowed to approach even the court; but the letter of Mr. Nishida, explaining the object of your visit, has made it a pleasure for us to receive you thus.'

Again I express my thanks; and after a second exchange of courtesies the conversation continues through the medium of Akira.

'Is not this great temple of Kitzuki,' I inquire, 'older than the temples of Ise?'

'Older by far,' replies the Guji; 'so old, indeed, that we do not well know the age of it. For it was first built by order of the Goddess of the Sun, in the time when deities alone existed. Then it was exceedingly magnificent; it was three hundred and twenty feet high. The beams and the pillars were larger than any existing timber could furnish; and the framework was bound together firmly with a rope made of taku [11] fibre, one thousand fathoms long.

'It was first rebuilt in the time of the Emperor Sui-nin. [12] The temple so rebuilt by order of the Emperor Sui-nin was called the Structure of the Iron Rings, because the pieces of the pillars, which were composed of the wood of many great trees, had been bound fast together with huge rings of iron. This temple was also splendid, but far less splendid than the first, which had been built by the gods, for its height was only one hundred and sixty feet.

'A third time the temple was rebuilt, in the reign of the Empress Sai- mei; but this third edifice was only eighty feet high. Since then the structure of the temple has never varied; and the plan then followed has been strictly preserved to the least detail in the construction of the present temple.

'The Oho-yashiro has been rebuilt twenty-eight times; and it has been the custom to rebuild it every sixty-one years. But in the long period of civil war it was not even repaired for more than a hundred years. In the fourth year of Tai-ei, one Amako Tsune Hisa, becoming Lord of Izumo, committed the great temple to the charge of a Buddhist priest, and even built pagodas about it, to the outrage of the holy traditions. But when the Amako family were succeeded by Moro Mototsugo, this latter purified the temple, and restored the ancient festivals and ceremonies which before had been neglected.'

'In the period when the temple was built upon a larger scale,' I ask, 'were the timbers for its construction obtained from the forests of Izumo?'

The priest Sasa, who guided us into the shrine, makes answer: 'It is recorded that on the fourth day of the seventh month of the third year of Ten-in one hundred large trees came floating to the sea coast of Kitzuki, and were stranded there by the tide. With these timbers the temple was rebuilt in the third year of Ei-kyu; and that structure was called the Building-of-the-Trees-which-came-floating. Also in the same third year of Ten-in, a great tree-trunk, one hundred and fifty feet long, was stranded on the seashore near a shrine called Ube-no-yashiro, at Miyanoshita-mura, which is in Inaba. Some people wanted to cut the tree; but they found a great serpent coiled around it, which looked so terrible that they became frightened, and prayed to the deity of Ube-noyashiro to protect them; and the deity revealed himself, and said: "Whensoever the great temple in Izumo is to be rebuilt, one of the gods of each province sends timber for the building of it, and this time it is my turn. Build quickly, therefore, with that great tree which is mine." And therewith the god disappeared. From these and from other records we learn that the deities have always superintended or aided the building of the great temple of Kitzuki.'

'In what part of the Oho-yashiro,' I ask, 'do the august deities assemble during the Kami-ari-zuki?'

'On the east and west sides of the inner court,' replies the priest Sasa, 'there are two long buildings called the Jiu-kusha. These contain nineteen shrines, no one of which is dedicated to any particular god; and we believe it is in the Jiu-ku-sha that the gods assemble.'

'And how many pilgrims from other provinces visit the great shrine yearly?' I inquire.

'About two hundred and fifty thousand,' the Guji answers. 'But the number increases or diminishes according to the condition of the agricultural classes; the more prosperous the season, the larger the number of pilgrims. It rarely falls below two hundred thousand.'


Many other curious things the Guji and his chief priest then related to me; telling me the sacred name of each of the courts, and of the fences and holy groves and the multitudinous shrines and their divinities; even the names of the great pillars of the temple, which are nine in number, the central pillar being called the august Heart-Pillar of the Middle. All things within the temple grounds have sacred names, even the torii and the bridges.

The priest Sasa called my attention to the fact that the great shrine of Oho-kuni-nushi-no-Kami faces west, though the great temple faces east, like all Shinto temples. In the other two shrines of the same apartment, both facing east, are the first divine Kokuzo of Izumo, his seventeenth descendant, and the father of Nominosukune, wise prince and famous wrestler. For in the reign of the Emperor Sui-nin one Kehaya of Taima had boasted that no man alive was equal to himself in strength. Nominosukune, by the emperor's command, wrestled with Kehaya, and threw him down so mightily that Kehaya's ghost departed from him. This was the beginning of wrestling in Japan; and wrestlers still pray unto Nominosukune for power and skill.

There are so many other shrines that I could not enumerate the names of all their deities without wearying those readers unfamiliar with the traditions and legends of Shinto. But nearly all those divinities who appear in the legend of the Master of the Great Land are still believed to dwell here with him, and here their shrines are: the beautiful one, magically born from the jewel worn in the tresses of the Goddess of the Sun, and called by men the Torrent-Mist Princess - and the daughter of the Lord of the World of Shadows, she who loved the Master of the Great Land, and followed him out of the place of ghosts to become his wife - and the deity called 'Wondrous-Eight-Spirits,' grandson of the 'Deity of Water-Gates,' who first made a fire-drill and platters of red clay for the august banquet of the god at Kitzuki - and many of the heavenly kindred of these.


The priest Sasa also tells me this:

When Naomasu, grandson of the great Iyeyasu, and first daimyo of that mighty Matsudaira family who ruled Izumo for two hundred and fifty years, came to this province, he paid a visit to the Temple of Kitzuki, and demanded that the miya of the shrine within the shrine should be opened that he might look upon the sacred objects - upon the shintai or body of the deity. And this being an impious desire, both of the Kokuzo [13] unitedly protested against it. But despite their remonstrances and their pleadings, he persisted angrily in his demand, so that the priests found themselves compelled to open the shrine. And the miya being opened, Naomasu saw within it a great awabi [14] of nine holes - so large that it concealed everything behind it. And when he drew still nearer to look, suddenly the awabi changed itself into a huge serpent more than fifty feet in length; [15] - and it massed its black coils before the opening of the shrine, and hissed like the sound of raging fire, and looked so terrible, that Naomasu and those with him fled away - having been able to see naught else. And ever thereafter Naomasu feared and reverenced the god.


The Guji then calls my attention to the quaint relics lying upon the long low bench between us, which is covered with white silk: a metal mirror, found in preparing the foundation of the temple when rebuilt many hundred years ago; magatama jewels of onyx and jasper; a Chinese flute made of jade; a few superb swords, the gifts of shoguns and emperors; helmets of splendid antique workmanship; and a bundle of enormous arrows with double-pointed heads of brass, fork-shaped and keenly edged.

After I have looked at these relics and learned something of their history, the Guji rises and says to me, 'Now we will show you the ancient fire-drill of Kitzuki, with which the sacred fire is kindled.'

Descending the steps, we pass again before the Haiden, and enter a spacious edifice on one side of the court, of nearly equal size with the Hall of Prayer. Here I am agreeably surprised to find a long handsome mahogany table at one end of the main apartment into which we are ushered, and mahogany chairs placed all about it for the reception of guests. I am motioned to one chair, my interpreter to another; and the Guji and his priests take their seats also at the table. Then an attendant sets before me a handsome bronze stand about three feet long, on which rests an oblong something carefully wrapped in snow-white cloths. The Guji removes the wrappings; and I behold the most primitive form of fire-drill known to exist in the Orient. [16] It is simply a very thick piece of solid white plank, about two and a half feet long, with a line of holes drilled along its upper edge, so that the upper part of each hole breaks through the sides of the plank. The sticks which produce the fire, when fixed in the holes and rapidly rubbed between the palms of the hands, are made of a lighter kind of white wood; they are about two feet long, and as thick as a common lead pencil.

While I am yet examining this curious simple utensil, the invention of which tradition ascribes to the gods, and modern science to the earliest childhood of the human race, a priest places upon the table a light, large wooden box, about three feet long, eighteen inches wide, and four inches high at the sides, but higher in the middle, as the top is arched like the shell of a tortoise. This object is made of the same hinoki wood as the drill; and two long slender sticks are laid beside it. I at first suppose it to be another fire-drill. But no human being could guess what it really is. It is called the koto-ita, and is one of the most primitive of musical instruments; the little sticks are used to strike it. At a sign from the Guji two priests place the box upon the floor, seat themselves on either side of it, and taking up the little sticks begin to strike the lid with them, alternately and slowly, at the same time uttering a most singular and monotonous chant. One intones only the sounds, 'Ang! ang!' and the other responds, 'Ong! ong!' The koto-ita gives out a sharp, dead, hollow sound as the sticks fall upon it in time to each utterance of 'Ang! ang!' 'Ong! ong!' [17]


These things I learn:

Each year the temple receives a new fire-drill; but the fire-drill is never made in Kitzuki, but in Kumano, where the traditional regulations as to the manner of making it have been preserved from the time of the gods. For the first Kokuzo of Izumo, on becoming pontiff, received the fire-drill for the great temple from the hands of the deity who was the younger brother of the Sun-Goddess, and is now enshrined at Kumano. And from his time the fire-drills for the Oho-yashiro of Kitzuki have been made only at Kumano.

Until very recent times the ceremony of delivering the new fire-drill to the Guji of Kitzuki always took place at the great temple of Oba, on the occasion of the festival called Unohimatauri. This ancient festival, which used to be held in the eleventh month, became obsolete after the Revolution everywhere except at Oba in Izumo, where Izanami-no-Kami, the mother of gods and men, is enshrined.

Once a year, on this festival, the Kokuzo always went to Oba, taking with him a gift of double rice-cakes. At Oba he was met by a personage called the Kame-da-yu, who brought the fire-drill from Kumano and delivered it to the priests at Oba. According to tradition, the Kame-da- yu had to act a somewhat ludicrous role so that no Shinto priest ever cared to perform the part, and a man was hired for it. The duty of the Kame-da-yu was to find fault with the gift presented to the temple by the Kokuzo; and in this district of Japan there is still a proverbial saying about one who is prone to find fault without reason, 'He is like the Kame-da-yu.'

The Kame-da-yu would inspect the rice-cakes and begin to criticise them. 'They are much smaller this year,' he would observe, 'than they were last year.' The priests would reply: 'Oh, you are honourably mistaken; they are in truth very much larger.' 'The colour is not so white this year as it was last year; and the rice-flour is not finely ground.' For all these imaginary faults of the mochi the priests would offer elaborate explanations or apologies.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the sakaki branches used in it were eagerly bid for, and sold at high prices, being believed to possess talismanic virtues.


It nearly always happened that there was a great storm either on the day the Kokuzo went to Oba, or upon the day he returned therefrom. The journey had to be made during what is in Izumo the most stormy season (December by the new calendar). But in popular belief these storms were in some tremendous way connected with the divine personality of the Kokuzo whose attributes would thus appear to present some curious analogy with those of the Dragon-God. Be that as it may, the great periodical storms of the season are still in this province called Kokuzo-are [18]; it is still the custom in Izumo to say merrily to the guest who arrives or departs in a time of tempest, 'Why, you are like the Kokuzo!'


The Guji waves his hand, and from the farther end of the huge apartment there comes a sudden burst of strange music - a sound of drums and bamboo flutes; and turning to look, I see the musicians, three men, seated upon the matting, and a young girl with them. At another sign from the Guji the girl rises. She is barefooted and robed in snowy white, a virgin priestess. But below the hem of the white robe I see the gleam of hakama of crimson silk. She advances to a little table in the middle of the apartment, upon which a queer instrument is lying, shaped somewhat like a branch with twigs bent downward, from each of which hangs a little bell. Taking this curious object in both hands, she begins a sacred dance, unlike anything I ever saw before. Her every movement is a poem, because she is very graceful; and yet her performance could scarcely be called a dance, as we understand the word; it is rather a light swift walk within a circle, during which she shakes the instrument at regular intervals, making all the little bells ring. Her face remains impassive as a beautiful mask, placid and sweet as the face of a dreaming Kwannon; and her white feet are pure of line as the feet of a marble nymph. Altogether, with her snowy raiment and white flesh and passionless face, she seems rather a beautiful living statue than a Japanese maiden. And all the while the weird flutes sob and shrill, and the muttering of the drums is like an incantation.

What I have seen is called the Dance of the Miko, the Divineress.


Then we visit the other edifices belonging to the temple: the storehouse; the library; the hall of assembly, a massive structure two stories high, where may be seen the portraits of the Thirty-Six Great Poets, painted by Tosano Mitsu Oki more than a thousand years ago, and still in an excellent state of preservation. Here we are also shown a curious magazine, published monthly by the temple - a record of Shinto news, and a medium for the discussion of questions relating to the archaic texts.

After we have seen all the curiosities of the temple, the Guji invites us to his private residence near the temple to show us other treasures - letters of Yoritomo, of Hideyoshi, of Iyeyasu; documents in the handwriting of the ancient emperors and the great shoguns, hundreds of which precious manuscripts he keeps in a cedar chest. In case of fire the immediate removal of this chest to a place of safety would be the first duty of the servants of the household.

Within his own house the Guji, attired in ordinary Japanese full dress only, appears no less dignified as a private gentleman than he first seemed as pontiff in his voluminous snowy robe. But no host could be more kindly or more courteous or more generous. I am also much impressed by the fine appearance of his suite of young priests, now dressed, like himself, in the national costume; by the handsome, aquiline, aristocratic faces, totally different from those of ordinary Japanese- faces suggesting the soldier rather than the priest. One young man has a superb pair of thick black moustaches, which is something rarely to be seen in Japan.

At parting our kind host presents me with the ofuda, or sacred charms given to pilgrimsh - two pretty images of the chief deities of Kitzuki - and a number of documents relating to the history of the temple and of its treasures.


Having taken our leave of the kind Guji and his suite, we are guided to Inasa-no-hama, a little sea-bay at the rear of the town, by the priest Sasa, and another kannushi. This priest Sasa is a skilled poet and a man of deep learning in Shinto history and the archaic texts of the sacred books. He relates to us many curious legends as we stroll along the shore.

This shore, now a popular bathing resort - bordered with airy little inns and pretty tea-houses - is called Inasa because of a Shinto tradition that here the god Oho-kuni-nushi-noKami, the Master-of-the-Great-Land, was first asked to resign his dominion over the land of Izumo in favour of Masa-ka-a-katsu-kachi-hayabi-ame-no-oshi-ho-mimi-no-mikoto; the word Inasa signifying 'Will you consent or not?' [19] In the thirty-second section of the first volume of the Kojiki the legend is written: I cite a part thereof:

'The two deities (Tori-bune-no-Kami and Take-mika-dzuchi-no-wo-no-Kami), descending to the little shore of Inasa in the land of Izumo, drew their swords ten handbreadths long, and stuck them upside down on the crest of a wave, and seated themselves cross-legged upon the points of the swords, and asked the Deity Master-of-the-Great-Land, saying: "The Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity and the High-Integrating-Deity have charged us and sent us to ask, saying: 'We have deigned to charge our august child with thy dominion, as the land which he should govern. So how is thy heart?'" He replied, saying: "I am unable to say. My son Ya-he-koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami will be the one to tell you." . . . So they asked the Deity again, saying: "Thy son Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami has now spoken thus. Hast thou other sons who should speak?" He spoke again, saying: "There is my other son, Take-mi-na-gata-no-Kami." . . . While he was thus speaking the Deity Take-mi-na-gata-no-Kami came up [from the sea], bearing on the tips of his fingers a rock which it would take a thousand men to lift, and said, "I should like to have a trial of strength."'

Here, close to the beach, stands a little miya called Inasa-no-kami-no- yashiro, or, the Temple of the God of Inasa; and therein Take-mika-dzu- chi-no-Kami, who conquered in the trial of strength, is enshrined. And near the shore the great rock which Take-mi-na-gata-no-Kami lifted upon the tips of his fingers, may be seen rising from the water. And it is called Chihiki-noiha.

We invite the priests to dine with us at one of the little inns facing the breezy sea; and there we talk about many things, but particularly about Kitzuki and the Kokuzo.


Only a generation ago the religious power of the Kokuzo extended over the whole of the province of the gods; he was in fact as well as in name the Spiritual Governor of Izumo. His jurisdiction does not now extend beyond the limits of Kitzuki, and his correct title is no longer Kokuzo, but Guji. [20] Yet to the simple-hearted people of remoter districts he is still a divine or semi-divine being, and is mentioned by his ancient title, the inheritance of his race from the epoch of the gods. How profound a reverence was paid to him in former ages can scarcely be imagined by any who have not long lived among the country folk of Izumo. Outside of Japan perhaps no human being, except the Dalai Lama of Thibet, was so humbly venerated and so religiously beloved. Within Japan itself only the Son of Heaven, the 'Tenshi-Sama,' standing as mediator 'between his people and the Sun,' received like homage; but the worshipful reverence paid to the Mikado was paid to a dream rather than to a person, to a name rather than to a reality, for the Tenshi-Sama was ever invisible as a deity 'divinely retired,' and in popular belief no man could look upon his face and live. [21] Invisibility and mystery vastly enhanced the divine legend of the Mikado. But the Kokuzo, within his own province, though visible to the multitude and often journeying among the people, received almost equal devotion; so that his material power, though rarely, if ever, exercised, was scarcely less than that of the Daimyo of Izumo himself. It was indeed large enough to render him a person with whom the shogunate would have deemed it wise policy to remain upon good terms. An ancestor of the present Guji even defied the great Taiko Hideyoshi, refusing to obey his command to furnish troops with the haughty answer that he would receive no order from a man of common birth. [22] This defiance cost the family the loss of a large part of its estates by confiscation, but the real power of the Kokuzo remained unchanged until the period of the new civilisation.

Out of many hundreds of stories of a similar nature, two little traditions may be cited as illustrations of the reverence in which the Kokuzo was formerly held.

It is related that there was a man who, believing himself to have become rich by favour of the Daikoku of Kitzuki, desired to express his gratitude by a gift of robes to the Kokuzo.

The Kokuzo courteously declined the proffer; but the pious worshipper persisted in his purpose, and ordered a tailor to make the robes. The tailor, having made them, demanded a price that almost took his patron's breath away. Being asked to give his reason for demanding such a price, he made answer: Having made robes for the Kokuzo, I cannot hereafter make garments for any other person. Therefore I must have money enough to support me for the rest of my life.'

The second story dates back to about one hundred and seventy years ago.

Among the samurai of the Matsue clan in the time of Nobukori, fifth daimyo of the Matsudaira family, there was one Sugihara Kitoji, who was stationed in some military capacity at Kitzuki. He was a great favourite with the Kokuzo, and used often to play at chess with him. During a game, one evening, this officer suddenly became as one paralysed, unable to move or speak. For a moment all was anxiety and confusion; but the Kokuzo said: 'I know the cause. My friend was smoking, and although smoking disagrees with me, I did not wish to spoil his pleasure by telling him so. But the Kami, seeing that I felt ill, became angry with him. Now I shall make him well.' Whereupon the Kokuzo uttered some magical word, and the officer was immediately as well as before.


Once more we are journeying through the silence of this holy land of mists and of legends; wending our way between green leagues of ripening rice white-sprinkled with arrows of prayer between the far processions of blue and verdant peaks whose names are the names of gods. We have left Kitzuki far behind. But as in a dream I still see the mighty avenue, the long succession of torii with their colossal shimenawa, the majestic face of the Guji, the kindly smile of the priest Sasa, and the girl priestess in her snowy robes dancing her beautiful ghostly dance. It seems to me that I can still hear the sound of the clapping of hands, like the crashing of a torrent. I cannot suppress some slight exultation at the thought that I have been allowed to see what no other foreigner has been privileged to see - the interior of Japan's most ancient shrine, and those sacred utensils and quaint rites of primitive worship so well worthy the study of the anthropologist and the evolutionist.

But to have seen Kitzuki as I saw it is also to have seen something much more than a single wonderful temple. To see Kitzuki is to see the living centre of Shinto, and to feel the life-pulse of the ancient faith, throbbing as mightily in this nineteenth century as ever in that unknown past whereof the Kojiki itself, though written in a tongue no longer spoken, is but a modern record. [23] Buddhism, changing form or slowly decaying through the centuries, might seem doomed to pass away at last from this Japan to which it came only as an alien faith; but Shinto, unchanging and vitally unchanged, still remains all dominant in the land of its birth, and only seems to gain in power and dignity with time.[24] Buddhism has a voluminous theology, a profound philosophy, a literature vast as the sea. Shinto has no philosophy, no code of ethics, no metaphysics; and yet, by its very immateriality, it can resist the invasion of Occidental religious thought as no other Orient faith can. Shinto extends a welcome to Western science, but remains the irresistible opponent of Western religion; and the foreign zealots who would strive against it are astounded to find the power that foils their uttermost efforts indefinable as magnetism and invulnerable as air. Indeed the best of our scholars have never been able to tell us what Shinto is. To some it appears to be merely ancestor-worship, to others ancestor-worship combined with nature-worship; to others, again, it seems to be no religion at all; to the missionary of the more ignorant class it is the worst form of heathenism. Doubtless the difficulty of explaining Shinto has been due simply to the fact that the sinologists have sought for the source of it in books: in the Kojiki and the Nihongi, which are its histories; in the Norito, which are its prayers; in the commentaries of Motowori and Hirata, who were its greatest scholars. But the reality of Shinto lives not in books, nor in rites, nor in commandments, but in the national heart, of which it is the highest emotional religious expression, immortal and ever young. Far underlying all the surface crop of quaint superstitions and artless myths and fantastic magic there thrills a mighty spiritual force, the whole soul of a race with all its impulses and powers and intuitions. He who would know what Shinto is must learn to know that mysterious soul in which the sense of beauty and the power of art and the fire of heroism and magnetism of loyalty and the emotion of faith have become inherent, immanent, unconscious, instinctive.

Trusting to know something of that Oriental soul in whose joyous love of nature and of life even the unlearned may discern a strange likeness to the soul of the old Greek race, I trust also that I may presume some day to speak of the great living power of that faith now called Shinto, but more anciently Kami-no-michi, or 'The Way of the Gods.'