A Eulogy to the Legend of Kikuhime of Munakata
◆ April 22
1. Departure: Fukuoka Bus Terminal
2. Fukuoka City Museum
3. Itokoku History Museum
4. Bistro & Café TIDE and My Brother's House
◆ April 23
1. From Oshima Ferry Terminal to Okinoshima Sacred Site
2. Artillery Battery Ruins to Oshima Koryukan
3. Kaiho Maru to Nakatsu Shrine
4. Hetsu Shrine to Chisun Inn Munakata
Unveiling at Zofukuzenin
◆ April 24
1. The Treasure Hall of Zofukuzenin
2. The Grave of Kikuhime
3. Mutchan Manju and Kushida Shrine
4. The Journey Home
Fill the inkstone with water and grind the ink. Dampen the brush and use gentle force to draw circles, and the ink dissolves into the darkness like night, its scent spreading through the air. Dip the thin brush into the ink, squeeze out the excess, and form a point at the tip, then place it gently on the white paper.
The Heart Sutra. All that can be heard in the stillness is the faint sound of the brush moving. Copying sutras is a ritual of self-reflection. Concentrating, you face the paper, the self, and perhaps even the Buddha as you write sutras.
The reason I now practice copying the sutra, something I've been wanting to do but have left untouched for many years, is to console the spirit of a certain historical figure.
Kikuhime, the lawful wife of the 79th generation Chief Priest Ujio of Munakata Shrine. She was a victim of the Yamada Incident, a dispute among the Munakata Clan that took place during the Warring States period. Ujio's wife Kikuhime, her mother, and four ladies-in-waiting were murdered by clan retainers in a brutal event unparalleled even during the Warring States period. The mastermind behind this incident was the mother of Nabejumaru, the heir to Ujio.
A terrible curse befell those who ignored pleas for help from Lady Yamada to spare Kikuhime. Around the first anniversary of the six victims, Lady Yamada's spirit possessed Nabejumaru's sister and declared that she would avenge the victims by destroying all those who had wronged them and eradicating them within three years. Those involved in the assassination plot were then haunted by the vengeful spirits of Lady Yamada and her ladies-in-waiting, some going mad and others dying of illness. The death toll eventually reached three hundred, taking this legend of a vengeful spirit to an unprecedented level.
This legend has a distinctive feature. Kikuhime, who was killed at a tender young age that, depending on the source, ranges from ten to eighteen, stands at the heart of this legend, yet she maintains her silence, never once revealing her presence. The agents of wrath are her mother, Lady Yamada, and the ladies-in-waiting. Lady Yamada's rage was fueled not by her own death but by the murder of Kikuhime, creating an unstoppable curse.
The purity of a daughter's heart and the depth of a mother's love -- these are the things that make this legend evoke more tears than any other.
Upon learning of the existence of this legend, I, as a mother with children of my own, was overcome with the desire to pay respects to Kikuhime and her mother.
Kikuhime, her mother, and her four ladies-in-waiting are enshrined at Zofukuzenin, a temple in the city of Munakata. At first, not even the blessings and prayers of mountain hermits and renowned monks could quell the curse. According to the Zofukuzenin Saidenki (“Temple Chronicles”) written by Kaibara Ekken, a philosopher famous for Yojokun (“The Book of Life-nourishing Principles”), those who tried to ward off Lady Yamada's vengeful spirit with a sword were mocked by the spirit, who said, "How absurd. You think I'm afraid of that bladeless sword?" A large kettle placed over the graves of the mother and child, covered with a spell by a renowned priest from Mount Hiei, was also shattered to pieces overnight.
This was a truly powerful vengeful spirit.
After the assassination of Kikuhime, Nabejumaru, who succeeded Ujio under the name Munakata Ujisada, dedicated six statues of Jizo (a bodhisattva who looks over children) to Zofukuzenin in the village of Yamada, fearing the wrath of the spirits. Yamada was the hometown of Lady Yamada. It was only then that the curse, which had continued unabated for over thirty years since the Yamada Incident, at last began to subside.
Still, there were reports of encounters with the vengeful spirits of Lady Yamada and her ladies-in-waiting and even people who died upon making eye contact with these spirits. Today, these spirits are known as "Yamada Jizo" and are revered for granting visitors blessings related to childbirth and child-rearing.
The Yamada Incident occurred on the night of a moon-waiting party on the twenty-third day of the third month of the lunar calendar. Even today, Zofukuzenin unveils the six Jizo, the main objects of worship, only one night a year on April 23.
That is why I am here, copying sutras in my shoddy calligraphy.
The unveiling of the six Jizo statues will take place one week from now. I have also gotten in touch with my brother, who lives in Itoshima.
All that remains is to move my brush forward, to offer the spirits something a little better.
◆ April 22
1. Departure: Fukuoka Bus Terminal
At last, the day of departure. Half past five in the morning. I leave home, get a ride to the station, and board the Muse Sky Train to Chubu Centrair International Airport, where I disembark.
It has been a while since I last flew on an airplane, but I manage to board without issue. This low-cost carrier plane is almost full. I accidentally take a window seat , where a pleasant couple sits next to me in the aisle seat, making it awkward just to go to the restroom. Seated next to this charming couple sharing snacks, I immerse myself in a book bought at a secondhand bookstore called The Culture and History of Kyushu to learn more about Fukuoka Prefecture.
I realize just how little I know about the history of Fukuoka. All I can recall is the gold seal of the King of Na, that the area was a possible site for the ancient land of Yamatai, and that the imperial offices of Dazaifu were built here with garrisoned soldiers called sakimori.
As I look at the map again, I realize just how close northern Kyushu is to the Korean Peninsula, facing the continent of Asia. Separated geographically from mainland Japan, Kyushu lies across the sea from China and the Korean Peninsula, meaning there has always been exchange with the continent and, simultaneously, the threat of invasion. Things like the King of Na, the land of Yamatai, and the sakimori guards come up in history class. These are all related to the Asian continent.
The gold seal of the King of Na is apparently on display at the Fukuoka City Museum. I'm hoping to go there.
The actual flight time from Chubu Centrair International Airport takes just one hour. I've arrived at Fukuoka Airport in no time.
Fukuoka Airport is extremely crowded. Considering how quiet tourist destinations were during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is delightful to see such energy.
From Fukuoka Airport, I take the Kuko (Airport) Line to Hakata Station. I've forgotten my train pass, so I purchase a Hayakaken, Fukuoka's smart transportation pass, which will also serve as a memento.
There is something I was hoping to eat as soon as I arrived in Fukuoka: Mutchan Manju. This is apparently Hakata soul food. “Mutchan” means great blue-spotted mudskipper, a fish with big, bulging eyes. Mutchan Manju seems to be a taiyaki (fish-shaped cake) shaped like a mudskipper, and I like the fact that they went out of their way to make an original mold for it. As someone who loves these kinds of things, I looked up places selling Mutchan Manju.
My destination is the Mutchan Manju Hakata Bus Terminal Shop. I head to the bus terminal and look around the first floor, but for some reason am unable to find it. There is a sign, but the shop itself is nowhere to be found. When I launch the map app, I am directed to a different shop.
Hakata Bus Terminal is also incredibly crowded, with person after person arriving and disappearing into buses. Despite this, I spend an hour in search of Mutchan Manju. I finally give up and enter a restaurant I see.
My first meal in Fukuoka is at the chain restaurant Mos Burger.
I set to work figuring out my plan from here on out as I munch on French fries salty with tears. It's already half past ten. I am meeting my brother in Itoshima at one o'clock at Fukuoka City Museum. That is non-negotiable.
But I still have a chance to find some Mutchan Manju. First, I'll head to our meeting place, Fukuoka City Museum. I check the timetable and head to bus stop 10 at Hakata Bus Terminal. I board Bus 312.
2. Fukuoka City Museum
The bus takes the highway, and I admire the sea to my right as we ride. The bus window offers a view of the powerful gales and white waves of the sea. Even in Kyushu, pine trees are planted along the coast, I think to myself.
When I disembark at the north exit of Fukuoka City Museum, I am met with a strong gust. Perhaps it is windy here because we are near the coast, I think as I walk with my suitcase to the entrance of the museum.
I stow my suitcase in a locker and head to the museum. This is a splendid new museum. Admission to the permanent exhibition is 200 yen.<_p>
Right as I enter, I am met with the gold seal of the King of Na. There are none of the signs prohibiting photography that you usually find in a museum. Curious, I go back to reception, where, the woman working there asks, "Is this about photography?"
She must get asked this question often. "There are some items where photography is prohibited in the second half of the exhibition,” she explains, “but photography is permitted as long as there are no signs prohibiting it."
I find it wonderful that the museum allows photography.
The gold seal, a three-centimeter square, glitters mysteriously beneath the lights. This gold seal was discovered by farmers on Shika Island during the Meiji era (1868–1912). The beach where it was found, called Kanohama, has been reclaimed and no longer exists. The handle of this gold seal is shaped like a snake. This apparently symbolizes the Han, a group of people living in wetlands inhabited by snakes. This is thought to be the gold seal given to the land of Na in Japan according to the Chinese chronicles "Book of Later Han" and is estimated to be from the year 57 AD. Composed of 95% gold, the fact that its luster has remained perfect after almost two millennia is a testament to the nature of gold.
This gold seal was bestowed to the ruler of this region, who maintained peace by paying tribute so as not to antagonize the vast land of the Han and to prevent isolation. According to the exhibition, people began living in this area 26,000 years ago, when Kyushu was almost connected to the Asian continent, leading to extensive trade with the mainland.
The most notable import from the continent was rice farming. This is the origin of Japan as an agricultural society. The advent of rice farming and the storage of rice led to the accumulation of wealth. The accumulation of wealth inevitably gave rise to rulers and the birth of a nation.
Situated on the Genkai Sea, Hakata served as a gateway to Japan, sending envoys to the Tang and Sui dynasties from the time of the Wajinden (an early historical account of Japan), serving as an international city of trade and welcoming people from the continent. Over time, Kyushu came under the control of the Yamato Court, which established Dazaifu as a diplomatic facility, with Tsukushi Hall and Koro Hall as centers for diplomacy and trade.
There is a sign describing a conflict between Munakata, the chief priest of Munakata Shrine, and the Chinese merchant Xie Guoming over Oronoshima, an important trade hub. The name Munakata has come up right away. Xie Guoming, called the Merchant of Hakata, was a wealthy merchant from the Southern Song Dynasty of China during the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333) who was also a shipowner and captain. He married a Japanese woman and had great influence in Hakata, using his wealth to establish deep ties with Hakozaki Shrine, build Jotenji Temple, and otherwise contribute to the area, where festivals are still held to honor his achievements.
To this day, the impression people have of Hakata is one of vitality. Perhaps this is because it has maintained its open, progressive nature as an international city throughout its history.
3. Itokoku History Museum
I realize it is time to meet my brother. I grab my suitcase from the locker and look for my brother's car in the parking lot.
Like me, my brother is from Aichi, but he has moved to Fukuoka, his wife's birthplace, and settled in Itoshima. On this journey to pay respects to Kikuhime, I have decided to rely on him as someone familiar with the area.
Though I have not seen him in several years, he has not changed much, I think as he crams his large frame into the driver's seat of his small car. We spend a little time catching up. His wife is well, as always.
I have him take me to some places in Itoshima that he recommends as a local. The first place he takes me is the Itokoku History Museum. It seems the afternoon will also be dedicated to learning.
As we park at the Itokoku History Museum, I notice the main entrance is blocked, with many fixtures placed behind glass.
I worry if this might be the kind of sad, barren museum often found in the country, but my concerns were unfounded. The Itokoku History Museum turns out to be a treasure trove worth a visit for those who seek to understand this region.
My brother arranges for a guide at reception. Our guide is an elderly man with straight, dignified posture and the aura of a former teacher or researcher. His first question is, "A guided tour takes about an hour to an hour and a half, is that all right?"
This is longer than I expected, I but I cannot bring myself to say to say no now. But ultimately, it is the right choice.
Laser pointer in hand, our guide points to a topographical model and starts explaining. "This area is called Itoshima, which used to be two provinces, Ito and Shima."
Just then, the model starts playing peppy music with narration over the guide's explanations. He continues explaining for a while, but eventually turns to me and says, "It will stop soon enough; just ignore it."
It seems I accidentally pressed the button on the model with my bag. How awkward.
Though I am off to a bad start, there is a lot to learn here. The first thing I learn is that this area is teeming with ancient burial mounds. In the Itoshima region alone, there are over sixty keyhole-shaped mounds of varying size.
I also learn just how close the area is to the Asian continent. It is just 50 kilometers to the island of Iki, another 50 kilometers to Tsushima, then another 50 kilometers to the Korean Peninsula. According to our guide, wooden boats in the Yayoi period (c. 300 BCE to c. 250 CE) traveled at a speed of five kilometers per hour, meaning they could cover these distances in just ten hours each. What's astonishing is that bronze and glass were already being imported on ships and processed in Japan during this time.
A huge mirror 46.5 centimeters in diameter made in Japan was unearthed at the Hirabaru archaeological site, where a queen from an era before Queen Himiko is buried. This is called a Flower Mirror and is said to be the same type as the sacred bronze mirror Yata no Kagami, one of the three divine symbols of the Japanese imperial throne. Ta refers to an ancient unit of length that measures from the base of the palm to the tip of the middle finger, while ya means eight. The circumference of the mirror is exactly eight ta. The pattern on this mirror is said to match the records of the few people who have actually seen Yata no Kagami.
Here, a replica of the Hirabaru Mirror has been donated by a group. It glitters a golden bronze, just like the sun. Whereas mirrors in China were mere everyday items, in Japan, they were brought in as tribute and considered special, and their ability to reflect light in particular symbolized the power of the sun and hence the power of the gods, making them sacred. This is a fascinating coincidence.
For an agricultural society, the sun is itself a god. These golden mirrors resembling the sun served as a testament to the divine right of kings, the children of the gods. Attached to Japanese god names are "hiko" and "hime", meaning "son of the sun" and "daughter of the sun", and the fact that Queen Himiko of Yamatai's name also contains this meaning serves as proof of her authority as the descendent of the sun.
The guide also explains that gates called torii, which literally means "where birds are", were actually made as places for birds. As rice farming began, birds that flew between the sky and the ground were considered divine messengers, and torii gates were built as symbols of sanctuaries where birds could alight. That is, torii gates have existed even before Shinto shrines.
Viewing these exhibits and listening to the explanations, I feel as though I am witnessing the formation of the prototype for the Japanese Shinto pantheon originating with the introduction of rice farming. Everything here is fascinating.
Suddenly, I notice my brother looking a little tired. I feel sorry for taking so long yet remain captivated by the guide's explanations, not wanting to miss this opportunity. By the time we finish, the clock has already struck four. We’ve been there for two hours.
4. Bistro & Cafe TIDE and My Brother's House
There is much to learn at the Itokoku History Museum, but our time is limited. As the explanation on the fourth floor finishes, our guide suggests taking a look at the second floor, which we have skipped. I respond, "There's so much I want to see, but unfortunately, we have plans." My brother, who has come back to his senses, says, "Plans? What plans?" In a hurry, I cut him off, and together we leave the Itokoku History Museum.
"Why don't we go to a seaside café on our way home?" suggests my brother, and with that, he takes me to a lovely café overlooking the coast called Bistro & Café TIDE.
Itoshima is an area renowned for its stunning coastline and has recently gained popularity as a resort destination, a fame that surpasses its fame as the historical site of Ito Province. The sea of Itoshima is transparent and forms white foam as it surges. A beautiful sandy beach stretches into the distance, and though there seems to be a designated swimming area, there isn’t a soul in sight. Not even surfers. That is how intense the wind and waves are.
TIDE has a spacious deck and is usually bustling with customers, but today, due to storm-like winds, there are only two parties inside the shop.
"Phew, I'm tired," says my brother as he sips his iced coffee. "I've never experienced such strong winds since moving here." The gusts grow stronger, so much so that the shop starts shaking.
After our break, we head to my brother's house. This is where I will be staying tonight. When I arrive at his seaside home, I'm greeted by his wife and two dogs. My sister-in-law is a frank and beautiful working woman from Hakata, and the dogs are rescues. In certain regions of Fukuoka, there is a persistent problem of people abandoning dogs in the mountains, which become feral and proliferate to the point that it has become a social issue. These two dogs are the offspring of feral dogs and were taken in a week before they were to be euthanized at the pound. This is one of the dark sides of people getting pets during the pandemic.
When the dogs first spot me, an intruder, they growl in fear. To them, I am a newcomer.
As a newcomer, I offer treats given by my sister-in-law as a greeting, and gradually, their standoffish demeanor softens.
They eventually give their approval, an attitude of, "Well, I suppose you can stay here," the following morning.
That evening, the lovely seaside house resounds with drafts. My plans for the next day are to take a ferry to Munakata Shrine, then attend the ceremony at Zofukuzenin in the evening, but I wonder if the rough waves might disrupt our voyage.
If I have free time during the day, we could go to Dazaifu, a place I was unable to visit today. Either way, my itinerary will depend on the wind tomorrow morning.
Today, I have walked more than 12,000 steps. It is passable.
◆ April 23
1. From Oshima Ferry Terminal to Okinoshima Sacred Site
I wake up and check the time to see that it is six o'clock. The dazzling morning sun and golden sea greet me as I open the curtains. While the wind has not died down completely, it does not even compare to yesterday. I can go to Oshima.
After a hearty breakfast, I get a ride to Konominato Ferry Terminal in the city of Munakata. We drive together, me, my brother, and his wife. My sister-in-law teaches me all kinds of things that only a local would know. It was apparently her idea to take me to Itokoku History Museum. Locals are truly the best allies for travelers.
Passing the hustle and bustle of Hakata out of Kashii and heading east, the scenery transforms from an urban landscape to suburbia and eventually to the countryside. I arrive at Konominato Ferry Terminal, bid farewell to my brother and his wife, and purchase a ferry ticket ten minutes before departure.
With no time to search for a locker, I pulled my suitcase along and rushed aboard the ferry. Little did I know that this would be today's biggest regret.
Bustling with young tourists, the ferry left port at 9:25 in the morning. The journey to Oshima takes about twenty minutes by ferry. Though the wind was not as strong as it was yesterday, it still caused occasional sways and splashes, eliciting excitement from the tourists. Being prone to motion sickness, I ended up chewing some motion sickness candy for children that I had brought with me.
After landing at Oshima, I first stop by the terminal shop to buy a cup of tea and a "Prayer Star", a handmade amulet that plays a role when visiting Nakatsu Shrine. Satisfied, I search for a locker. However, I soon discover that lockers are available only at Konominato Ferry Terminal and not on Oshima. That is, I would be stuck traveling with my suitcase until evening. This unplanned aspect of my journey terrifies me.
Out of desperation, I name my unexpected travel companion Miss Sue. Dragging Miss Sue by the hand, I think of what to do.
Looking at a map of Oshima I picked up at the terminal, the main transportation options are rental cars, rental bicycles, and community buses. Renting a bicycle is out of the question, and renting a car requires a reservation, plus I am hesitant to drive an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar place.
Just then, the first community bus of the morning arrives. This small microbus is written with the words "Grand Shimaru". Without hesitation, I board the bus with Miss Sue and purchase a one-day ticket for 800 yen inside.
The Grand Shimaru connects major tourist spots on Oshima, including the Oshima Koryukan (Exchange Hall), Okitsu Sacred Site, the entrance to Mount Ontake, and the site of an artillery battery.
My first destination is the Okitsu Sacred Site.
Munakata Shrine consists of three smaller shrines: Okitsu Shrine on Okinoshima, Nakatsu Shrine on Oshima, and Hetsu Shrine on Tajima. The eldest goddess of the Three Goddesses of Munakata, Tagorihime-no-Kami, is enshrined at Okitsu Shrine, while the middle goddess Tagitsuhime-no-Kami is enshrined at Nakatsu Shrine and the youngest goddess Ikichishimahime is enshrined at Hetsu Shrine. To understand the legend of Kikuhime, which involves a family dispute among the priests of Munakata Shrine, it makes sense to first visit the Munakata Shrine.
The ride to Okitsu Sacred Site is just about ten minutes. The only ones who got off the bus were me, Miss Sue, and one other group of visitors. The sacred site was not far from the bus stop, so I rolled Miss Sue down the hill, then carried her up the stairs.
White clouds drifted through the sky, the sea sprawled in blue, and the air was clear, providing the perfect conditions for our journey. I first paid my respects at the sacred site, then climbed the stone steps beside the shrine to the highest point, which offered a sweeping view of the sea. Legend has it that even on a clear day, Okinoshima cannot be seen from here unless all conditions are perfect, but I was lucky enough to make out the silhouette of Okinoshima on the horizon.
I once again bowed twice and clapped twice, then put my hands together in prayer.
The three Munakata goddesses are deities of the road. Specifically, they are deities of sea routes. They can be traced back to the era of the Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters”) and the Nihon Shoki (“Chronicles of Japan”). In these ancient texts, there are passages in which the god Susanoo is about to be expelled from Takamagahara by the goddess Amaterasu, embarrassed by his repeated acts of barbarism. To show that he had no intention of rebellion, Susanoo proposed to Amaterasu that they each give birth to a god, whose nature would show his loyalty to Amaterasu. The gods Amaterasu bore were the Three Goddesses of Munakata. Susanoo's sword was purified in the spring of Ama-no-Manai, then folded in three and chewed by Amaterasu. From the mist that spewed forth was born Takiribime, also known as Okitsubime. Born next was Ichikihime, also known as Sayoribime, followed by Takitsubime, according to the ancient texts.
However, there are some differences between the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. The Kojiki states only that the three goddesses were born from the breath of Amaterasu after chewing Susanoo's sword and that these goddesses are enshrined in the land of Munakata.
Meanwhile, the Nihon Shoki adds a description of Amaterasu sending the three goddesses down from the heavens to Tsukushi Province. "Three goddesses, descend to the path and help the children of the gods and be worshipped by the children of the gods" This version adds direct orders from Amaterasu, the ancestor of the emperor, to her daughters to be worshipped by Munakata.
The Nihon Shoki and the Kojiki, compiled at the behest of Emperor Tenmu, were created only about twenty years apart, and their content is similar. However, the Nihon Shoki was created as the official chronicles of Japan, so its content is such that it backs the legitimacy of the emperor's rule over Japan.
This includes scattered descriptions that retrospectively tie local shrines and influential clans with the gods as a way of guaranteeing their status. For example, there are anecdotes in the Nihon Shoki about Ise Jingu Shrine not found in the Kojiki. The Nihon Shoki can be read as placing the origin of Munakata Shrine in the Age of Gods to strengthen its authority and emphasize its connection to the emperor.
However, long before all that, Okinoshima was an object of nature worship. Perhaps the Imperial Court, after conquering Kyushu, officially "placed" the three goddesses born of the ancestral goddess Amaterasu on this island, a strategic point of marine traffic and a place revered by the seafarers who traveled the Genkai Sea.
Needless to say, this place has served as a gateway to the Asian continent since antiquity. To strengthen spiritual protection, national rituals have been held here since the 4th century AD. Overseeing these rituals was the Munakata Clan.
The Munakata Clan ruled this land and its sea, hence playing a significant role in religious matters as the chief priests of Munakata Shrine. Later, during the Warring States Period, they came to wield power as valuable warlords who owned a navy capable of naval warfare. One can tell just how important the Munakata Clan was throughout the ages in this region.
This is also connected to the tragedy of Kikuhime.
Far in the distance, Okinoshima remains as beautiful and mysterious as it was in antiquity. But contemplating the history connected to this land, my invigoration is overwhelmed by something more bitter.
After a long time spent gazing at this island where the gods dwell, I pull Miss Sue back to the bus stop and wait for Grand Shimaru to arrive. We only have five minutes until the next bus.
2. Artillery Battery Ruins to Oshima Koryukan
The small community bus suits the leisurely roads of the island well.
The next bus stop is the Artillery Battery Ruins and Windmill Observatory. It seems this place offers the best view on the island and is already packed with visitors. According to the signboard, the Oshima Artillery Battery Ruins are registered as a war relic in Fukuoka Prefecture. They were completed in November of 1936. Here, you will find the remains of a Type 45 15cm cannon mount, four ammunition depots, an observation post, trenches, military roads, a well, a power station, bunkers, a searchlight, and more. The highest point here is the observation post, overlooking the continent. The role of this place has remained the same, both now and in the past during the Pacific War.
The remnants of war slumber peacefully amid the beautiful scenery.
Next to me, people riding horses from a nearby ranch pass by leisurely, swaying atop their horses. The sound of insects buzzing around horse droppings. Pale purple flowers blooming by the roadside sway in the invigorating breeze. The clear sea stretches to the horizon, where it dissolves into the sky.
All of these scenes feel as though they were from a dream. That is how tranquil, pleasant, and peaceful it is here.
Before I know it, an hour has passed, and the Grand Shimaru, a bus I've come to know and love, arrives to pick me up. I really want to visit Mitake Shrine as well, but the thirty-minute walk up a mountain path might be too difficult with Miss Sue. I must also reserve energy for today's main event, the unveiling at Zofukuzenin tonight.
I check the clock to find that it is already 12:04. I need to catch the 2:40 ferry departing from Oshima and arrive in Shinminato around three o'clock.
One more place I would like to visit is Nakatsu Shrine. If I came all the way here on this journey yet failed to visit Nakatsu Shrine, I don't know if I would be able to face the three goddesses.
Looking at the map, the Nakatsu Shrine appears to be within a ten-minute walk from the ferry terminal. I decide to have lunch first, then get off at the Oshima Koryukan on the main street of Oshima.
There are few restaurants here, meaning they will likely be crowded at lunchtime, so I take a look at the Oshima Koryukan first. Oshima Koryukan turned out to be a very small facility. I had heard that they had an exhibit on the history of spiritual beliefs in the region, and perhaps because it was lunchtime, it was deserted.
I did not want to roll Miss Sue along, so I asked the woman at reception if they had any lockers. Of course, there were none here either. "If you'd like, you can leave it here while you look at the exhibit," says this adorable dimpled woman, and I take her up on it, handing Miss Sue over before entering the exhibit area.
The selling point here is a screen set up like a three-sided mirror, where you can learn about the island's history with English subtitles. Okinoshima is known as the "Treasury of the Sea". This is because it preserves innumerable offerings from ancient rituals that serve as historical artifacts. These include bronze mirrors, iron swords, and precious stones from China, as well as beautifully crafted golden rings and fragments of glassware brought via the Silk Road.
National rituals were performed for about 500 years, from the late 4th century to the end of the 9th century, to pray for safe seafaring and the safety of the nation from continental Asia. On this island, where people lived as fishers since antiquity, taboo words and other customs are still observed. Being aboard a boat exposes one to constant danger. That is why those who make a living through fishing tend to be superstitious. It is inextricably linked to fear and respect for the power of nature.
Interviews with islanders tell of Okinoshima as an object of faith, both now and in the past. Watching these, I realized something. The Munakata Shrine is indeed dedicated to the Three Goddesses, and the Miagere Festival is held here to celebrate the coming together of these three sister goddesses. But at a deeper level of consciousness among residents, there seems to be a sense that the primary object of worship is the sea itself, nature as a whole.
This could be said of most Japanese people.
To assert its legitimacy, the Imperial Court put names of gods on various places of worship throughout Japan, but these were originally nature itself—mountains, rocks, rivers—essentially, nature worship. Most people visiting shrines offer their prayers not to the specific deity enshrined, but to something more general, a "god-like entity" possessing some kind of great power. Many Japanese, it seems, unconsciously retain a sense similar to the nature worship that existed before it was rebranded as Shinto.
Feeling a secret conviction, I leave my seat.
I thank the receptionist, take Miss Sue, and head outside.
The road along the sea is pleasant, but Miss Sue's complaints gradually shift from rolling to rattling. Stopping to take a closer look, I find that her little casters have worn out, with one missing its rubber. I usually travel by car, so for Miss Sue, who has only ever walked from parking lots to hotels or inns, this journey must be brutal. Pulling her along is brutal for my back as well.
Should I pray to the Three Goddesses that we both make it to the end of this journey? No--I get the sense that if I did that, I might end up offending one of them.
3. Kaiho Maru to Nakatsu Shrine
Wandering around hungry, I come across some shops scattered about, including a chic little hot sandwich stand where people had formed a line.
The people in line gaze at me as I rattle by.
Of the many seafood shops on this fishing island, I choose one with glass globes hanging from the ceiling. The name of the place is Kaiho Maru Chikuzen Oshima Fisherman's Cuisine.
I pass through indigo curtains showing the shop's name in white to find that the lunch crowd has subsided to just the right level of vacancy. I choose a slightly raised seat in the corner that is unfortunately right beneath a television.
Bathed though I am in the sound of Sunday afternoon television, I wait, thinking of this as another memento. In a nutshell, my neck and back hurt and I do not want to move.
The menu on the table featured a "Pirate Bowl" for ¥2,000, "Sashimi Set" for ¥2,000, and "Grilled Turban Shell" for ¥1,500. Without any hesitation whatsoever, I order the Pirate Bowl. The photo showing "Pirate Bowl directly managed by the Captain and made by fishermen!" is just too appealing.
What arrives at my table is a small "pirate crew" hauling various small side dishes. Befitting the title of "pirate", this bowl features splendid shrimp with their tails attached along with a blanket of sashimi that is either yellowtail or amberjack. In the center is an abalone, still moving slowly despite having been sliced.
The small side dishes include a grilled turban shell, simmered hijiki seaweed, mekabu seaweed in vinegar, bite-sized nanban pickles, simmered seaweed, and more. It is so delicious that I no longer care about the clamor of the television.
After finishing my meal, I check the clock to see that it is already past one o'clock. This might just be the right time to visit Nakatsu Shrine. I give my compliments to the chef and pay the bill, then take Miss Sue with me as I head toward Nakatsu Shrine.
As I walk, I find Oshima neither overly touristy nor inconvenient, with well-placed public restrooms and a seaside boardwalk. There are none of the abandoned souvenir shops commonly found in old tourist destinations ravaged by transient popularity, nor are there signs cluttering the view. This place has been skillfully transformed into a tourist destination that maintains its charms. Though I do not know all the details, the reason that youth sensibility is apparently leveraged here has to do with the fact that this area was registered as a World Heritage Site relatively recently, in 2019.
After about ten minutes, I arrive at Nakatsu Shrine. I pass through the two torii gates to find an ablution fountain on the right and a small wisteria trellis and pond on the left, beyond which a long stone staircase stretches into the distance. I cannot leave a mystery suitcase at the shrine, so I carry Miss Sue up the stairs.
There are not many people at Nakatsu Shrine this afternoon. I pay my respects at the main shrine, then head to the shrine office to receive a shrine stamp. Here, you can get two stamps, one for Okitsu Shrine and one for Nakatsu Shrine.
However, my main goal here is to visit Ama-no-Manai, a spring located down the path behind the shrine office. Drinking from this supposedly sacred water is my main goal here. Springs and wells named Ama-no-Manai exist throughout Japan. This originally refers to a well in Takamagahara, the abode of the gods, where Susanoo purified his sword during the birth of the Three Goddesses of Munakata, and the name has been given to famous springs all over Japan, including this place. As I walk down the path behind the shrine office, a stream comes into view. Beside the stream is a small shrine, then water springing forth. It is, perhaps, unusual for a small island like Oshima to have spring water. Perhaps that's why it is called Ama-no-Manai.
I take out my Prayer Star and a small bottle I bought at the ferry terminal from my backpack. The Prayer Star is a small handmade glass ornament wrapped in paper. The idea is to purify it in Ama-no-Manai to make your own personal amulet, which comes in different colors and shapes that you won't know until you open it.
My Prayer Star turns out to be a soft pink square. I rinse it using the ladle provided, then gently wipe it with a handkerchief before wrapping it back in its original paper. Then, using the same ladle, I pour water into the bottle. This water will be part of my offering to Kikuhime. I intend to bring back sacred water from Nakatsu Shrine, to which Kikuhime has ties, and use it as part of my offering.
With this, I have completed my visit to Nakatsu Shrine. Now it is time to take Miss Sue back to the ferry terminal. Since I have some time before my ferry departs, I go back to the souvenir shop and buy a few postcards. I choose one with a photo of ruins on the sacred island of Okinoshima, which is not accessible to the general public. One of these postcards will be used to write a thank-you letter to my brother and his wife.
Oshima is a beautiful island. I regret that I was unable to see it all, and so I hope to return. The ferry back leaves port without issue. As usual, the ship sways slightly after it leaves port, so I have to restrain a struggling Miss Sue as I chew down my second motion sickness candy.
4. Hetsu Shrine to Chisun Inn Munakata
I arrive at Konominato. After a short walk, I board the Nishitetsu Bus bound for Togo Station. However, as I look at the route map, I notice a stop called Munakata Shrine along the way. It says Hetsu Shrine. Figuring it is on the way anyway, I press the button to stop.
It is not yet four o'clock. Today, I think I'll pay a visit to Hetsu Shrine.
The only people who disembark at Munakata Shrine are me and one other passenger. Not many people come by bus at this hour, it seems. I check the timetable and see that I have an hour until the next bus, then head to the shrine.
Hetsu Shrine is a magnificent shrine, one that appears in the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, and has incessant visitors even at this hour. I visit both Ninomiya (second shrine) and Sannomiya (third shrine). These were built so that visitors could complete a visit to the three shrines of Munakata Taisha in one place, with Ninomiya enshrining the goddess of Okitsu Shrine and Sannomiya enshrining the goddess from Nakatsu Shrine. This method of worshipping from afar, called yohai, shows the mysterious yet rational nature of Shinto.
If the main hall looks familiar, that is because it should. The old shrine buildings of Izanaginomiya and Izanaminomiya, subordinate shrines of Ise Jingu located in Tsukiyominomiya Shrine, were bestowed to Munakata during a transfer ritual called Shikinen Sengu. This reveals the strong connections to the central powers.
The precincts of Hetsu Shrine are spacious, and the cobblestone path means I must lift Miss Sue as I walk to stop her whining. My lower back is approaching its limit. Unsure if I will be able to get up tomorrow, I board the bus again to Togo Station, the final stop.
Togo Station is a small stop along the JR Kyushu Kagoshima Main Line. It is a 45-minute walk to the hotel, so I of course catch a taxi. On this trip, I am hoping to experience buses and taxis, things I don't normally ride.
I check in online during the taxi ride, so I just pick up the key at reception and head directly to my room. The hotel for this trip, the Chisun Inn Munakata, is simple yet clean, a nice hotel. It is more than enough for a solo journey. By the time I finish catching my breath in my room, it is already past five o'clock.
The unveiling starts at seven. This is a lot packed into a single day. I think to have dinner early, but the Chisun Inn Munakata is a business hotel located along a main line away from the city center, making finding places to eat nearby difficult. With few other choices, I settle for the nearest restaurant, a chain restaurant called Yayoi, and have their Chicken Nanban Set as a small act of resistance.
The server brings over my food but lingers a little too long, so I press a button next to the table to send him away. I am having a little fun. The Chicken Nanban Set was tasty enough, but eating at a chain restaurant during a trip is always disappointing.
I return to the hotel and prepare my things. From this point forward, my real journey begins.
5. Unveiling at Zofukuzenin
I leave the hotel at six o'clock. I had originally planned to take a taxi from the hotel to Zofukuzenin, but either the excitement of the trip or the chicken nanban had restored my energy and spirits, and I decide to walk to Akama Station instead.
As I start walking, I realize it is farther than I thought, and, as the evening grows pitch black, I hurry to a deserted station. Around seven o'clock, I at last reach Akama Station.
Zofukuzenin is even farther north from here. I immediately hail a taxi and ask to be taken to Zofukuzenin.
"Do you live near Zofukuzenin?" asks the driver.
"No, take me to the main hall," I reply. "I'm going to the unveiling of the secret Buddha tonight."
The driver says, "What a relief! A woman asking me to take her to a temple at night is a little frightening."
I laugh, thinking he is right, that it is like something out of a ghost story.
The taxi driver, it seems, is a local, and mentions that he visited Zofukuzenin the day before. However, even this driver is unaware of the legend of Kikuhime. While I suspected as much, I am astonished at how little even the locals know about this legend.
The ride from Akama Station to Zofukuzenin takes about ten minutes. There are only a few cars parked in the parking lot at the foot of the stone steps. There seem to be way too few people here.
I recall that, when I was looking up the legend of Kikuhime before my trip, all I found were a handful of blogs by people who like visiting haunted spots and a local tourism website. There were also several books on the topic, but for the most part, these treated the legend as a ghost story. The Zofukuzenin website mentioned the Spring Festival on April 23 and 24 but did not provide any information about the unveiling of the secret Buddha. I learned about the unveiling from a local tourist information site.
For this reason, there was very little public information on what the event would be like. The website that touched on the unveiling wrote of bustling concession stands at night, but when I arrive at the actual festival, there are almost no people despite a few lanterns strung in the parking lot. But the floodlights illuminating the bell tower and the lights on the ablution fountain show that the Spring Festival is underway. I climb the stone steps nervously, wondering if this event is welcoming to tourists.
The main hall comes into view, and I see the head priest facing this way, apparently saying something. At first, I think he might be giving a sermon, but as I draw closer, it seems that is not the case. Inside the main hall, chairs are arranged, where people, likely temple parishioners, are seated.
There is a vacant chair, so I quietly ascend to the main hall and sit in a corner so as not to disturb anyone.
"...In this way, Tajimamori was ordered to assassinate Kikuhime..." The priest reads from a piece of paper in his hand.
The parishioners also hold bundles of white paper in their hands. It seems that, in the run-up to the unveiling, the priest is explaining the origins of the temple by reading the Zofukuzenin Saidenki.
This is just what I want.
The priest is on the part about Tajimamori, a retainer of the Munakata family for generations, who was ordered to assassinate Kikuhime, the widow of Ujio, on the grounds that she was obstructing a dispute over succession. The description of the legend in the Zofukuzenin Saidenki is just as I mentioned at the start of this article. From this account alone, it is unclear why Kikuhime had to be killed. Although she was indeed the legitimate wife of Ujio, the head of the clan, they had no children. Why was it necessary to kill Kikuhime, a childless widow, after the death of Ujio?
During this era, the Munakata clan served as vassals to the warlord Ouchi Yoshitaka. However, during the Tainei-ji Incident, when Ouchi Yoshitaka was forced to commit suicide by his chief vassal, Sue Takafusa, the head of the Munakata Clan, Ujio, also committed suicide, along with his lord. This naturally raised the question of who would succeed as the head of the Munakata Clan.
There were two candidates: Ujio's younger brother Chiyomatsumaru, and Nabejumaru (Ujisada), the child of a concubine of the previous clan leader Munakata Masauji. Though their names may be confusing, Ujio was not the child of Masauji. Ujio was originally from a different branch of the family, and since his father had been adopted into Masauji's line, they were related, but it was Kikuhime who was Masauji's child.
Meanwhile, Ujisada's mother was the niece of Sue Takafusa. Legend has it that she conspired with Chiyomatsumaru to murder Kikuhime, with all kinds of letters remaining as evidence of this. The mastermind behind all this was, of course, the leader of the rebellion, Sue Takafusa.
It is no coincidence that Takafusa's niece gave birth to Masauji's illegitimate child in the first place.
After instigating a rebellion and driving Yoshitaka to commit suicide, Takafusa made Yoshitaka's nephew, Haruhide, the successor to the Ouchi clan, taking a character from his nephew's name and changing it to Harukata. Haruhide was a mere puppet, and the Ouchi clan was effectively taken over by Sue Harutaka. In the same way, Sue Harutaka used his niece to manipulate the Munakata Clan. By having Kikuhime and Chiyomatsumaru killed and his niece's child succeed as the head of the clan, Takafusa managed to take control of the Munakata Clan as well.
Understanding this helps us understand the power of Lady Yamada's curse. From Lady Yamada's point of view, her family's longtime retainer betrayed her, the legitimate wife of the lord, going so far as to kill her beloved daughter in order to make the child of a concubine the head of the Munakata clan.
In a sense, it is natural that her resentment and hatred would be directed not so much to Ujisada and his mother, but to the traitors. The profound sorrow of being betrayed by those she trusted turned into a powerful hatred.
Ujisada succeeded to Ujio's position, but he was still a child at the time of the Yamada Incident. However, perhaps it was a fear of the curse and even a sense of guilt over the assassination of Kikuhime, who was also his foster sister, that led him to donate fields to Zofukuzenin and have six Jizo statues made. However, he passed away before the completion of the Jizo statues at the age of 41. His death marked the end of the direct line of the Munakata Clan, and the position of high priest was taken over by the false high priest Fukada Ujiyoshi.
The head priest's explanation of the Temple Chronicles has come to an end. Most of the people here tonight are indeed members of the temple's congregation. They distribute not only transcriptions of the Zofukuzenin Saidenki, but also color copies of 81 restored ceiling paintings in the main hall, which I gratefully accept. I never imagined I would be blessed with such an opportunity.
At last, the door to the secret Buddha is opened. "You may go all the way in, so please line up in front," says the head priest.
I line up, then go literally within arm's reach of the six Jizo statues and gaze upon them. The six Jizo statues are small enough to hold in the arms. Six hundred years have passed since Ujisada offered these statues, but their gold leaf still shimmers within their glowing black halos. The reason there are twelve is because they are lined up with replicas.
Since people are lining up behind me, I offer a short but heartfelt prayer in front of the six Jizo statues.
Once everyone had finished their prayers, the hidden Buddha unveiling came to a close. Temple workers began handing out pink and white manju.
I refrain from taking one, but someone kindly asks, "Did you take a pink and white manju? They bring good luck," and so I accept it with gratitude.
I put on my shoes and head to the main hall to offer my prayers once again. I also pay my respects to the Jizo statue dedicated to child-rearing in front of the main hall. Next to the main hall, I see stone steps leading towards a mountain, with a stone monument next to them with the inscription "The Grave of Kikuhime". I wonder if Kikuhime's grave is up these stone steps.
If my goal today is to console the spirit of Kikuhime, I should go.
But the top of the stone steps is already engulfed in darkness. Besides, climbing the mountain at this hour might be a nuisance to the temple workers. I'll visit again tomorrow morning and pray for her happiness in the afterlife.
I take a taxi once again, this time all the way to the hotel. Although I had been exhausted, my excitement at the experiences I had at Oshima Island and Zofukuzenin will not wane, and even after my bath, I struggle to fall asleep. It is rare for such materials to be handed out so generously, as is the chance to see the principal image of a temple so close. The unveiling was unlike anything I could have imagined. Munakata is a truly amazing place.
Today, I walked a total of 23,000 steps. For me, this is a new record.
◆ April 24
1. The Treasure Hall of Zofukuzenin
As usual, I wake up at half past five in the morning. I immediately start gathering my belongings. I eat at the hotel's healthy breakfast buffet, which includes such dishes as seaweed salad and tofu hamburgers. Afterward, I warm up with a soak in my room's beautiful, spacious bathtub, one of the hotel's selling points.
The final day is here at last. An important day to pray for Kikuhime's soul, the purpose of my journey. My return flight is at 4:05. As long as I get to the airport by 2:30, I should be fine. Perhaps I will revisit Zofukuzenin in the early morning, pray for Kikuhime's soul, then visit Dazaifu, which I had to skip on the first day of my visit.
I create an itinerary, then head to Akama Station by taxi. This morning, I thought I might walk in the opposite direction from the route I took last night, from Akama Station to Zofukuzenin.
Akama Station is larger than Togo Station, with express trains that stop here. It of course has lockers where I stow Miss Sue before heading toward the mountains. Residential neighborhoods and restaurants stretch along the main street from the station, fading into rice fields after about twenty minutes of walking, beyond which mountains come into view.
In this area, there are hardly any passers-by or cars driving along the road. I occasionally greet local elders on a stroll as I make my way toward the mountain. This area, the former village of Yamada, is the birthplace of Lady Yamada.
Though these are paddies, ears of wheat can be found growing in many places, just like in Itoshima. I recall how my brother once told me that, in Fukuoka, they cultivate a special variety of wheat specifically for ramen. This variety has been bred to contain more gluten, which makes the noodle springier. This is, after all, the birthplace of Hakata Ramen. I wonder if the wheat around here is also for ramen.
I start to see banners standing sporadically among the paddies. A purple banner reads "Unveiling of the Six Jizo Statues" while a red banner says "Yamada Jizo Statue Spring Festival". However, I do not see anyone walking toward that purpose other than myself.
Arriving at Zofukuzenin, I climb the stone steps where a large white banner is displayed. Perhaps because, at nine in the morning, it is still early, there are almost no cars in the parking lot. Just like last night, I wash my hands at the ablution fountain and climb the stone steps.
First, I consider paying my respects at the main hall and wonder if I can also get a temple stamp while I am at it, so I ask the clerk sitting near an area displaying amulets where I can get a stamp. The man, who appears to be either a temple worker or a parishioner, scratches his head and tells me that they do not give out temple stamps. This is unfortunate, but it goes to show just how few outsiders visit. I instead purchase two children's amulets.
The man apologizes, saying, "Wait a moment for your change, the head priest is a bit busy right now," so we talk about my visit to the unveiling last night as I wait. It seems that afternoon prayers are scheduled today as well for the Spring Festival and that they are busy making preparations behind the scenes.
As I take my change, the man points to a small building next to the Jizo statue dedicated to child-rearing and says, "The building is open today too, and there's even a guide, so I recommend having a look."
I head to the entrance, where an elderly man who appears to be the guide stands, telling me to step inside. On the wall in front is a wooden statue of Munakata Ujisada. In the shrine part is the same family crest branded on the pink and white manju cakes I received last night. Three slightly spiked leaves that appear to be bearing four nuts. They look like acorns.
The guide explains, "The family crest features oak leaves and is the crest of Munakata Shrine. That's why the temple has the same crest." The oak leaf crest dates back to a time two centuries before Kikuhime, when the Munakata clan invited Ashikaga Takauji, who had fled to the area after being defeated in the battle between Nitta Yoshisada and Kusunoki Masashige, to Hakusan Castle and later, when joining the Battle of Tatarahama together, ate rice balls wrapped in oak leaves, winning the battle. This is also a part of the long history of the Munakata Clan.
Beneath the wooden statue of Ujio is a scroll inside a glass case. This place is indeed a treasure hall. What is open to the public is Kaibara Ekken's Zofukuzenin Saidenki and original picture scrolls of Zofuku drawn in in the Edo period.
When I tell the guide that I have to cover the legend of Kikuhime, he smiles and shows me handmade documents as he gives his explanation. He also tells me to take photos of Zofukuzenin Saidenki and the picture scrolls, which surprises me.
The guide also discusses the history of the temple after the dedication of the six Jizo statues. He says that Zofukuzenin experienced a century of decline after the six Jizo statues were dedicated, a period in which even the origins of the principal image of the temple were lost. For this reason, the locals asked Kaibara Ekken, a feudal retainer of the Fukuoka Domain, to collect documents on how Zofukuzenin came to be and compile them as the Zofukuzenin Temple Chronicles, which his wife transcribed into a clean copy.
Investigating the history of shrines and temples reveals considerable prosperity due to relationships with those in power and the even larger undulations in current affairs of the times, and Zofukuzenin has survived to the present day amid such fluctuations as well. And there is, of course, the effort of the locals.
The trials and tribulations of Zofukuzenin were not only during this point in history. The Zofukuzenin pamphlet briefly mentions disturbances during the separation of Shinto and Buddhism that occurred during the Meiji era, but according to my guide, this was a tumultuous period. Originally, the temple registration system was established by the shogunate during the Edo period to defend Buddhism. Temples managed local registries and functioned as infrastructure that proved the identities of residents.
But after the Meiji Restoration, the government promoted State Shinto and pushed for the separation of Shinto and Buddhism. This resulted in instability in the new system as well as an explosion of dissatisfaction and resistance towards the long-standing power of the temples, leading to nationwide incidents where Shinto followers and commoners violently attacked temples. This was called haibutsu kishaku, an anti-Buddhist movement to abolish Buddhism. The scale and extent of the damage varied by region, but active involvement in the anti-shogunate movement in Kyushu meant significant destruction, with no temples whatsoever left in Kagoshima.
Zofukuzenin was, of course, affected by these events, and its principal image, the six Jizo statues, was captured by Shintoists, their whereabouts unknown. This led to divided opinions among the locals about what to do with the temple. (While the guide did not explicitly mention who these "Shintoists" were, I looked it up later and found studies indicating the involvement of Munakata Shrine. This shows just how deeply intertwined their history is.)
The whereabouts of the six Jizo statues were somehow discovered later, and a legal battle ensued over their ownership. During the trial, Kaibara Ekken's Zofukuzenin Saidenki served as crucial evidence that proved that the six Jizo statues belonged to Zofukuzenin, finally bringing the principal images back to the temple.
For this reason, the guide explained, there are official stamps in this Zofukuzenin Saidenki from the trial showing its role as a court document. Indeed, there is a stamp in the lower righthand corner of the opening section that reads, "June 22, 1872, Appellate Court, Judge Ando Teikaku, Inspected." This document serves as a witness to the history of this temple.
The guide went on, saying that, in the past, during the Spring Festival and the day of the unveiling, crowds were so large that they even ran shuttle buses from Akama Station, and that the temple precincts were teeming with stalls. I pictured the route I walked from the station. Such a scene would be hard to imagine now.
Though new residential areas and shopping centers have sprung up in recent times, the people living there, like the taxi driver I met, were aware often unaware of the legend of Kikuhime, even if they were aware of the temple's existence. The population of the city of Munakata is currently 97,000. Balancing the influx of the younger generation with longtime residents is a challenge, not only for Munakata, but for all of Japan.
The head priest of Zofukuzenin probably hopes to share the history and significance of the temple by explaining the origins of the six Jizo statues and distributing documents as they did at the unveiling last night.
The history of the six Jizo statues is the shadowed history of Munakata Shrine and the Munakata region. It is my hope that more people will come to know Zofukuzenin.
2. The Grave of Kikuhime
Leaving the Treasure Hall, I head toward my final destination of this journey, the grave of Kikuhime.
As I climbed the stone steps beside the main hall I saw last night, I saw a placard stating "The Mausoleum of Kikuhime" with what appeared to be a relatively new bell hung beside it. Some of the six pagodas are chipped or crumbling. Perhaps this is from the Buddhist abolitionist movement. From my backpack, I remove a bundle of incense sticks, a confectionery for an offering, and coins for the dead, called rokumonsen, that I have brought with me. Nowadays, there are rokumonsen made of paraffin, and these are truly exquisite. Finally, I take the sacred water from Ama-no-Manai and offer it before the grave.
I light the incense, set it in the censer, and hang the prayer beads on my hands. Then I take off the prayer beads, unfold the thin paper on which I have written the sutras, and begin reciting the Heart Sutra.
First, transcribe the Heart Sutra in nineteen lines with fourteen characters each. Then bury it in the ground to return it to the earth, wash it away in water to return it to the water, burn it in fire to return it to fire. This is the method advocated by a person named Tachibana Kodo.
The fourteen represents the goddess Toyouke and the nineteen represents the god Tokotachi, and in Ise Shinto, Toyouke-no-Okami is treated as the same as Ame-no-Minakanushi and Kuninotokotachi, considered the origin deities of the universe. Both deities emerged before Izanami and Izanagi and are shrouded in mystery. The power of these gods imbues the sutras I have transcribed with divine power.
Performing these three rituals—burying in the ground, washing away in water, and burning in fire—purifies the land and venerates the spirits. On this journey to console the spirit of Kikuhime, I investigated rituals as an amateur researcher and decided to use this one to pay my respects.
After chanting the Heart Sutra, I divide my transcription into three and first bury one part in the ground. Next, I use the sacred water from Ama-no-Manai to wash away another part. The sutra paper is made so that it will return to nature when buried and will dissolve in water. The paper dissolves in the sacred water from Ama-no-Manai as though it were unraveling. Finally, I waive the remaining part over the incense flames. The paper, so thin it is translucent, burns silently, leaving behind no ashes.
Once again, I press my hands together before the grave amid the scent of incense wafting through the air.
Kikuhime, the wife of the Ujio of the Munakata Clan who, embroiled in a dispute over succession, lost her life at a young age. Her mother, Lady Yamada, who, after her daughter was killed by retainers who had served her family for generations, became a vengeful spirit, cursing and killing more than three hundred people together with her ladies-in-waiting. Even after being enshrined in the temple, they were still swept up in the tides of history in their strange fate.
Yet throughout the ages, people have tried to protect the Six Jizo statues, and their efforts have borne fruit, as the statues now rest in peace here as guardians of children.
Rest in peace and protect all the mothers and children of the world.
I recall the words spoken by the head priest on the night of the unveiling. The greater the malice and ability to curse, the greater the power to protect.
Calamity, curses, vengeful spirits, and beings with powers beyond human understanding. In Japan, these are revered and enshrined as gods and Buddhas rather than warded off. Like Tenjin Sugawara no Michizane and the six Jizo statues, terrible vengeful spirits are transformed into benevolent beings. This is the belief in myriad gods dwelling in all things, inextricably tied to Japanese Buddhism. Rather than deny or eradicate evil entities, they are approached with respect and sublimated. Perhaps it is this acceptance that lies at the heart of the Japanese faith.
With this, I have fulfilled the mission of my journey. Feeling relieved, I leave Zofukuzenin, and as I walk toward the station, it starts to drizzle. I recall a temple kitchen worker telling a parishioner that tear-like rain always falls during the festival season. Perhaps they are the tears of Kikuhime.
I hope the tears of this rain are not of sorrow.
3. Mutchan Manju Akama Shop to Kushida Shrine
My journey continues a little further. I leave Zofukuzenin, and just after eleven o'clock, the station comes into view. I check the timetable, wondering if I could make it to Dazaifu, and it seems like I could catch the 11:07 Sonic Express.
This is perfect. I go to withdraw some money from the ATM when I catch sight of a large yellow sign with the words "Mutchan Manju" written in red.
Oh, this might be fate, I think as am drawn toward the shop. I purchase my long-awaited Gorogoro-chan (octopus and leek) and tuna salad at the Mutchan Manju Akama Shop, then hurry through the ticket gate and down to the platform, where the Sonic is just about to depart.
Time to get on, I think, figuring I can buy the express ticket inside as I boarded, but this was a mistake. Unaware that only cash could be used on board, I did not have enough for the express ticket and I embarrassed myself by having the conductor contact Hakata Station so I could pay for it at the gate.
Reflecting on all the trouble I had brought to the conductor by succumbing to my temptation, I search for a locker at Hakata Station. I have to find a place to stow Miss Sue. Yet, as you might expect of Hakata or any other famous tourist spot, this is a formidable challenge. No matter how hard I look, all the lockers are occupied. Not a single key is left, not even in the small lockers.
I have truly become a locker refugee.
Time-wise, it would be difficult to visit Dazaifu with Miss Sue in tow. Given the situation, I search for tourist spots in Hakata I can visit with Miss Sue and find Kushida Shrine within walking distance.
At last, I drag Miss Sue, her footsteps uncertain, through the streets of Hakata. I am embarrassed at all the times in the past when, seeing some tourist dragging along a suitcase while sightseeing, I had thought to myself, "Why would they bring their suitcase to a place like this? They should stow it somewhere." Perhaps these people were locker refugees like me, defeated in battle. I have learned this the hard way.
From now on, I will check the locations of lockers before my next journey, I think as I walk along. I arrive at Kushida Shrine after about ten minutes of walking. Kushida Shrine was founded in the year 757. Revered by the people of Hakata as "O-Kushida-san," this place enshrines the tutelary deity of Hakata and hosts major festivals throughout the year, including Hakata Dontaku in May, Hakata Gion Yamakasa in July, and Hakata Okunchi in October.
I visit the main shrine to find it flanked by hanging blue and red ogre masks. I heard that, during the Setsubun festival at Kushida Shrine, a large ogre mask is placed at the gate, and visitors must famously pass through its mouth. I wonder if these ogre masks are also used in the Setsubun festival. As stated on the sign reading "The Tutelary Deity of Hakata", I see not only tourists but also many locals here. Seeing Kushida Shrine, seemingly symbolic of the vitality of Hakata, I recall the serenity of Zofukuzenin.
4. The Journey Home
It is at last time to say goodbye to Hakata. Anticipating a crowd, I take the subway to Fukuoka Airport at two o'clock. After checking Miss Sue in at the airline counter and going through security, it is already past three.
I take out the Mutchan Manju from my backpack after it passed through security and eat it for lunch. Though it has been slightly steamed inside my bag, both the Gorogoro-chan and Tuna Salad were delicious. The dough, though thicker than that of taiyaki, was soft, and the manju itself was hearty. Both contained mayonnaise, which is popular among the people of Hakata, so much so that they sell mayonnaise-only manju with a sign in the shop reading, "By popular request, we've made the mayonnaise manju an official menu item!" I want to try one freshly baked next time.
Just before takeoff, it starts to drizzle again The tear-like rain once again. I wonder if it is sad to bid me farewell.
The engines ignite, and the aircraft starts to move. The plane slowly draws a large arc toward the runway before departing the land of Kyushu with a roar. Raindrops on my window flow with the wind, making me a little sentimental.
Thus, my journey to console the spirit of Kikuhime, totaling 56,000 steps, has come to an end.
As I record my journey to console the spirit of Kikuhime, I gaze over the documents I received at Zofukuzenin.
What struck me during this journey was the passion of the locals as they seek ways to share and make use of the history of this land. Save a few items, photography is permitted at the Fukuoka City Museum, even for the gold seal. It is the same for Itokoku History Museum. Documents are generously made available to the public and photography is permitted. The exhibit exuded this spirit to show the world their history.
At Zofukuzenin as well, during the unveiling, these documents were distributed, with the chief priest providing explanations. Visitors were allowed to view the six Jizo statues, secret Buddhas, from a distance close enough to touch, while the Treasure Hall, which displayed Zofukuzenin Saidenki and picture scrolls, allowed photography.
What's more, as I write this manuscript, I referred to materials available in the electronic database, Munakata Digital Museum to learn more about the Munakata Clan. "We have a duty to take care of the documents written and handed down by the peoples of ancient and medieval times, and to pass them on to future generations with a critical perspective." (from the Munakata Digital Museum Journal, Issue 2).
I truly felt this spirit embodied in the areas I visited on this journey. What these things share is an open and high-minded spirit of generously sharing valuable resources for the greater good. This has truly amazed me and left me with a sense of respect and gratitude. At the same time, this might be the temperament of the people of this region.
Aided by their resolve, I was able to learn much about the legend of Kikuhime. I hope to share the legend of Kikuhime with others, not just as a tale of curses or family disputes, but from a broader perspective.
The history of every region has a front side and a back side. As long as humans exist, unfortunate events will occur, with many historical facts locals may be reluctant to discuss.
However, we should not avert our gaze but strive to learn, understand, and pass down these stories impartially.
That, I believe, is the true way to console the spirit of Kikuhime.
There is still much to learn about in Kyushu. Next time, I hope to visit Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, explore the innumerable historical sites in Dazaifu, deepen my understanding of the area even further, and share the significance and appeal of what I learn.
And of course, I also hope to savor freshly-baked Mutchan Manju. That is my wish.
Kojiki. Annotated by Kenji Kurano. Iwanami Bunko.
Nihon Shoki. Annotated by Taro Sakamoto, Saburo Ienaga, Mitsusada Inoue, and Susumu Ohno. Iwanami Bunko.
"A Study on the Legend of the Descent of the Three Goddesses of Munakata in Historical Documents". Aiko Hiramatsu. Munakata Electronic Museum Journal, Issue 2.
"Inheritance of Leadership and Wives and Daughters in Munakata City During the Warring States Period". Kazuaki Kuwata. Munakata Electronic Museum Journal, Issue 4.
Zofukuzenin Saidenki. Ekiken Kaibara. Zofukuzenin Temple Collection.