It is said that Amaterasu, goddess of the sun, sent her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, to the island of Kyushu where he governed the region around Kirishima. He was equipped with three celestial gifts to assist in his ascendency to power, the sword, the mirror and the jewel. Perhaps more importantly, he brought the rice that would feed Japan for ever after.
One of his sons married Princess Toyotama. She was also of divine descent being the daughter of Owatatsumi, the Japanese sea god and brother of Amaterasu. Together they had a single son called Hikonagisa Takeugaya Fukiaezu no Mikoto. The boy was abandoned by his parents at birth (perhaps because it was too much trouble to say his name – “Hikonagisa Takeugaya Fukiaezu no Mikoto will you stop making all that noise, you little shit”) and subsequently raised by Princess Tamayori, his mother’s younger sister. They eventually married and had a total of four sons. On February 11, 660 BC the last son became Emperor Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan.
The shrine at Kirishima is thus closely associated with the foundation of Japan. Foundation day is a holiday celebrated on February 11. So on February 11 where better to be?
The approaches to a Shinto shrine are marked by the torii. Not far beyond the main one there will be a fountain (temizuya) where the visitor washes hands and mouth. Mineko-san instructs a guest on the way …
first the left hand then the right. Then water is poured into the left hand and transferred to the mouth. Rinse and spit out. Finally rinse the left hand and the dipper. Thus cleansed you are ready to approach the shrine. You mount the steps to the barrier where you may make an offering of some coins, bow twice, clap your hands twice and bow once again. It’s OK to ask for a little in return, like first prize in the lottery.
Other features to look out for are the lanterns (toro), plaited ropes (shimenawa) and strips of white paper in the form of lightning bolts (shime). The latter two may be hung at gates to deter evil spirits or around trees and rocks where the revered spirits (kami) dwell.
I took an immediate liking to the guardian lion-dogs (shishi). They come in almost identical pairs, but one has the mouth open, the other closed. The open mouth is pronouncing the first letter of the sanskrit alphabet (“a”), the closed one the last letter (“um”), representing the beginning and the end of all things.
At the shrine you may buy a votive plaque to help you pass your exams or bring on some other self indulgence or simply buy a slip of paper that will tell you your future, a fortune cooky with no calories as it were. If things are looking good keep your slip of paper, if it’s bad luck then leave it at the shrine fastened beside all the other little slips that people didn’t want.
A helpful web site can be found at The Shinto Shrine Guide.
The kami care not whether you are faithful to their religion, a stroll through their grounds will be good for your soul no matter what you believe. And if it happens to be your national day why not do it in your national dress?