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Fish in the Lake

The May 24th issue of Jinja Shinpō contained a very thought-provoking article. Futarasan Jinja in Nikkō has just erected a monument near its middle jinja to celebrate the actions of one of its late nineteenth century chief priests.

Nikkō is a mountainous area in Tochigi Prefecture, most famous for Nikkō Tōshōgū, a World Heritage site and the main jinja enshrining Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Futarasan Jinja is, however, about a thousand years older, and also part of the World Heritage Site. It honours one of the local mountains as the dwelling of the kami, and has three sites: one in the foothills, next to Nikkō Tōshōgū, one up into the mountains, by a large lake, and one on the peak of the mountain.

The outflow from the lake goes over a large waterfall, Kegon no Taki, which is really quite spectacular. It is also far too high for fish to get up, even flying fish, so the lake historically contained no fish. It was also part of the sacred area of Futarasan Jinja, which was part of shugendo at that point, which meant that no killing was allowed, and it was forbidden to bring in plants or animals from elsewhere.

However, in the late nineteenth century, with the Meiji Revolution, that prohibition was lifted, and the second chief priest took an active part in introducing carp to the lake, and encouraging them to spread. The people who run sports fishing businesses around the lake have now sponsored a monument to that priest.

We now know that what he did was destroy a unique ecosystem that had been preserved for centuries at least. It is not really fair to blame him for this: late nineteenth century knowledge of ecology was still not very advanced, and even if some specialists could have said why this was a bad idea, there was no expert consensus against it. His action was reasonable given the information available to him.

However, we know now that this sort of act is ecological vandalism on a massive scale, and so I really don’t think that the jinja should have authorised this monument.

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