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Kami of Asakusa

I have written three posts about the natsumoude events at Asakusa Jinja, but I haven’t said which the kami of the jinja are.

Asakusa Jinja enshrines Haji-no-Manakachi-no-Mikoto, Hinokuma-no-Hamanari-no-Mikoto, and Hinokuma-no-Takënari-no-Mikoto. Because it enshrines three kami, it is also known as “Sanja-sama”, which means “Honourable Three Jinja”, and some variant of “Sanja” was its official name for most of its history. It is still the name of the largest matsuri associated with the jinja.

You have probably not heard of these kami. This is because they are not, to the best of my knowledge, venerated at any other jinja in Japan.

Asakusa Jinja is right next to Sensōji Temple, the most famous Buddhist temple in Tokyo, with its Kaminari-mon and Nakamisë-dōri shopping street leading to the main buildings. It is one of the top tourist attractions in Tokyo, and you have almost certainly seen pictures even if you don’t know the name. Until the separation of kami and buddhas during the Meiji Revolution, the jinja was part of the temple complex.

The origin story for Sensōji is that, in 628, two brothers were out fishing near Asakusa, but they failed to catch any fish. Instead, they kept drawing up a small statuette in their nets. No matter how many times they threw it back in the water, it kept reappearing in the nets, and fish did not. In the end, they took the statue to the most learned man in the village, who identified it as an image of Kannon. The brothers venerated the statue, and the next day they caught lots of fish. The learned man converted his house into a temple to house the image, and that temple is Sensōji, which still holds the statuette as its main Buddha image.

Haji-no-Manakachi-no-Mikoto is the learned man, and the other two are the two fishermen. Their descendants served at the temple, and the Haji family were, and still are, the chief priests of the jinja. Thus, this jinja enshrines a scholar and two fishermen.

The date of founding of the jinja is unknown, but is thought likely to have been in the twelfth century, when the particular form of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism practised there first became popular. Before the Meiji Revolution, the kami were taken, in their three mikoshi, into the main hall of Sensōji, to pay their respects to the Buddha image. This ritual was revived in the Heisei period, which ran from 1989 to 2019. From my conversations while I was volunteering at the jinja, I think it was revived fairly early in that period, but I am not absolutely sure.

This is another good example of a jinja that fits very neatly into an extremely important historical trend within Shinto, but which does not really fit the contemporary image of Shinto very well at all.

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