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Kami Images

As I have mentioned before, it is unusual for images of kami to be the objects of devotion in Shinto. Most jinja do not have images of the kami on display, and although the goshintai are sometimes statues of the kami, that is not the most common situation. There are, of course, exceptions, such as images of Daikoku and Ebisu, or a local practice in Miyagi Prefecture that I have seen mentioned a few times but know little about.

The October 25th issue of Jinja Shinpō had an article about an interesting local exception, in Yamanashi Prefecture. In 1840, an image of Toyotamahimë was made, dressed in fabric clothes and carrying a baby. In the Edo period (up to 1868) it was held by a particular family in the village, and on the first day of the jinja’s main matsuri, the reisai, the chief priest came to the house, brought the image out of its normal location, and put it on display for the three days of the matsuri.

The image was refurbished in 1931, about 90 years after it was made, and again this year, another 90 years later. It has now been presented to the local jinja, and it will be kept by the jinja, and displayed for reverence every year in early September.

People with some knowledge of Japanese Buddhist practice may spot the similarity to a common practice of having Buddha images that are hidden most of the time, but opened for veneration once a year, or once every ten years, or when the temple particularly needs money. I strongly suspect that there is a link, but the article does not say enough to be sure.

Toyotamahimë is a completely Shinto figure, the daughter of a kami of the sea, the wife of Ho’ori, one of the sons of Ninigi-no-mikoto, and an ancestress of the Tennō. This looks a lot like a case of an influence of Buddhist practice rather than doctrine, although the lines between Shinto and Buddhism were not so clear in 1840.

It is, in any case, yet another good example of almost every generalisation about Shinto having exceptions.

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2 thoughts on “Kami Images”

  1. “And so just as she was about to give birth, [Toyotama-hime] spoke to her husband, saying:

    “When their time draws near, people of other lands all give birth in the form of their homeland. So I will now give birth in my original form. Please, I beg you, do not look at me!”

    Now, thinking these words strange, he sneaked up and peered in at her just as she was about to give birth.

    She had become an enormous [wani] many arm spans in length that was twisting and slithering around on its stomach.

    In shock and fright at the sight of her, he immediately fled far away.”

    -Heldt, Gustav (2014). The Kojiki : an account of ancient matters.

    So the imperial family is part-sea dragon? That’s pretty cool.

    1. Indeed. Toyotamahimë’s son marries her younger sister, so there is quite a lot of sea-dragon in the Imperial ancestry.

      It’s symbolic of the Tennō’s authority over the land and the sea, or something…

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