Saturday, June 15, 2013

Myoken Shrine, Shiraishi Island Pilgrimage

Myoken Shrine side trip on the Shiraishi Pilgrimage.

Myoken Shrine

Myoken Shrine, located between No. 80 and 81 on the Shiraishi Pilgrimage, is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god Myoken-sama who overlooks our island's port.

Over 300 years ago when the port was built, the local squire’s daughter was sacrificed and placed inside the structure of the retaining wall in a custom called hitobashira. Women were used for these ceremonies because it was believed their hair was very strong and could ward off bad luck. Later, when a cholera epidemic hit Shiraishi Island, the islanders prayed to Myoken-sama for the disappearance of the disease. Every year in June there is a special ceremony at this shrine to honor its past, and to thank Myoken for the protection we've received and wish to continue to receive (sans human sacrifices). 

During the ceremony, which is, curiously, only open to men, offerings of sake and fruit are placed in front of the shrine for the gods. A large fish is also laid out as a special gift. A bamboo pole holds fronds and “hei” (white purification papers in the shape of lightening bolts). This pole serves as an antenna to the kami (gods), to help guide them to the shrine.

Myoken Shrine was originally designated a spiritual spot by a Shinto Priest who invited the kami to descend there. To read more about this (and other spiritual spots you'll encounter on the Shiraishi Pilgrimage), see my Japan Times article here.

The Bussharito temple as seen from Myoken Shrine, Shiraishi Island

Before you leave Myoken Shrine, don't miss the view from the torii gate across the valley to the Bussharito, a Thai style temple which you'll encounter later on the pilgrimage (and which is said to contain some of Buddha's ashes). The Bussharito Festival was featured extensively in my book Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment

Now, let's get back to the the Shiraishi Pilgrimage. We're about to enter the haunted part! 

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