As travel in a time of pandemic is anti-social, it has been a time of exploring or revisiting little local gems.
Takasu Shrine 高祖神社
One of these is Takasu shrine located in Takasu, Itoshima Kyushu. This place is not particularly famous or spectacular, but it is worth a visit. I say it is not famous, but it has an historical record dating back to 1197. Its origins are, as they say, lost in the mists of time,
The shrine is related to Takasu Castle the remains of which we did not explore as they appeared to be lost in the tangles of undergrowth. It also has a special stage for shrine dances. These are held, at night, twice a year in April and October. Because of this, perhaps, the shrine has ample parking space.
To reach the shrine you turn off prefectural road 56 and climb through the pretty village to reach the car park. From there, it is still a climb up a broad set of stone steps with Azalea bushes forming a central reservation.
These steps take you to an open area in front of the shrine with the dance stage to your left.
The shrine building, up another short set of steps, is not large but quite old with a very old Wisteria (Fuji) tree to one side. Down stone steps to the right there is one of the murkiest ponds I have ever seen.
Wandering the bamboo grove
Leaving the shrine, we return down the steps and take a stroll through the bamboo grove to the right below the car park. Beyond this grove, there are entrances to hiking trails that I have no experience of but looked a little overgrown. Heading down hill you come back into the houses and can follow the road to the left back to the road leading up to the shrine, completing a short but pleasant walk.
In the village, and this was one reason we paid another visit to this place, stand a couple of Koshin-zuka stones. Having heard about these things, that are scattered all over Japan, I wanted to take a look.
Koshin or Koshin Shinko originated in Taoism and on reaching Japan was influenced by Shinto, Buddhism and folk beliefs. By the 9th. Century some aristocrats where practicing Koshin and its popularity spread to other sections of society.
One of the tenets of Koshin concerns the Sanshi. Sanshi, or 3 corpses, that live in everyone, (you were aware of that weren’t you?) report on an individual’s good and bad deeds to the God Tentei (天帝) every 60 days. Problematically, these Sanshi tend to take a perverse pride in emphasizing the bad. Tentei, being of the unforgiving variety of god, punishes people for their bad deeds. This sometimes means by devising their early death.
There is, however, a way to avoid this embarrassment and potential early demise. The Sanshi leave one’s body to make a report when you are sleeping during the special Koshin-machi (庚申待)night. If you stay awake all night, you avoid the problem.
This custom, of staying awake became quite popular by the Edo period. We can assume, given the popularity, a certain amount of partying took place whiling away the hours till dawn.
I thought people gathered at the stones on these nights, but it seems that these stones were erected, at least in some cases, to commemorate staying awake 18 times over a 3 year period. Perhaps you got a fee pass after that?
Does anyone still keep vigil through the night apprehensive of the Sanshi?
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.