Thursday, January 24, 2013


From Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion

The natural and probably the first question to a believer of any faith is, "What do you believe in?" While the answer is always more complex than the question, the obvious place to start is with the deity. "I believe in God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only begotten son..." As one who grew up Roman Catholic, these opening words of the Apostles Creed are etched in my memory, though I have long since moved away from the religion of my ancestors. As those familiar with the teachings know the full text defines a tripartite division of what is essentially one God, into Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While it still leaves much to the imagination and individual interpretation, it is nevertheless a rather succinct summing up of the main deity of the religion. No such summation exists in Shinto.

Instead, the closest thing we have is the concept of Yaoyorozu no kami (yasoyorotsu no kami), a term found in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki using the Japanese characters to mean either "eight million" or  "eighty" but actually meaning a "myriad" or "infinite" number. In other words (and meaning no disrespect), it might be said that in Shinto we have a religion that believes in just about everything. Of course when it comes to named kami, the number is somewhat less than infinite. However if one includes the un-named kami, which are very similar to the idea of souls or what is called tama in Japanese, most certainly infinite is an apt description. Nevertheless, it is somewhat unsatisfying as the basis for further understanding. I believe is a bit easier to understand examples of kami in some form of classification. Many have done this in the past and I now join their ranks. As for what others have done, I offer the following. For example, one of the most authoritative sources of information on Shinto in English, is Kokugakuin's "Encyclopedia of Shinto" at

This fine attempt to classify kami is first divided into "Concepts of Kami" which is a list of general types. Here we find some obscure divisions such as banshin meaning kami that originally came from other countries. First used to describe Korean and Chinese deities, it is now all but unused as a definition. We also find gunshin as a general group of kami venerated for their warlike characteristics. The next group is classified as "Kami in Classic Texts" and this would include primarily kami from the Kojiki and Nihon shoki but also texts such as the kogoshui. It does not, however, name the more than three thousand kami mentioned in the engishiki. The next group is "Combinatory Kami" such as Zao Gongen and Gozu Tenno which originated in Hinduism or Buddhism and were identified or combined with Japanese kami. It is a curiously short list and does not include the Shichifukujin, some of whose members are also combinatory. It also begs the question are these not also banshin? The final classification is "Kami in Folk Religion" where the Shichifukujin are included individually and as a group, along with dosojin (a group of "kami of the roads") and ujigami, which are clan, family or ancestral kami. Though this is certainly a detailed list, I must admit to feeling it only confuses the non-expert.

A simpler list, and one more akin to the one I offer, can be found in "Essentials of Shinto" by Stuart D.B. Picken. Dr. Picken has written extensively on Shinto and this excellent book gives a good overview of Shinto. He offers two very broad classifications of kami: those named in the mythology and those not. Under named kami he begins with kami of heaven (amatsu kami) and kami of earth (kunutsu kami) which are definitions found in the classics. Examples of amatsu kami are the first seven generations of kami, Izanagi and Izanami, and Ameterasu omikami. Earthly kami would be Saurahiko no mikoto and his wife Ame uzume no mikoto, Yatagarasu, and others. Again, this separation is only applied to a very small number of kami and the designation is often unclear. In addition, he includes the kami of the the so-called "twenty-two important shrines" (nijunisha) which includes the kami of Isonokami, Tatsuya and Sumiyoshi. Again, I find this lacking in distinction since the twenty-two shrines also include Hachiman, a kami that is not part of the original mythology and is clearly a combinatory kami, as well as being included in the next group. The next group, those not named in the mythology, is perhaps even more confusing because of the brevity of each classification and the "fuzziness" of some of the designations. Here is the list:

Kami Associated with Natural Phenomena
Kami Derived from Historical Personalities
Kami Traceable to Political Origins
Kami Associated with Economic Origins

Again, while extensive (he devotes more than thirty pages), I find too much generality and too much overlap to make the list easy to grasp.

Others make no attempt at classification and offer only a general concept while naming a few of the major (in terms of number of shrines) kami such as Hachiman and Tenman. My own logical and analytical side finds all these approaches unsatisfactory and so I have offered an alternative which will be serialized here and on John Dougill's blog Green Shinto I certainly do not try naming as many names as Kokugaguin and take an approach closer to Dr. Picken (a happy coincidence) but try to keep each group as simple, comprehensible and succinct as possible. I hope most people will find it easier to understand.

Here is Part 1 of What are kami? from Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion

Kannushi at Fushimi Inari Jinja
(photo by Joseph Cali)
Broad definition of Shinto
If there is one single, broad definition of Shinto, it would probably be “Shinto is a belief in kami.” Shinto is considered a “natural” as opposed to a revealed religion. It has no founder and no prophets. It has morality tales and myths that have been preserved in writings and influence its practices, but there is no doctrine such as the “Ten Commandments” that dictates the correct way to live as mandated by God. It is a belief system that developed over thousands of years at different locations within Japan, and is centered on local as opposed to universal beliefs. Nature is its primary source of inspiration and it has incorporated a number of elements from Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Chinese divination (called onmyodo in Japanese), and from different parts of Asia. Over the centuries many of the ancient, local beliefs were formalized and nationalized by the ruling and priestly classes. This included giving names to nameless kami and creating shrine buildings. Finally, a radical restructuring and standardization took place between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries that is reflected in the Shinto we now find in most shrines.

What are kami ?
As mentioned above, Shinto can be defined as a belief in kami, which is usually translated as “god,” “deity,” or “spirit” (Japanese makes no distinction between singular and plural). Kami are not like the God of monotheistic religions or even like the Buddha. Although Shinto in the eighteenth century saw new sects emerge based on the concept of a singular creator divinity, they never held sway. Shinto is not only a polytheistic, but also a pantheistic faith, meaning that kami manifest in everything. It is also considered animistic, because its gods are in the forces and manifestations of nature. The kami make themselves “present” in living beings, in the dead, in organic and inorganic matter, and in actions beyond the control of man such as earthquakes, storms, droughts, and plagues. The concept of kami also includes great people who are venerated as kami after they die and who are worshipped by subsequent generations as protectors or ancestor kami. This is somewhat akin to the Christian concept of sainthood—though people enshrined as kami were more often agents of power rather than of good works. There are times too, as in the case of the emperor, where a living person can be venerated as a kami.
    Like the gods of Mount Olympus, kami perform both good and bad deeds, causing both bountiful harvests and disasters (though preventing the latter is de-emphasized in modern-day Shinto it was once the prime motivation of kami ritual). To gain the blessings and avoid the destructive actions of kami, offerings and prayers are directed to them on a regular basis. Such offerings traditionally consisted of cloth, food, swords, horses, and other valuable objects. These days offerings by priests are primarily food and drink, or sprigs of the sacred sakaki tree, while those from worshippers are usually monetary. From the eighth century, kami were given official ranks that could be raised as a reward for good behavior. In this and other ways, kami came to be treated as if human, with similar emotions, needs, and desires. On the other hand, they were rarely portrayed in art in an anthropomorphic way, except under the influence of Buddhism. There is, however, one category of imported kami for whom visual representation is common: the shichifukujin discussed below (Part 2).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shrines of the Oki Islands                                               UC
Oki Islands
(illustration from Google Maps)
Oki is the overall name for an archipelago consisting of 184 mostly uninhabited islands of various sizes within, the Daisen-Oki National Park, in the Japan Sea. In the creation of the land tale in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, Izanami and Izanagi create the “8-islands of Japan” (oyashima kuni), of which the third island is called Oki. The Oki group of islands, consists of two main groups; the Douzen—made up of Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima, and Chiburi Islands, and the Dogo group. Farming, fishing and forestry are the main occupations of the roughly 31,000 inhabitants of these bucolic islands. The Oki Islands have a very old but somewhat dubious position in Japanese history. Located about 45 miles off the coast of Shimane prefecture, they served as a sort of Japanese Corsica from the 8th to 18th centuries. Tens of thousands were exiled there including such luminaries as ex-emperors Go-Toba (1221) and Go-Daigo (1332). Emperor Go-Toba’s burial mound is located on the island of Nakanoshima. But these islands were also an important stop on the trade route between Japan and the mainland of Asia. Archaeological evidence dates human existence on the island back to the middle Jomon period (about 3000B.C.). Between the three Douzen Islands and their larger neighbor Dogo Island, there are said to be over 160 shrines of which Yurahime Jinja, Takuhi Jinja, Hiyoshi Jinja and Mita Hachimangu on Nishinoshima, Miho Jinja, Oki Jinja, and Uzuka no mikoto Jinja on Nakanoshima, Himemiya Jinja, and Amasashihiko no mikoto Jinja (Ikku Jinja) on Chiburijima, and Mizuwakasu Jinja, Tamawakasu no mikoto Jinja, Ongyaku Jinja, and Ise no mikoto Jinja on Dogo are some of the most prominent. There are also any number of Buddhist temples (though most were destroyed in the Meiji period), and a plethora of interesting and ancient festivals and rituals. The scenic beauty of the islands is renowned with mountains, beaches and interesting rock formations such as the 600-foot cliffs along the Kuniga coast. One formation, called Candle Islet on Dogo, is a rock standing straight out of the sea. It is so named because with the setting sun aligned just above the top of the rock, it gives the impression of a burning candle. Following is a brief description of some of the many shrines in these islands. For more information, see

Yurahime Jinja
Honden of Yurahime Jinja
(Photo by Chief Hira via Wikipedia)
Date founded: Founded in 842AD according to shrine tradition. Current building dates from 1889.
Address: 922 Urago, Nishinoshima-cho, Oki-gun, Shimane 684-0211
Tel/Information: 0851-46-0950 Ama Tourist Information Center: 0851-42-0101. Shimane Tourism Office 852-22-5292 (English). The Oki Sightseeing Foundation has cell phones programmed with information about sites on the islands. The Foundation can be contacted at 0851-22-0787
How to get there: Both high-speed boat (about 5,000 yen) and regular ferry service (about 2,500 yen) are available from the mainland. Schedule varies according to season and prices depend on point of departure and arrival. Departing at Urago port on Nishinoshima, it’s a 5-minute walk to the shrine. It's also 30 minutes by plane from Izumo Airport to Oki Airport on Dogo Island and a little more than one hour from the airport by boat to Nishinoshima (or any of the other islands).
Enshrined kami: Suserihime no mikoto also called Yurahime no mikoto
Prayers offered: Pray for a rich catch, protection on the seas and a good marriage.
Best time to go: For the Grand festival in July or any of the many other interesting festivals that take place on the island chain. Winters are severe and transportation may be interrupted.

Important physical features: The torii of Yurahime stands in a small inlet in front of the shrine. This inlet is known for a phenomenon whereby large groups of squid gather here every year between December and the New Year. The squid used to be so numerous that they could be scooped up in baskets. This "squid pick up" (ikayose) is unique to the Yurahime district and continues to this day although the number of squid gathering has declined. The shrine itself is some distance from the shore with the sando leading through a plain wooden shinmon gate with a wide center bay and very narrow outer bays surrounded by a veranda. Beyond that is a 5x4-bay haiden with an irimoya zukuri style roof and a stair canopy with a karahafu. The haiden was rebuilt in 1934. Behind that, the interesting honden from 1889 sports an eclectic mix of styles. The 2x2-bay structure has a gable roof with chigi and katsuogi that faces perpendicular to the haiden, with the entrance on the gable side. This front side incorporates a pent roof with a roof canopy containing a karahafu extending from it. It is raised quite a bit higher than the haiden and the surrounding veranda is supported on bracket sets like a Toshogu shrine. The very large roof is also supported by a double row of bracket sets with zenshuyo style tail rafters extending not only from the corner bracket sets, but from the middle sets as well. It seems to be a curious cross between Kasuga and Taisha styles with pretensions to a grand style that matches its ancient status as a Myojin Taisha. It is also said to be a cross with a Hiyoshi-zukuri style but it is a little difficult to see the similarity. For more details on shrine building styles please see "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion."

Important spiritual features: Suserihime is the daughter of Susano-o and the wife of Okuninushi no mikoto. When Okuninushi took refuge in the land of Ne no kuni (the underworld) to escape his murderous brothers, he came upon Susano-o and his daughter, and soon fell in love with her. Susano-o was against the idea and tried several ways to kill the intruder but to no avail—thanks in part to a magic scarf he had received from his wife-to-be. Finally, gaining the trust of Susano-o, Okuninushi and Suserihime ran off together to Izumo, where Okuninushi became ruler of the land. Yurahime Jinja is listed in the Engishiki as a Taisha or “Great Shrine” along with three other shrines on the islands. A legend has it that Suserihime no mikoto appeared crossing the waters and led the squid ashore. In the haiden there’s a statue representing this event. The abundance of squid in these islands in days past was therefore seen as a blessing of the kami. 

Festivals: Yurahime Shrine Grand Festival (otabisai), the last weekend in July every other year in odd number years. The 2-day festival features a ritual sumo tournament, carrying of the mikoshi portable shrine and a fireworks display. It is the largest of all the island's festivals. In the evening the mikoshi is brought out and carried through the streets by the men of the town. Finally, it is put on one of three huge fishing boats tied together for the event. Spectators can ride on the boats along with the mikoshi and enjoy kagura and a fireworks display while cruising around the bay.

Mizuwakasu Jinja
Hiden and honden of Mizuwakasu Jinja
(photo by Bakkai via Wikipedia)
Date founded: According to shrine tradition, founded either in the time of Emperor Suijin (97-30BC) or Emperor Nintoku (313-99AD). Present building dates from 1795.
Address: 723 Oaza-kori, Goka-mura, Oki-gun, Shimane 685-0311.
Tel/Information: 085-125-2133
Enshrined kami: Mizukawakasu no mikoto
Best time to go: After Golden Week in May when the Rhododendron (shakunage) is blossoming.  In summer, the sea is quiet and the boat ride form the mainland is more pleasant. Winters are severe and transportation may be interrupted.

Important physical features: Located on Dogo, this is one of the most important shrines in Oki, with giant pine trees towering over the approach. The haiden is a modest 3x3-bay structure with square latticework doors all around. The tall, thatched roof honden with chigi and katsuogi and a pent roof on the gable side, is in a style called Oki-zukuri and is designated an Important Cultural Property. The gables of both honden and haiden face to the front. The shrine’s treasure house displays a large screen and ancient materials related to the island’s history. 

Important spiritual features: The kami enshrined here is thought to be a sea deity, and folklore has it that giant white snakes guard the shrine. At this jinja there is a ritualized change of the tatami mats on November 6th. This is linked to the belief that all the kami of Japan, travel to Izumo Taisha in this month, and that they are therefore absent from every shrine in the country (kannazuki, "the month of no kami"). The tradition on Oki is to send the local deities off with a festival to wish for their safe return. Stripping out the old tatami is part of this. There is a ritual replacement of new tatami to welcome them back on December 6th.

Other shrines of note on the islands:

Tamawakasu Mikoto Jinja on Dogo Island was once the main shrine in the islands. It sits in a great grove of trees, close by the ocean side, and features a 2000 year-old cedar tree. The honden is also designated an Important Cultural Property.

Takuhi Jinja on Nishinoshima was founded during the Heian period (794-1185) and is located 1,500 feet above sea level. It is interesting for its honden that is built into a cave. The shrine was a temple called Takuhizan Unjuji where the kami Takuhi Gongen was worshipped. It was said that this deity rescued the exiled Emperor Go-Toba from a shipwreck. Because of its location high on the slope of Mt. Takuhi, it was also used as a lighthouse.

Oki Jinja on Ama enshrines Emperor Go-Toba who lived in exile in Ama for 19 years before his death. It is a very large shrine in a modern version of Oki zukuri, built in 1939.

Festivals: Gorei Furyu, 5 June. This festival, held at Tamawakasu Jinja, is the biggest festival of the Oki Islands. The focus of the festival is the yabusame horseback archery.

Mizuwakasu Jinja Festival, every even-numbered year on 3 May. The festival features Yabusame horseback archery, decorated floats and shishimai lion dances. Also at Mizuwakasu Jinja, every November 3rd and 4th, the Oki Classical Sumo Tournament. Sumo has been a long-standing tradition in Oki, and even today sumo is actively discussed and practiced by people of all ages.

Kumi Kagura is performed at Ichinomori Jinja on Dogo Island on the 25 July in odd-numbered years and on the 26th in even-numbered years. An Intangible Cultural Property, dances are held from 9pm until dawn.

Every odd numbered year on 15 September at Mita Hachimangu, a kami no sumo (sumo tournament for the gods), a lion dance and dengaku (traditional dance) are held. This dance is classified an Important Intangible Cultural Asset.

Every even numbered year in October, an 800-year-old event called Niwa no Mai (garden dance), again involving sumo and dengaku is held at Hiyoshi Jinja.

The biggest festival on Dogo is the Oki Kokubunji Renge-e Mai Festival on April 21st. One of the oldest performances of its kind in Japan, this display of folk bungaku from the Heian period is especially known for its expressive masks and is designated a National Intangible Folk Property.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


John Dougill, In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians
A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival

Hardcover, 272 pages with color photos. Published by Tuttle, March 10, 2012

As he has done so skillfully in the past with "Kyoto: A Cultural History," John weaves a richly textured fabric of past and present as he takes us through the history of Christianity in Japan from its inception in the sixteenth century, to its suppression in the seventeenth, and the revelation of its survival into the nineteenth century. Like all good narrative histories, it does two things: it educates us about a particular people at a particular point in time, and it brings those people and places to life by walking us over the same ground and letting us discover history not only through the voice of the narrator, but also through the voices of local people and their anecdotes. It is a rewarding and entertaining approach to the telling of history that requires extensive fieldwork as well as exhaustive research. The many guides he enlists along the way help to bring the story into a modern context, showing us clearly what was as well as what has become of the Hidden Christians—known in Japan as Kakure—and their communities, concentrated in the island of Kyushu.

In following the trail of Hidden Christians to the isolated town of Sotome, for example, he invokes the image of their  leader of twenty-three years, Baschian, who illegally kept a calendar of Christian holy days and administered to the hidden flock in lieu of a priest (all of who had been killed or expelled). When finally discovered and arrested, he was severely tortured over a period of more than two years before being beheaded. In evoking the town of Sotome, John introduces us to a center of modern Hidden Christians, Karematsu Jinja, and the Hiden Christian ceremony performed at a modern-day orashio (prayer ceremony) by Murakami Shigenori in the traditional corrupted latin (Benedictus fructus transformed into Benekentsu onha) that sustained the religion through centuries of separation from its mother tongue. In the same chapter we are introduced to another man who came here in search of history; Endo Shusaku, author of the 1965 novel Silence (Chinmoku). Endo was baptized to please his mother at the age of twelve and struggled with the religion and its cultural implications all his life. Endo found in the story of the Portuguese apostate, Christovao Ferreira (1580-1650) a model of the anguish and conflict that he felt himself, and modeled into an antagonist for his fictional priest Sebastian Rodriques. His award-winning novel is due to be relaesed as a film by director Martin Scorsese in 2013. John masterfully mixes the actual history of Ferreira, Endo's telling of it in the context of a novel, and the actual settings and present-day events through which he guides us, to enrich our understanding of a complex issue.

The story of Hidden Christians is not always a pleasant tale to tell, especially for someone who has lived in Japan a long time and can empathize with both sides as John has. While the gruesome scenes of torture inflicted on those who remained true to their faith caused me to momentarily look away from the written page several times, John presents a contextualized view of history by reminding us of the equally horrific events taking place simultaneously in Europe in the name of Christianity. The overall picture of cruelty and compassion—often in the service of politics and financial gain—that emerges from the pages of Hidden Christians, retains both the passion of the subject and the cool eye of the dispassionate observer. The result is a compelling story of repression and resilience and the enduring faith of a now rapidly aging and disappearing community.
For further information see:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shoin Jinja (Tokyo)                                                                      UC
Shin Jinja haiden
(photos by Joseph Cali)
Date founded: Founded in 1882 The current building is from 1927.
Address: 4-35-1 Wakabayashi, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 154-0023
Tel/Information: 03-3421-4834. Open from 9am to 4:30pm. Website in English:
How to get there: Tokyu Setagaya Line to Shoin Jinja-mae or Wakabayashi Station, then 3 minutes by foot.
Enshrined kamiYoshida Shoin (sensei).
Prayers offered:  Success in studies.

Reproduction of the famous Shoka Sonjuku
Important physical features: Shoin Jinja is not only a shrine but the burial place of one of the most important figures of pre-modern Japan, Yoshida Shoin. Yoshida was excited by beheading in 1859 at the Kozukappara execution grounds in the minami-senju area of Tokyo, after he was arrested during the Ansai Purge ordered by Ii Naosuke. He was reburied here three years after his death by some of his former students including Takasugi Shinsaku and Ito Hirobumi. According to the shrine's website, the grounds were once the villa of the lord of the Mori clan who was the daimyo of Choshu (present day Yamaguchi-ken). The shrine itself was erected in 1882 and part of this original shrine is currently the naijin of the newer honden which, along with the haiden, was built in 1927.
            As you enter the grounds, the sando takes you diagonally past the unexceptional mikoshi-ko on the right which houses the shrines mikoshi. Just beyond this on the left is the kaguraden donated to the shrine by the Mori family in 1932. Taking a path that branches off to the left, you arrive at one of the more unusual parts of this or any shrine; a graveyard. Shinto generally views contact with death as a sort of pollution and very few shrine grounds contain graves or grave stones. Of course, there are exceptions. Most notably perhaps is that of Yoshida Kanetomo (no relation to the Yoshida enshrined here), the founder of Yoshida Shinto, who is interred on the grounds of Yoshida Jinja in Kyoto, with a shrine built above the tomb where he is worshipped as a kami. In fact, Yoshida Shinto tried—unsuccessfully—to reclaim the burial ceremony from Buddhism which had always performed rites for the dead. But here, we have an entire graveyard with around twenty tombstones. These are all men related to Yoshida Shoin or to the early fight to overthrow the Tokugawa and restore the emperor to power. Men such as Nakatani Masasuke and Fukuhara Otonoshin who were students of Yoshida at the famous Shoka Sonjuku school in Hagi. It is also said that such illustrious figures as Ito Hirobumi and Takasugi Shinsaku are "reburied" here but I have yet to confirm the circumstances of their reburial. Nevertheless, the tombs clearly show that Shoin Jinja is a monument to the revolutionary spirit of those men who brought about the modern era in Japan.
            One more building of some importance here is a reproduction of the Shoka Sonjuku school, located at the right side of the shrine. This one-story, two-room structure is based on the original that is currently located on the grounds of the other major Shoin Jinja in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture. For several years from 1857, Yoshida lived and taught in the school that was begun by his uncle in 1842.
            Although not part of the shrine, the Wakabayashi Park next door is worth a quick peek. It is a small (3.5 acres) but very unusual space in that it is basically a forest of tall red pines, many of them leaning precariously toward the left (from the direction of the entrance).

Grave markers at Shin Jinja
(Yoshida Torajiro a.k.a. Shoin in the center
left to right: Fukuhara Otonoshin, Kuruhara Ryozou,
Yoshida, Kobayashi Yoshisuke, Raimiki Saburo)
Important spiritual features: As a kami, the worship of Yoshida Shoin can be seen in the light of the deification of extraordinary humans that makes up a very large group of kami in Shinto. In my book, "Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion," I have characterized this as being akin to sainthood in the Roman Catholic faith. However, unlike the spirit of self-sacrifice, often resulting in martyrdom that characterizes that tradition, deification in Shinto is a more casual and unregulated affair. Those deified are often less religious figures than they are powerful men who lived and died by the sword. In Yoshida Shoin however, (though he was a samurai willing and ready to die for the Emperor, as well as a swordsman who taught in the Ono-ha Itto-ryu style as transmitted by the Yamaga clan), we have a great teacher and pivotal figure of the late Edo era. As a writer and teacher his influence was widely felt, and he is often seen as one of the shining lights of the era—though that light was prematurely extinguished at the age of twenty-nine.

Shoin Jinja about 100 years ago
Description: Shoin Jinja is one of the two main shrines dedicated to this early leader of the Meiji Restoration. As I mentioned above, the other is in his native Hagi where he lived, wrote and taught at the famous Shoka Sonjuku. The Tokyo location is originally the site where some of his most prestigious students and admirers reburied him and then built the shrine in his name. Though Yoshida only taught a few short years, he managed to influence the future leaders of the Meiji government out of all proportion to the time he actually spent with them. One of the reasons for their great respect was that they saw in him the kind of man who his own mentor, Yamaga Soko (1622-85), described in his writings on the "the warrior's creed" (bukyo) and the "the way of gentleman" (shido), which later came to be defined as bushido in the early-eighteenth century classic Hagakure. Yoshida was not only a man of letters but also of action. He was one of those who realized that the only way to protect Japan was to learn as much as possible from foreign countries. His desire to protect his country from subjugation by the Western powers of the day caused him to attempt to violate the shogun's laws against foreign travel. He tried several times to leave the country, including on a Russian ship, before attempting to leave aboard one of Commodore Perry's ships, the Powhatan, in 1853. Having just signed a treaty with the shogun, Perry felt bound to observe the provision that prohibited aiding nationals from leaving the country. Perry returned Yoshida and a companion to the authorities who arrested him. After a lengthy imprisonment he returned to his native Hagi where he taught for several years. However his zeal to overthrow the bakufu persisted and in 1883, he wrote a goodbye letter to his father and set off to Kyoto to assassinate Mabe Jensho, a minister of the shogun's government. The plot failed and he was arrested and sent to Edo. He confessed to the plot and proceeded to denounce the Tokugawa and lecture his jailers on Japanese history. An observer of the events summed up Yoshida's life with the words, "He failed in each particular enterprise that he attempted; and yet we have only to look at his country to see how complete has been his general success." Men such as Ito Hirobumi, one of the architects of the restoration and its first prime minister, Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922), the first Minister of War and modernizer of the Imperial Japanese Army who went on to become Japan't third prime minster, and numerous others such as Takasugi Shinsaku, who helped bring the Edo period to an end but did not live to see the dawning of the modern age. It is as much for these men and their achievements as anything else, that Yoshida Shoin and the jinja that enshrines him take their place in history.

Festivals: Ishin Matsuri (Bakumatsu Festival), 22 to 23 October (dates vary each year). Features the shrines mikoshi and a parade of people in period costume.