Sunday, February 26, 2012

Crows in Japan: Menace or Guide of the Gods?

Crow in Yoyogi Park.  This one is smaller than a lot of them here; I couldn't find the larger ones when I went to take pictures.

One of the most noticeable differences for me while living in Japan has been the crows.  Unlike back at home, crows here reach monstrous size, some getting more than twice as big as the ones in the U.S.  They look and feel like they should be ravens, in the vein of Poe's nightmares, than actual crows.  Their large size backing up their having no fear of humans and becoming aggressive and obnoxious throughout Japan.  At first I thought due to their large size and not knowing crows were native to Japan that they might be some scourge accidentally brought along by the black ships of Admiral Perry or another foreign ship after the former forced open Japan.  The crows growing large and fearless as a non-native species, lacking any predators to keep them in check.  The embodiment of the menace of the past, forever unable to remove this final remembrance. The word crow also being カラス (karasu) in katakana also gave me this motion, as katakana is often used for words introduced to Japan from outside countries.  After seeing crows in 16th century art and other places long before the possibility of foreign introduction, I was dispelled of this idea.  This time, I want to learn more about crows in Japan, their history and what their cultural impact has been and is today.

First off, the crows in Japan are of a completely different species than the ones in the U.S.  There are actually 2 species of crow in Japan, the Jungle Crow and the Carrion Crow.  The Jungle Crow normally live in the cities and areas above 1000 meters, while the Carrion Crow often lives in the rural areas of Japan.  Another way to tell the difference is by their calling.  The Jungle Crow has a clearer call and bobs its head and tail while calling.  The Carrion Crow has a harsher call and only bobs its head. [1]

At this point, crows are a bit of a problem, especially in the cities.  The biggest problem is they dig through the garbage left out for collection for food and leave a mess everywhere.  After the crows find one of these garbage supplies, they will often congregate around these areas and become very aggressive towards anything that enters the area including people.  Japan has tried to fix this problem by covering the garbage with nets before it's picked up.  So all over the city, telephone poles and railings are covered in blue nets that people keep folded up until garbage day when they are taken out to cover the garbage.

Here's a picture of one of the nets used for covering garbage in Tokyo. 

Another problem, specifically in Kagoshima are the crows' nests are being made on top of transformers, actually leading to blackouts within the city.  Kagoshima is the capital city of Kagoshima Prefecture, the southern-most prefecture on the island of Kyūshū.  Kyūshū is one of the 4 main islands of Japan all the way to the southwest.  In Kagoshima, the Kyūshū Electric Power company has had to make crow patrols to remove nests from on top of transformers starting in 2005.  These patrols have removed over 600 nests from 2005-2008, but blackouts still occur including a couple of major incidents in 2007 when a wire used for nesting short circuited power lines and blacked out the central port district.  Another 610 homes and businesses lost power for 48 minutes when a crow stuck its beak in a high-voltage line. [2]  These crows have even been making decoy nests within the city in an attempt to defend their real nests from the patrols.  In Tokyo, crows from 2006-2008 had almost 1,400 cases of cutting fiber optic wires to use in their nesting.  [3]  The increase in problems seems to come from a large increase in the crow population recently due to an increase in garbage, as Japan has adopted more of a wasteful western lifestyle. [4]

Crows however do perform at least one useful action in that they hunt and eat mice.  For a city the size and density of Tokyo, it's amazing how rarely one sees any mice or rats in the city.  The crows have made the rodent problem almost non-existent.

While the problems might be more recent, crows have a long history and cultural tradition in Japan, which I will explain a few of these here.

There are actually 2 castles in Japan with the nickname "Crow Castle."  These are Okayama Castle and Matsumoto Castle.  As you might have guessed, these castles have black exteriors, due to black painted wood placed over the plaster walls.

Okayama Castle, or the 'Crow Castle.' [5]

Okayama Castle (岡山城) was built in 1597 by Hideie Ukita in present day Okayama Prefecture.  Okayama Prefecture is in between Hiroshima and Hyōgo Prefectures.  However, he would only hold onto the castle for three years as Hideie sided with Toyotomi's side at the Battle of Sekigahara. Their loss in the battle to Tokugawa's forces saw Hideie on the wrong side and he would be captured and exiled to the prison island of Hachijōjima, where he was stuck the rest of his life.  The castle would survive until World War II, when it was destroyed by allied bombing.  A reconstruction of the castle was competed in 1966.

There's a few explanations behind the nickname for Okayama Castle.  The simplest explanation is the black exterior of the castle is why Okayama Castle has been given the nickname of U-jō (烏城) 'Crow Castle.'  There are more explanations for its nickname that delve further into the history and reasoning for this nickname.  The first being a local legend that Hideie Ukita felt challenged by the attention given to Himeji's 'White Egret Castle,' so he painted his castle black in opposition. [6]  Himeji Castle is the most famous of Japan's castles, and widely considered to be its most beautiful with its extensive white walls and keep.  Being only 40 kilometers to the east of Okayama Castle helped add to this rivalry. [7]

This rivalry is further explained in other explanations for the nickname.  Hideie Ukita was adopted by Hideyoshi Toyotomi after his father's death and joined his side in the upcoming conflict.  Himeji Castle, also called 'White Heron Castle,' was owned by Terumasa Ikeda, the son-in-law of Ieysau Tokugawa.  Ieyasu Tokugawa was the winning general at the Battle of Sekigahara that would mark the end of Toyotomi Clan power.  The opposition in colors of the two castles, white and black, and the nicknames of the two, egret and heron compared to crow became a symbol of this rivalry for the three years both men were in control of their respective castles. [8]

While its nickname today is 'Crow Castle', Okayama Castle used to be called Kin U-jō (金烏城), or 'Gold Crow Castle.'  This is because the roof tiles for the castle used to all be gilded. [9]  Today only the Shachihoko, or the half tiger, half carp rooftop guardian decorations retain the former glory of the castle, as they were added in 1996 for the 400th anniversary celebration of the castle. [10]

Matsumoto Castle.  Also the 'Crow Castle.' [11]

Matsumoto Castle's (松本城) main keep was built in 1593-1594 by Yasunaga Ishikawa in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture.  The castle today is famous for being the oldest surviving castle in Japan, even though it was controlled by many different clans during its existence.  It's one of 4 castles to be designated as a national treasure in Japan.  This castle also has the nickname of 'Crow Castle,' Karasu-jō (烏城).  This is due not only to its black exterior, but also its roof looks like spread wings.

The crow also makes up a part of one of the mythological creatures found in Japanese Shintoism and Buddhism, the Crow Tengu.

A statue of a Crow Tengu at Hansōbō Shrine in Kamakura.

Crow Tengu (烏天狗) are one of the main types of Tengu, a group of mythical creatures found in Japanese traditional lore and religions, that are similar in some ways to goblins in the western tradition.  Tengu are the patrons of the martial arts and famed for their skills in sword fighting, weapon smithing and being skilled warriors. [12]  Tengu protect the Dharma, or Buddhist law against transgressors of the Dharma.  This is most often seen in their hatred of arrogant and vain priests and samurai, which the tengu play tricks on, and punish priests that use their knowledge and authority to gain fame or position.  In fact, these vain and arrogant priests are thought to become Tengu after their deaths. [13]  Tengu have a variety of supernatural powers that they use to play these tricks on people including:  shape-shifting to human or animal forms, speaking without moving their mouths, moving instantly from place to place and being able to invade people's dreams. [14]

Tengu (天狗) literally means heavenly dog.  天 is heaven and 狗 is dog.  Their name is derived from the the Chinese mountain god Tiangou (天狗), but Tengu are also related to the Buddhist god Garuda, or Karura in Japanese. [15]  Garuda is a Hindu deity, but has been adopted into Buddhism as a protector deity.  Garuda in Japan is a large, fire breathing, half man, half eagle with golden feathers and magic gems as a crown. [16]  There are actually two types of Tengu: the Crow Tengu which I already mentioned and the Yamabushi Tengu (山伏天狗).  Yamabushi are mountain monks or mountain ascetic hermits and practice a mixture of Buddhist and Shinto practices on the sacred mountains of Japan.  The Yamabushi Tengu look like these Yamabushi and wear the same priestly clothes as them, but with a long nose and most have a magical fan made of feathers that can be used to create strong winds and wings (although all Yamabushi Tengu can fly, even those without wings).  These Tengu are the newer form of Tengu, and are the symbol of the fallen priests that angered the Tengu by their vanity and arrogance.  These are the leaders of the Tengu who often live in groups up in the mountains. [17]

A statue of a Yamabushi Tengu at Hansōbō Shrine in Kamakura.

The Crow Tengu is the first and ancient form of the Tengu.  The Crow Tengu were originally evil and had the body of a man, but the wings, face and beak of a crow.  These Crow Tengu would kidnap people, start fires and rip apart people that damaged their homes of the forest.  They also might abduct people and release them later, leaving them in a state of dementia.  However, now the Crow Tengu are more like the Tengu of today and often serve as messengers for the Yamabushi Tengu. [18]

In Kamakura, at Kenchō-ji, there is a shrine dedicated to the Tengu called Hansōbō Shrine.  Hansōbō Shrine is the protecting shrine of Kenchō-ji, with Hansōbō being the protecting diety of Kenchō-ji.  The deity was originally located in Hōkō-ji in Shizuoka, but was brought here by the Zen Master Ozora Kandō in 1890. [19]  In front of the shrine are many statues of the Tengu who would have accompanied this protective deity here.  The shrine is at the top of the mountain behind the temple and after climbing many steps, the first sights of the shrine are many Tengu statues surrounding the area leading up to the shrine.

The fierce Crow Tengu standing guard at the top of the mountain behind Kenchō-ji.    

Here is a large statue of a Crow Tengu flanking the steps to the shrine along with the Yamabushi Tengu I showed earlier.

I also picked up an omamori (御守), or amulet from this shrine that's a Crow Tengu.  It's for protection of the possessor of the amulet, but I picked it up because I liked the way it looks.  Now it hangs on my bag.

The Crow Tengu Omamori.

A crow even plays an important part in The Kojiki, Japan's oldest record, telling the Shinto creation story and the legends of the early emperors.  There is more detail about The Kojiki here.  This was no ordinary crow though, and was instead the mythological "great crow" sent from heaven, Yatagarasu.

Yatagarasu (八咫烏) has come to be understood as the translation of a crow eight feet (literal feet or spans, not the American measurement) long.  The crow was sent from heaven by Takiginokami, or the "Great High Integrating Deity," also known as Takamimusubinokami, or the "High August Producing Wondrous Deity." *[20]  This god is one of the 17 heavenly deities and one of the first 3 gods created at the beginning of heaven and earth in the Shinto creation story. [21]  Yatagarasu has been sent down to guide the 1st emperor, Jimmu on his journey from his origins in present day Kyūshū to the Yamato plains (present day Nara Prefecture) where he was destined to rule over. [22]  Emperor Jimmu has links to the gods himself.

Jimmu has links to the gods in The Kojiki through Amaterasuohomikami, or the "Heaven Shining Great August Deity."  Amaterasu is the sun goddess in Shinto lore.  The descending of Emperor Jimmu from the Sun Goddess is as followed in The Kojiki.

Amaterasu is born of the washing of Izanagi's left eye. [23]  Izanagi along with his younger sister Izanami are the creator gods in Shinto lore.  They give birth to the lands and many of the gods of Japan.  This washing is to purify Izanagi from the filth of his journey to Hades to see Izanami, who at this point has died.  This washing process created many other gods, but the only other one important to the lineage of Jimmu is Amaterasu's brother Takahayasusanowonomikoto, or the "Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness" born of the washing of Izanagi's nose. [24]  Both are given lands to rule over, Amaterasu to rule the Plains of High Heaven and the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness to rule the sea.  However, the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness won't rule his domain and instead cries causing a host of calamities over the land.  When confronted about it by Izanagi, he says he wants to be with his mother (Izanami) in Hades instead.  Angered by this, Izanagi banishes him to Taga in Afumi (present day Omi near Lake Biwa).  The Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness instead goes up into Amaterasu's lands of heaven.  His leaving causes the mountains, rivers and the land itself to quake, alerting Amaterasu of his bad intentions so she arms herself. [25]

When confronted, the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness suggests they swear and produce children on his having good intentions for coming to the Lands of Heaven.  Amaterasu has 5 children born to her from this; her children are born of the Brave Swift Impetuous Male Augustness's breath when he begs her of her curved jewels, which he washes in the True Pool Well of Heaven, crunches them and blows away.  (His children are created from the mist of Amaterasu's breath when she begs him of his ten grasp saber, breaking it into 3 fragments, washing them in the True Pool Well of Heaven, crunching them and blows it away.  The reasoning is the children made of items must be that item's original possessor's children.)  The first of these, created from the curved jewels in the left bunch of her hair is Masakaakatsukachihayabiamenooshihominomikoto, or "Truly Conqueror I Conquer Conquering Swift Heavenly Great Great Ears. [26]

Truly Conqueror I Conquer Conquering Swift Heavenly Great Great Ears marries Yorodzuhatatoyoakidzushihimenomikoto, or "Myriad Looms Luxuriant Dragonfly Island Princess" and has 2 children.  He was supposed to descend from heaven himself to rule over the lands of Japan, but the long delay in pacifying that land led to him having children before this was completed.  So instead, his 2nd child, the grandson of Amaterasu, Amenigishikuninigishiamatsuhidakahikohononiniginomikoto,  or "Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty" is commanded to descend from heaven to rule over Toyoashiharanomidzuhonokuni, or "Reed Plain Land of Fresh Rice ears," also known as "Central Land of Reed Plains," 'Yamato' or Japan.  He is given the three sacred regalia: the jewels, mirror and sword upon his descension from heaven.  (There is also more information about the sacred regalia in my post with more information about The Kojiki, here.) [27]

Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty meets Kamuatatsuhime, also known as Konohanasakuyahime, or the "Divine Princess of Ata" and "Princess Blossoming Brillantly Like the Flowers of the Trees" respectively.  He asks her father, Ohoyamatsuminokami, or the "Deity Great Mountain Possessor," to marry her and the Deity Great Mountain Possessor gives both of his daughters to him, her and her older sister, Ihanagahime, or "Princess Long as the Rocks."  Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty marries Princess Blossoming Brillantly Like the Flowers of the Trees, but sends Princess Long as the Rocks back because of her ugliness, which shames the Deity Great Mountain Possessor.  The Deity Great Mountain Possessor then tells him if he married both, his offspring would have lived forever, but his rejection of Princess Long as the Rocks means their lives will be short.  His children with her are Hoderinomikoto "Fire Shine," Hosuserinomikoto "Fire Climax" and Howorinomikoto "Fire Subside."  Fire Subside also has the name of Soratsuhidaka, or "Sky's Sun Height" when he's the heir apparent and Amatsuhidakahikohohodeminomikoto, or "Heaven's Sun Height Prince Great Rice ears Lord Ears" when he is the reigning soverign. [28]

While Fire Subside was only the 3rd born, he would overtake the power of his oldest brother and become the reigning soverign.  He loses the luck of his older brother Fire Shrine, who then demands that it be returned to him.  He is given advice to go to the palace of Onowatatsuminokami, or the "Deity Great Ocean Possessor," in order to get it back. [29]  He follows this advice and meets with the Deity Great Ocean Possessor who gives him his daughter, Toyotamabime, or the "Luxuriant Jewel Princess."  He lived there for three years before thinking about before, and the Deity Great Ocean Possessor hearing his problem, finds the hook of luck and gives advice on how to return it and what to do afterwards to harass his brother, Fire Shine.  He follows the Deity Great Ocean Possessor's advice and it causes his oldest brother, Fire Shine to become ever-poorer until he attacks Fire Subside.  Fire Subside then uses the tide flowing jewel given to him by the Deity Great Ocean Possessor to drown him.  Fire Shine shows his grief and Fire Subside then saves him according to the Deity Great Ocean Possessor's advice with the tide ebbing jewel.  Fire Shine after this serves Fire Subside, who then becomes the heir apparent. [30]

Fire Subside and the Luxuriant Jewel Princess have Amatsuhidakahikoonagisatakeugayafukiahezunomikoto, or "Heaven's Sun Height Prince Wave limit Brave Comorant Thatch Meeting Incompletely.  Who then marries Tamayoribime, or the "Jewel Good Princess," the younger sister of his mother, the Luxuriant Jewel Princess and also his nurse as a baby.  They have 4 children: Itsusenomikoto, "Five Reaches" (reaches of a river), Inahinomikoto, "Boiled Rice," Mikenunomikoto, the "August Food Master" and Wakamikenunomikoto, the "Young August Food Master."  He is also of the names Toyomikenunomikoto, or the "Luxuriant August Food Master" and Kamuyamatoiharebikonomikoto, or the "Divine Yamato Ihare Prince." [31]  This last child would become Emperor Jimmu.

Even though the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince was only the 4th born, he would become the first emperor, Jimmu due to this: Boiled Rice, the 2nd child would go to the sea plane that was his deceased mother's land (his mother, the Jewel Good Princess being the daughter of the Deity Great Ocean Possessor).  The August Food Master, the 3rd born goes to the eternal land, which might refer to some heavenly paradise or Hades, but might also refer to China or Korea. [32]  This leaves the eldest, Five Reaches and the Divine Yamoto Ihare Prince, who decide to go east to better rule the empire from (remembering at this time they are still living in present day Kyūshū). [33]

Heading east from Kyūshū towards the lands of Yamato, they arrive in a land somewhat past the Namihaya Crossing, or Naniha at the mouth of the river Yodo at present day Osaka, where the Prince of Nagasune of Tomi at the place of Tatedzu, or currently Tadetsu of Kusaka attacks them.  Perhaps this name is Takatsu derived from Taketsu.  Two Kusakas also existed, one in Kahachi and one in Idzumi Provinces. [34]

During the battle, the eldest brother, Five Reaches is shot through the hand by an arrow from the Prince of Tomi, which Five Reaches thinks is due to facing the sun during the battle; the descendants of the Sun Goddess shouldn't face the sun while in battle.  So they slip away to the south around present day Kii Peninsula in hopes of heading west, and with the sun to Yamato, which will allow them to be victorious in battle.  However, while traveling in this way, Five Reaches dies from this wound at the mouth of the River Wo in the land of Ki (present day Kii) leaving the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince to carry on the empire. [35]

This description of the lineage of Jimmu from the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu down to him as described in The Kojiki is important for the legitimacy of the emperor in Japan and his past stature in Japan as a god.  The three sacred regalia also become important in proving the legitimacy of the emperor as from the gods.  The Kojiki was pushed as an historical record and the Emperors were gods.  This was done especially after the Meiji Restoration, when the emperors retook power in Japan.  The history of The Kojiki and emperors being gods was especially pushed during the rise of Imperial Japan in the early 20th century and during World War II.  This view was obviously abandoned after World War II, when Emperor Hirohito had to give up his claim of divinity and The Kojiki was stopped being taught as historic fact.  This is to the point where I think students today would not know much about The Kojiki or what is contained within it.

With the first emperor now having been decided, tracing all the way back to his roots of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu; I can now describe why Yatagarasu was sent down to the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince from heaven.  He continues along the peninsula in the plan of turning back to go west to Yamato, when he arrives at the land of Kumanu (present day Kumano in Wakayama and Mie Prefectures).  The name meaning 'Bear Moor.'  At this place, either a large bear or a large savage tribe came out of the mountain there and went back in, which causes the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince and his army to faint and lie there. [36]

The Divine Yamato Ihare Prince is only saved by the cross-sword delivered to him by the person, Takakurazhi as instructed in a dream by Amaterasu, the Great High Integrating Deity and Takemikadzuchinowonokami, or the "Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity." [37]  In the dream, Takakurazhi is shown Amaterasu and the Great High Integrating Deity commanding the Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity to pacify the Central Land of Reed Plains (or Yamato or Japan) for the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince (The Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity was also the deity that pacified the lands that was needed to be done before the descending of  Heaven Plenty Earth Plenty Heaven's Sun Height Prince Rice ear Ruddy Plenty from heaven to earth to begin the ruling of Japan.). [38]  The Brave Awful Possessing Male Deity won't go, but instead sends this sword down that will do it and instructs Takakurazhi where it will be and to give it to the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince, which he does upon waking. [39]

Upon being presented the sword, the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince awakes and receives the sword.  This causes his enemies in Kumano to be instantly cut down and breaks the spell over his army as well. [40]  

The Divine Yamato Ihare Prince is now given Yatagarasu in this manner as told in The Kojiki"Then His Augustness the Great-High-Integrating-Deity again commanded and taught, saying: 'August son of the "'Heavenly Deity ! make no progress hence into the interior.  "'The savage Deities are very numerous.  I will now send "'from Heaven a crow eight feet [long].  So that crow eight "'feet [long] shall guide thee.  Thou must make thy progress "'following after it as it goes.'" [41] 
These lands the Divine Yamato Ihare Prince has entered into on his journey to Yamato being dangerous, has been given the cross-sword to defeat these enemies and the 'Great Crow' Yatagarasu to guide him through these dangerous lands from the Gods.  By following Yatagarasu, he finally is able to arrive in Yamato and become Emperor Jimmu, starting the line of emperors in Japan.

Yatagarasu has become a powerful and often used symbol within Japan.  The appearance of Yatagarasu as a symbol has changed from the description here enough that it might be difficult to recognize it for what it is.

Yatagarasu on a lantern flanking the entrance to the Main Hall of Kumano Shrine in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Kumano Shrine is next to Central Park in Shinjuku, Tokyo.  All Kumano Shrines are enshrining the 3 Kumano Mountains:  Hongū, Hayatama, and Nachi.  The head shrines of Kumano are the shrine complexes at these mountains in the Kumano mountain region.  This is the same place as I have mentioned about in The Kojiki, where Emperor Jimmu and his army faint due to the deity found in the mountain of Kumano.  This is also the place where he is saved by the deliverance of the cross sword used to conquer the deities found in this land and also given Yatagarasu to guide him on his journey to Yamato.  This is not lost on the shrine, who chose Yatagarasu to be the image on the lanterns flanking the entrance of the Main Hall.  If you didn't notice, this crow has 3 legs.  This version of Yatagarasu is used widely in shrines throughout Japan and most famously as...


...that's right, Japan's National Soccer Team's logo.  You can notice it has 2 legs to stand on and a third one to trap the ball.  With so many places using this 3 legged crow as the symbol of Yatagarasu, the biggest question is, "Why the 3rd leg?".

In The Kojiki, there is no mention of 3 legs for Yatagarasu, only that it is a crow eight feet long.  If we look towards the mythologies of Japan's neighbors we can find the answer.  China for a long time had a 3 legged crow in its mythologies.  In the early period of Japan's history, Chinese culture heavily influenced Japanese culture, and this 3 legged crow also seems to have been adopted into the Japanese lore.  In Chinese lore, this 3 legged crow is Sanzuniao and is red and associated with the sun. [43]  Perhaps this connection with the sun of the 3 legged crow and Emperor Jimmu  with the sun goddess might have been appealing, but this is just conjecture on my part.  Sanzuniao is considered to first develop in Shang China, and to the southern part of China around 5000-3000 BC.  This bird was the soul of the sun.  In Chu China, another myth of the sun developed with crows that might have mixed with the Shang traditions. [44]  

In this mythology, Xihe was the Chinese sun goddess and wife of Emperor Jun, who had 10 'child-suns,' which she would bathe one each day and then let the 3 legged crow child-sun fly into the sky for its turn to be the sun.  In 2170 BC according to the myth, all 10 went into the sky on the same day causing the earth to scorch and droughts to occur.  Emperor Yao asks Di Jun, the father of the child-suns to have them only go one at a time.  They wouldn't listen, so Di Jun sends for the archer Houyi to shoot them down and kill them, so he kills all but one who was traveling in the Underworld at the time.  So this last remaining child-sun became the sun that is today.  This last 3 legged crow child-sun still residing in the sun today. [45]

This story was believed in many parts of southern China, until the Zhou Dynasty when the Zhou conquered the Shang and the Zhou's belief of only one sun became the standard myth.  The 3 legged crow Sanzuniao still remained in the mythologies. [46]  This, along with many other cultural ideas were absorbed into Japanese culture during its early history and most likely explains why Yatagarasu has become a 3 legged crow even though there is no mention of it in The Kojiki.

Crows have long stood as a symbol of power in Japanese mythology, but these days they tend to be seen more as a powerful nuisance.  While their huge numbers and more aggressive nature has been just that lately in Japan, these things have been caused by a human problem in too much waste being made.  The Crow Tengu play tricks on evil-doers in spiritual roles, maybe the crows are copying them in the environmental.


1. Rowan Hooper, "Animal Tracker Carrion Crow," The Japan Times Online, July 22nd, 2004,, (accessed February 9th, 2012).

2. Martin Fackler, "Japan Fights Crowds of Crows,", May 7th, 2008,, (accessed February 9th, 2012).

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. "Okayama Castle," Japanese Lifestyle,

6. "The Castles," Celga, Inc.,

7. "Okayama Castle," Asian History,

8. Ibid.

9. Ilya Genkin, "Okayama Castle, Okayama, Honshu, Japan," Ilya Genkin,

10. Ibid.

11. "Matsumoto Castle," Destination360,

12. Mark Schumacher, "Tengu The Slayer of Vanity,",

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Mark Schumacher, "Karura 迦楼羅, Karura-Ō 迦楼羅王 (Skt. = Garuda)
Bird of Life, Celestial Eagle, Half Bird Half Man,",

17. Mark Schumacher, "Tengu The Slayer of Vanity."

18. Ibid.

19. "A Brief Guide to Kencho-ji Temple," Kamakura, Kanagawa: Kencho-ji, 2011.

* I'm aware that the next group of citations are not in the proper format.  The reason for this is in case anyone reading this ever did happen to want to read Basil Hall Chamberlain's translation of The Kojiki, what I've written here might be useful in helping to understand what is happening.  The translation is still difficult to follow especially with the long names of the numerous gods found within The Kojiki.  I have written the page numbers in the citations in the order of where the information I am writing about can be found.

20. The Kojiki Records of Ancient Matters, trans. Basil Hall Chamberlain, 2nd ed. (North Clarendon VT: Tuttle Publishing, 2005), 164-165, 115.

21. Ibid., 17-20.

22. Ibid., 165, 157, 134.

23. Ibid., 50.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., 51-55.

26. Ibid., 56-58 (Decision 59).

27. Ibid., 127-130.

28. Ibid., 138, 32, 138-144.

29. Ibid., 143-145, 32.

30. Ibid., 147-150.

31. Ibid., 155.

32. Ibid., 156.

33. Ibid., 157.

34. Ibid., 157-160.

35. Ibid., 160-161.

36. Ibid., 162.

37. Ibid., 162-163, 38.

38. Ibid., 163, 119-127.

39. Ibid., 163-164.

40. Ibid., 163.

41. Ibid., 164-165.

42. "Japan National Football Team," Wikipedia.

43. Aileen Kawagoe, "The Legend of Yatagarasu, the Three-Legged Crow and its Possible Origins," Heritage of Japan,

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Meiji Jingu Gyoen: Power Spots and the Land of Iris.

June 26th, 2011:

Today we went to Meiji Jingū Gyoen for the second time.  Meiji Jingū Gyoen (明治神宮御苑) is the garden inside of Meiji Jingū, a shrine made for Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken in 1920.  I have talked about Meiji Jingū here, when we went there for Hatsumōde, or the Japanese New Year's tradition of first visit to a shrine.  This was our second visit to the garden as we went on January 10th, 2011, but I wanted to wait for this visit, as this time is the highlight of the garden.  The garden is famous for its irises and June is the month they bloom, so we made sure to remember to come back to the garden at this time and were not disappointed.  I will be combining the information from both of our visits here.

Meiji Jingū Gyoen is the only part of the Naien (内苑), or inner part of Meiji Jingū Shrine that existed long before the founding of Meiji Jingū Shrine.  Meiji Jingū Gyoen used to be a yashiki (屋敷), or a daimyō's mansion. [1]  It was first owned by Kiyomasa Katō and would later come under the ownership of the Ii clan.  Kiyomasa Katō (清正 加藤) was a famous general from 1562-1611.  He was first a retainer of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, but later in life would join with Iyeasu Tokugawa.  This would prove fortunate when the latter's victory in the Battle of Sekigahara had Kiyomasa on the winning side and was given Kumamoto for his assistance.  Kiyomasa was a cousin of Hideyoshi Toyotomi's and would explain his retainership to Hideyoshi. [2]  He first distinguished himself in battle at Shizugatake in 1583 and became known as one of the 'Seven Spears.' [3]  Shizugatake is a mountain near Lake Yogo, which is directly north of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake located in Shiga Prefecture.  This was an important battle as it decided who would be the successor to Oda Nobunaga and continue the process of unifying Japan.  Hideyoshi Toyotomi's victory over Katsuie Shibata here meant Hideyoshi Toyotomi would have power over much of Japan at the time. [4]  

Kiyomasa would continue to prove himself as the retainer of Hideyoshi Toyotomi during the ongoing battles of Hideyoshi to assert his power over the whole of Japan.  In 1587, he participated in the invasion of Kyūshū, even defeating the famous Shimazu general Niiro Tadamoto in hand to hand combat during the battle of Sendaigawa.  When Kyūshū was secured, Kiyomasa would receive a large amount of land in Higo Province (present-day Kumamoto) as a reward. [5]  Kiyomasa, a Nichiren Buddhist, persecuted Christians in his domain much to the anger of Konishi Yukinaga, a Christian owning lands next to Kiyomasa. [6]  This conflict between the two would prove important later.  For the meantime, both would command armies during Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea in 1592.  Both were sent to capture Seoul first, but afterwards Kiyomasa was to lead his forces north along the eastern side of Korea. [7]  Kiyomasa's aggressiveness and ferocity during the campaign earned him the nickname Kishokan (鬼将官), 'Demon General' by the Koreans. [8]  This included the kidnapping of two princes to force the lower opposing officers to surrender, as well as racing up the eastern side even into China when many other officers were bogged down.  For a general whose nickname referred to his general hardcoreness, of course Kiyomasa's free time during the Korean campaign was spent hunting tigers. [9]

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi's Masakiyo Captures the Wild Tiger. [10]
This ukiyo-e is of Kiyomasa on a tiger hunt in Korea.  The name given in the title is different for a specific reason that I'll get to later on.  Yoshitoshi Tsukioka is the last of the great ukiyo-e artists, the art form kind of died with him in 1892.

The first Korean campaign ended in a truce, which angered Kiyomasa to being called back from his forward position to show good faith to the Chinese and Korean forces of their intention to stop fighting.  Kiyomasa drew back, but still found time to defeat an enemy force at Chinju with Konishi which had failed to be taken by the Japanese for a year previous, before the truce was signed. [11]

Kiyomasa would again be called upon by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in the 2nd invasion of Korea in 1597.  This time, his fame as a fighter grew in the famous siege of Ulsan.  The siege of Ulsan was an incredible victory for Kiyomasa Katō and the Japanese forces there, not only because of the large enemy force, the largest to attack a Wajō (the castles the Japanese invaders built in Korea), but also for the terrible conditions they had to face during battle.  Kiyomasa had left 7,000 in Ulsan to construct a castle, but it still was not finished when Ming Chinese forces attacked on January 29th, 1598. [12]  The Chinese forces knowing this used fire arrows to burn the temporary barracks and attacked the unfinished castle before being repelled.  Kiyomasa was notified of the attack and he sent for reinforcements and quickly sailed to Ulsan to return and lead the defense there, which was quickly surrounded by rings of enemy troops uncountable. [13]  Without completed gates, the Chinese forces were able to fire arrows directly outside the walls, leading to more destruction by fire.  After this, the defenders shut themselves within the inner castle, but conditions were already disastrous. [14]

The inner castle had no well and thus, no water and only 3 days of food.  The only fortunate thing was Chinese artillery couldn't penetrate the gates or walls of the inner fortress, but this meant continuous assault by enemy troops for the next 10 days. [15]  Conditions had reached the point where gathering parties slipped out by night to gather water from corpse filled ponds and grains of rice from dead Chinese soldiers.  Other food was, "...roasted strips of meat cut from dead horses cooked over fires made from broken arrows, piles of which lay several feet deep." [16]  A heavy rain storm provided temporary relief to their thirst, but this was followed by freezing weather that night, which stopped fighting on both sides.

In the Chosen Ki a diary of the Japanese commander Okochi Hidemoto about the battle, "...50 men at a time may be found crumpled under the unbearable hunger, thirst and cold.  In addition there are a number of men who have let their heads drop and lie down to sleep.  Other soldiers go on tours of inspection with their spears, and when they try to rouse men who have not moved all day by using the butt end of a spear, the ones who stay completely bent over have been frozen to death." [17]

At this point, the Chinese forces were also tired of fighting and offered a cease fire to Kiyomasa Katō who accepted to buy more time for the relieving force to arrive.  This would happen as Yoshinari Mōri's forces came and signaled to Kiyomasa with their banners of their arrival. [18]  At this point, Kiyomasa broke off the cease fire and the Chinese realizing another army had arrived tried one last attack that night.  When this failed, their camps had been abandoned by that morning and the forces of Kiyomasa had achieved a great victory.

Even though Japan had won at Ulsan, the battle marked the beginning of the end for the 2nd Korean campaign.  The 2nd campaign ended with the death of Hideyoshi Toyotomi , who died September 18th, 1598.  After Hideyoshi's death, a battle for succession would arise between Hideyoshi's son, Hideyori and Ieyasu Tokugawa.  This conflict would develop as the Western Army of Hideyori's side and the Eastern Army of Ieyasu's side (Ieyasu Tokugawa was based in Edo, east of Osaka where Hideyori was, hence the naming of the armies).  While it would seem obvious that Kiyomasa would join the side of the Toyotomi, he actually joined the side of the Tokugawa.  The reasons for this were the leader of the Western Army was Ishida Mitsunari, who Kiyomasa had fought with during the Korean campaign and the Western Army also had Konishi Yukinaga, his hated rival. [19]  The two sides finally met at Sekigahara leading to Ieyasu's victory and completing the unification of Japan.  Being on the winning side, Kiyomasa was given the rest of Higo (present-day Kumamoto), his hated rival finally eliminated on the wrong side at Sekigahara.

Kiyomasa would become famous for his castle designs and construction, as well as his water projects. [20]  His castle at Kumamoto being a lasting reminder of this.  Kiyomasa put many of the lessons that he learned from the terrible experience at Ulsan to good use in Kumamoto Castle.  This included nut trees within the baileys and for the matting to be stuffed with dried vegetable stalks instead of the usual rice straw for extra food.  Kumamoto Castle even survived the siege by Takamori Saigō with modern equipment during the year of 1877, some 270 years after Kumamoto's construction. [21]  Kiyomasa would also be enlisted by Ieyasu Tokugawa to construct Nagoya Castle. [22]

Kumamoto Castle. [23]
The main keep is a reconstruction; it burned down during the siege in 1877, but many of the other buildings are still original.

While it might seem like Kiyomasa was a traitor to his retainer, the Toyotomi, this might not be the case and his clan's demise might prove it.  Kiyomasa might have joined the the Tokugawa side to bring a peace between the two sides sooner to keep Hideyori safe. [24]  His continued friendship with Hideyori Toyotomi might have brought his death as Iyeasu might have arranged for his death in 1611 to remove another obstacle to finishing off the Toyotomi once and for all. [25]  Something Ieyasu would finally achieve in 1615.

Which brings me back to the strange title for the ukiyo-e print.  A kabuki play covering the story of one of the rumors of Kiyomasa's downfall that he was forced to drink poison, but did so to keep Hideyori safe appeared in 1807.  This was still during the time of the Tokugawa government so the play needed to change the names of the historic figures or otherwise be censored.  This would lead to Kiyomasa Katō's name to be changed to Masakiyo Sato. [26]  His first name being just a flipping of the kanji.  清正 Kiyomasa to 正清 Masakiyo.  The ukiyo-e print's title would then be the name for the kabuki character, even though it is really a print of Kiyomasa.  In fact, you can even see this if you look closely at the print's title in the upper right hand corner.  It was a bit tricky figuring out the correct artist and title of the print, and then also figuring out who Masakiyo Sato was and why it wasn't Kiyomasa Katō.

While there's no proof that Kiyomasa was poisoned, his son's banishment by Iemitsu Tokugawa (Ieyasu's grandson) gives some evidence that the Tokugawas wanted them removed. [27]  With that, the Hosokawa Clan was given Kiyomata's province of Higo and the Ii Clan took over the mansion at Meiji Jingū Gyoen.  However, after 1868 with the Meiji Restoration and the stepping down of the daimyō, this land was given over to the Imperial Household Ministry and would be in private use by the Emperor.  Emperor Meiji made many of the features of the current garden for his wife, Empress Shoken for her enjoyment and health. [28] 

Meiji Jingū Gyoen can be found by going along the main entrance path to the shrine, and it's just on your left after passing through Otorii, the huge wooden torii that is the largest in Meiji Jingū Shrine and the largest of its type in Japan.  Right at the entrance is a little hut that sells souvenirs and is the place to pay to enter the garden.  It's 500 yen to enter and you can see the whole garden except for Kiyomasa's Well.  To see that you need to ask and then wait for the time when groups are led back to the well.  After paying and not wanting to see the well, you're free to enter the garden, walk around and explore it at your convenience.  The garden has a wide variety of different plants, making for each season to have something unique and worth seeing throughout the year.

Following the well-kept foot path flanked by bamboo and other plants, the first sight you come across is the tea house Kakuun-tei.  This tea house was ordered to be built by the Meiji Emperor for his wife in 1900.  The present building is a 1958 reconstruction, as it was burnt down during the war. [29]

Kakuun-tei in January.  It was also a national holiday which might explain why the tea house was open.

Kakuun-tei in June.

The tea house overlooks the Nan-Chi (South Pond), which has the fishing spot Emperor Meiji made for Emperess Shoken and is remarkable fed by Kiyomasa's well.

Looking down from near the tea house unto the Nan-Chi.  These bushes here are azalea which are covered in red flowers during their peak in April. [30]

Directly down the hill from here is the fishing spot.  Otsuri-Dai (Fishing Spot) was often a place where the Empress Shoken enjoyed her time. [31]

Koi swimming lazily about the fishing spot.

Like just about everywhere with koi in Japan, there are a lot of them at the fishing spot and they come up to the surface looking for handouts when people approach.

The South Pond also has water lilies during the summer that are pretty.

Continuing along the path is the huge iris garden on multiple tiers that holds water from Kiyomasa's Well up above.  Beyond the iris garden is blocked off, holding the Well of Kiyomasa.  If you join the group tour, you are taken directly here first and allowed to see it.

The Well of Kiyomasa is famous for being a "power spot."  Power spots are usually natural wonders or shinto shrines that can supposedly give the people who visit them energy or spiritual power. [32]  The term was first created by the self-proclaimed psychic and metal bender Kiyota Masuaki in the 1990's to be a place where the earth's energy can be collected. [33]  However, power spots didn't become the fad that they have been recently until Shuhei Shimada, a famous palm-reading TV personality claimed taking a cellphone picture of Kiyomasa's Well got him a job in December of 2009.  This caused so many people to go, that the garden had to implement the new ticket system which is used today to control the amount of visitors going to the well. [34]  Power spots became a fad in 2010 through a mix of media promotion and Japanese religion.  Many of these power spots already had religious connotations, as well as mythical and supernatural abilities defined a long time ago by the shrines and spiritual nature of these Shinto holy sites.  Much of the Japanese religious practices already follow traditional practices to gain worldly benefits as well.  The power spots have become an extension of this, in people wanting to go to them for the hope of gaining good luck, changing a mood or building motivation. [35]  Even though power spots are losing their popular status and media coverage, many of these power spots already were impressive sites filled with history, culture, lore, natural beauty and / or deep spiritual connotations and won't fade along with the popularity. [36]  The Well of Kiyomasa is a power spot because it has never emptied since its discovery and creation and is the source for the whole of the South Pond.

The Well of Kiyomasa.  It's not a cellphone picture, but if there's any truth in power spots, maybe it will increase the power of this blog.

On a more serious note, the water's clarity was incredible.  You might be able to see the spout of the well in the upper left of the well wall.

The first time we came to see the well, as we learned about power spots and the well from a friend and did the full tour then.  We came back this time, because while at the garden the first time we saw the pictures of the iris garden in bloom at the entrance hut and wanted to see it.  The garden has 1500 irises from 150 different types making for an incredible sight when they bloom in June. [37]  The difference between our 2 visits of the iris garden is really incredible.

Here it is in January.

And here is almost the same exact spot in June.

I felt the sheer variety of the irises was more impressive than how many there were.  When you look at them closely, there's a wide variety of very different shapes and colors in the irises here.

If you happen to be visiting Meiji Jingū Shrine, especially during June, make the time to visit Meiji Jingū Gyoen along the way.


1. Plaque, Meiji Jingu Gyoen, January 10th, 2011.

2. Chris Glenn, "Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa Memorial Museum,",

3. F. W. Seal, "Katō Kiyomasa," The Samurai Archives,

4. "Battle of Shizugatake Overview," Battles of Sengoku Jidai Japan,

5. F. W. Seal, "Katō Kiyomasa," The Samurai Archives.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. "Kato Kiyomasa: Chikanobu and Yoshitoshi Woodblock Prints," Claremont Colleges Digital Library,

9. F. W. Seal, "Katō Kiyomasa," The Samurai Archives.

10. Sofia, "The Tiger in Asian Art," The Coolture.

11. F. W. Seal, "Katō Kiyomasa," The Samurai Archives.

12. Stephen Turnbull, Strongholds of the Samurai Japanese Castles 250-1877 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2009), 228.

13. Ibid., 229.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., 230.

17. Ibid., 231.

18. Ibid.

19. F. W. Seal, "Katō Kiyomasa," The Samurai Archives.

20. "Kato Kiyomasa,"

21. Stephen Turnbull, Samurai Commanders (2): 1577-1638 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2005), 47.

22. Chris Glenn, "Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa Memorial Museum."

23. Eric Obershaw, "Kumamoto Castle," JCastle Guide to Japanese Castles,

24. Stephen Turnbull, Samurai Commanders (2): 1577-1638.

25. F. W. Seal, "Katō Kiyomasa," The Samurai Archives.

26. "Kato Kiyomasa: Chikanobu and Yoshitoshi Woodblock Prints," Claremont Colleges Digital Library.

27. F. W. Seal, "Katō Kiyomasa," The Samurai Archives.

28. "Meiji Jingu Gyoen," Meiji Jingu.

29. Plaque, Meiji Jingu Gyoen, January 10th, 2011.

30. "Meiji Jingu Gyoen," Meiji Jingu.

31. Plaque, Meiji Jingu Gyoen, January 10th, 2011.

32. Robert Irvine, "Japan's 'Power Spots' Draw Those Looking for Hope, Drive, and a Touch of the Mystical," The Mainichi Daily News, January 1st, 2012,, (accessed February 8th, 2012).

33. Felicity Hughes, "Power Spots: Japan's Latest Spiritual Crazy," Japan Pulse, September 2nd, 2010,, (accessed February 8th, 2012).

34. Robert Irvine, "Japan's 'Power Spots' Draw Those Looking for Hope, Drive, and a Touch of the Mystical."

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. "Meiji Jingu Gyoen," Meiji Jingu.