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Home » 6. Belief and Practice » Shrines and Cultic Practices
Ise Shinkō
Because Amaterasu ōmikami, the principal kami (saijin) at Ise Jingū, is considered an ancestral kami of the imperial house, Ise Shrine is the location of imperial devotion. Moreover, since ancient times it has attracted widespread popular faith as a sacred site. Personal offerings to Amaterasu ōmikami at the shrine were strictly forbidden (shihei kindan) to all but the emperor. Even the three empresses (sankō – the wife, mother, and grandmother of the emperor) and the crown prince needed the emperor's permission to worship there. Commoner pilgrimage, however, was not refused and worship at the Grand Shrines of Ise quickly spread among the populace. Even as early as the 934 Kanname Festival, the Daijingū shozōjiki records that the shrine attracted "100,000 pilgrims from all walks of life." The Kamkura period work Kanchūki (1287), records the following passage, relating a tremendous number of visitors: "Pilgrims came to visit the shrine from every corner of the country, and it is impossible to count how many tens of millions there were." The activities of the group of people known as oshi laid the foundations for such devotion by cultivating the custom of making private offerings. The term "oshi" is abbreviated from "oinorishi" (person who prays) or "onnoritoshi" (norito reciter). Oshi were a class of "shrine priests" (kannushi) who contracted with both Ise believers and pilgrims throughout the country and traveled the land distributing prayers and oharai-taima amulets. They originated as ku'nyū kannushi "shrine land" (shinryō) tribute collectors, who also raised the prayers of people living on shrine lands at Ise's Inner and Outer Shrines. Imitating the lodging system at Kumano's Three Shrines, they welcomed pilgrims traveling to Ise into their homes to stay the night, performed a sacred dance known as kagura, and guided their guests around Ise's shrines. As a result of these activities, they also came to be referred to as dōjamōshi ("the voices of those on the path"). The Azuma kagami records that in 1181, at the end of the Heian Period, the oshi known as Daijingū Gonnegi Watarai Shōrin (a.k.a. ŌkaJirōdayū) relayed Minamoto no Yoritomo's prayers to the kami at Ise. Also, during a war-torn era, the monk Shunjōbō Chōgen, led the resident monks of the temple Tōdai-ji on a pilgrimage to Ise to pray for the restoration of Tōdaiji's Great Buddha Hall. In the Muromachi period special guides known as sendatusu began leading masses of pilgrims to Ise, resulting in lodgings springing up along the roads to the shrine, and in the institutionalization of purification methods along the route. The roads to Ise included the Ise Honkaidō between Yamatohase and the shrine, the Ise Betsukaidō, and the Kumano Kaidō; and sea routes from Mikawa bay and the sea Enshūnada by which pilgrims arrived in ōminato in Ise Bay. From there, one could get to Kamiyashirokō, Nikenjaya, and Kawasaki by ascending the Atsuta River. On the land routes pilgrims would enter Ise after purifying their bodies and minds at Miyagawa or at Futamigaura on the sea routes. In the Ise region there were strict taboos and customs related to mourning to avoid the pollution of death, including a funerary practice called hayagake and particular clothing restrictions. Within the city, oshi built large, fancy residences and Kiso Kiyoari's Maijimon records three hundred and ninety one such oshi houses in Yamada (a town in front of the Outer Shrine) in 1671. One could enter the Outer Shrine area by passing through the teashop-lined area of Nakagawara or from the pasture at the horse dismount area (where one would have to dismount and proceed on foot). Leaving the Outer Shrine at Okamoto heading for the Inner Shrine, one passed through Furuichi and Nakanojizō where the streets were lined with brothels and playhouses lively with the sounds of Ise ondo music. The route to the Inner Shrine then passed from Ushitanizaka to Oharaimachi and over the Isuzu River by the Uji Bridge. As a result of the activities of oshi, Ise emanation shrines ("Daijingū" and "shinmeisha") were established throughout Japan, and groups called Ise confraternities (kō) formed around them. Members of these organizations took turns representing the group on pilgrimages to Ise. They stayed at their oshi's residence, sponsored Ise's daidai kagura, and completed pilgrimages (sankei) to both the Inner and Outer Shrines. Among Ise's many pilgrims, there were those who would fervently worship for long periods like one hundred or one thousand days, but the popular okage mairi pilgrimages were particularly distinctive. These mass pilgrimages by men and women of all ages occurred roughly once every sixty years, and were usually triggered by news of miraculous events such as amulets falling from the sky. Participants, receiving alms along the way in order to complete the journey, were thus able to fulfil their dreams of praying at Ise. Already by the Ise odori of 1614, there were indications of the mass pilgrimages to follow. The first okage mairi took place in 1650, and tradition carried on for roughly the next two hundred years, dying out with the last okage mairi in 1867.

       As mentioned, Ise faith and worship at the Grand Shrines of Ise spread throughout the populace, but began with the imperial house. Since the legendary visit of Keikō Emperor (recorded in the Nihonshoki and Kojiki), there have been numerous other imperial visits to Ise and Shima areas, but the first actual imperial visit to Ise Shrine itself occurred in 1869, and the first time the emperor and empress worshipped at the shrine together was in 1915.

       As for the samurai elite, Minamoto no Yoritomo demonstrated his reverence for Ise with tributes of land to Ise shrine. In 1186, Yoritomo's brother Yoshitsune became the first member of the warrior class to worship at the shrine, making an offering of a sword to the kami there. During the war-torn Muromachi Period, the Ashikaga Shōguns Yoshimitsu, Yoshimochi, Yoshinori, and Yoshimasa made numerous visits to the shrine. In 1630, Tokugawa Yoshinao of Owari traveled to Ise by sea to consult documents in the Hayashizaki Bunko library. Ten years later, Kasuga no Tsubone also made a pilgrimage to Ise, and had the Uji and Oda bridges restored.

       Among its famous pilgrims was the Dharma Master and poet Saigyō who composed the following poem upon his visit: "Even without knowing what abides [within], it fills one with tears of humility." Nichiren also visited the shrine in 1253, and Kokan Shiren made a pilgrimage to Ise in 1317. Other pilgrims include the renga poet Iio Sōchō in 1522, Nakae Tōju in 1641, Kaibara Ekiken in the 1683, Matsuo Bashō in 1684, Kitamura Kigin in 1687, Kamo no Mabuchi in 1763, Tachibana Akemi in 1861, and Shiba Kōkan in 1789. See also okage mairi.

— Nakanishi Masayuki
The Inner Shrine (Naikū) at the Grand Shrines of Ise.

Mie Prefecture, 2005

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