Series Study on Hashirama-Sochi; Equipment In Between

Movie “The Birth Canal”

Norihito Nakatani Seminar (Waseda University)

17 Jan 2017


movie “The Birth Canal”

Hashirama equipment” is a term used for cultural assets and refers to the entire architectural components between pillars. Specifically, the hashirama equipment includes a variety of types of fittings such as walls, shoji and fusuma sliding doors. In buildings with a wooden framework, in addition to the fittings, the boards and tatami mats on the floor and the ceilings are also basically composed of the similar “equipment-style” thoughts. Richness of space in Japanese architecture has been created by the diversity of the hashirama equipment. In this study, a building from Japanese architectural history is examined based on a key concept of the previously stated “hashirama equipment”.


Text content ─The Birth Canal─

About Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine
About the Sanno Festival
The Sanno Festival and Hashirama Equipment


Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine is located at the foot of Mt. Hiei, which crosses Kyoto Prefecture and the west side of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. The shrine, overlooking Lake Biwa, has been traditionally worshipped as a guardian deity of Enryakuji Temple, a Tendai monastery also located on Mt. Hiei. It is known as the head shrine of the network of approximately 3,800 or more Hiyoshi and Hiei shrines in Japan(i). The Sanno Festival is an annual event held in Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, in which a ritual is performed, supposedly replicating scenes when the deities enshrined at Hiyoshi Taisha shrine had descended to earth. Although the festival has been modified over time, its essential part has been passed along up to today.

Coexistence of respective columns or buildings, creates a threshold or space called “ma” (in-between). People have recognized special meanings in ma since ancient times. Many ma were intentionally placed in various locations in Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, where the Sanno Festival is held.

For instance, a small hill called Mt. Hachioji is a sanctuary at the highest altitude within Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine. The massive rock “Kogane-no-Oiwa” is worshipped as a yorishiro(ii), sandwiched by two shrine buildings on both sides, as if escorted by them. In order to build on the steep slope, the buildings were built in the kakezukuri or overhang style, in which a high platform is assembled to achieve the building overhang in the air. Ma created by the rock and two overhung buildings next to it became a space where sacred energy accumulates, in a manner of speaking.

On the occasion of the Sanno Festival, two mikoshi (portable shrine, or symbolic carriage for deities) are manually carried up from the bottom of the hill, and each is stored on either side of the two shrines at the hilltop for about a month. After a month, deities descend into the mikoshi, the shrine receive the energy of the deities, and the mikoshi are manually carried down to the bottom of the hill, creating a climax where the energy accumulated from the sacred space on the hilltop is released into the everyday world.

(i) There are various opinions about the number. The number here was based on “Hiyosi-Sannousai and the beliefs of Yama no kami (Mountain God and Goddess)” (Ryukoku University Intercultural Communication No.15, March 2011) by Mamoru Sudo.

(ii)Yorishiro: An object capable of attracting spirits of a deity. It is often a tree, rock, or gohei (a wooden wand for Shinto rituals, decorated with paper).

〈About Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine〉
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine is located at the eastern foot of Mt. Hiei in the Sakamoto district of Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture. Known as a guardian deity of Hieizan Enryakuji Temple, the shrine is also called “Sanno Gongen”. During the time of shinbutsu shugo(i), when the syncretism of Buddhism and Shinto proceeded after the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine was syncretized with Tendai Buddhism and extensively worshipped. Together with the popularization of Tendai Buddhism, separated shrines of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine spread all over Japan, establishing its status as the head shrine.

  • Okumiya Shrines

Origin of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine: Mt. Hachioji and Kogane-no-Oiwa

Mt. Hachioji, enfolding Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine at its foot, has been worshipped in the area since prehistoric times. A massive rock, called Kogane-no-Oiwa, sits near the top of this mountain. It is said that the name came from scenes of the rock gleaming in the golden morning light. People must have felt spirituality and special energy from the rock. While Mt. Hachioji itself was worshipped as a holy object, Kogane-no-Oiwa became a particularly special object as a yorishiro of mountain deities. The shrine buildings on both sides of the rock were built as a place to worship the mountain deities who have lived there since ancient times, and are used as a stage to perform important Shinto rituals in the annual Sanno Festival.

  • Kogane-no-Oiwa

The buildings of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine at the foot of Mt. Hachioji are located with its back facing the worshipped mountain. Although the original buildings were destroyed by fire in the Early Modern Age, the style of shrines up until the Middle Ages is well preserved even after reconstruction. Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine consists of a group of shrines that were deeply related to worship of Mt. Hachioji and Kogane-no-Oiwa.

  • Section through Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine and Lake Biwa

About Sanno Nanasha (the Seven Sanno Shrines)

Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine consists of many shrines, and was once said to have a maximum of 216 shrines inside and outside of the shrine grounds. Among them, there are seven well-established shrines for worship, called “Sanno Nanasha”. Two shrine buildings (Ushio-gu Shrine and Sannomiya-gu Shrine) that stand right next to Kogane-no-Oiwa at the top of Mt. Hachioji are called Okumiya Shrines.

  • Okumiya Shrine (Rear Shrine) Plan

Five other shrine buildings are located at the foot of the hill: Higashi Hongu Shrine and Jugegu Shrine that enshrine deities invited from Ushio-gu Shrine and Sannomiya-gu Shrine; and Nishi Hongu Shrine, Shirayama-gu Shrine, and Usa-gu Shrine that enshrine deities invited from outside (mainly from Mt. Miwa in the Yamato Province, located in todayʼs Nara Prefecture). The buildings of Sanno Nanasha were basically built with their backs facing the worshipped Mt. Hachioji(ii).

(i)Shinbutsu shugo: One of the systems of religious beliefs in Japan, which was established as a result of the syncretism of Buddhism and Japanese indigenous religion (such as Shinto) and reconstruction of them. This apparently resulted in a close cooperation between the two religions.
(ii)In the layout map of today, Higashi Hongu Shrine is exceptionally facing a different direction. However, Higashi Hongu Shrine is said to have been originally located at todayʼs Nishi Hongu Shrine location, and to be of the same style as the other shrine buildings.

  • Map of the shrine grounds

Unique Gate of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, “Sanno Torii”

The torii (shrine gate) in Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine have a unique shape, different from those in other shrines. With a triangular gabled part on top, the torii are called “Sanno Torii”, and are referred to as a symbol of shinbutsu shugo and Sanno worship. The Sanno Torii of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine are located outside of the shrine grounds at the shore of Lake Biwa, as well as inside the shrine grounds. In the annual Sanno Festival of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, the mikoshi are carried to pass through these torii. The entire town of Sakamoto, worshipping Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, becomes a stage for the festival.

  • Sanno Torii


〈About the Sanno Festival〉
The Sanno Festival is an annual event taking place in Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine. This movie, “The Birth Canal”, introduces the scenes of the festival. The audience can see how the unique feature of Japanese architecture, hashirama, is effectively utilized in the gallant festival.

The Sanno Festival begins in March. Some 20 rituals are performed over about one and a half months, from the Okoshiage Shinji ritual, in which the mikoshi are carried to the top of Mt. Hachioji, to the Mikoshi Kangyo ritual, in which the mikoshi are carried back to the designated place on the foot of the hill. Each of the Sanno Nanasha shrines have a mikoshi (thus seven in total), which has its own role based on the background of its establishment.

Sequence of events at the Sanno Festival in Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine

The movie depicts the process of the festival: carrying the mikoshi to the hilltop; carrying them down after about a month; along with other mikoshi left at the foot of the hill, performing a ritual that represents “birth”; and parading of anthropomorphized mikoshi to bring luck to towns at the foot of the hill. Below is a sequential explanation of the process:

1. In the Okoshiage Shinji ritual in March, the mikoshi are carried to the two shrines on the hilltop, Ushio-gu Shrine and Sannomiya-gu Shrine, in preparation of welcoming the mountain deities. The mikoshi are carried by a group of people called kayocho, who are based in local communities and are related to the shrines located in each community of the Sakamoto district.

2. It is believed that the two mikoshi stored in Ushio-gu Shrine and Sannomiya-gu Shrine attract the spirit of deities during the storage period. They are carried down to the foot of the hill on April 12th, by a ritual called Uma-no-Shinji. The ritual is a replication of a Kanjo ritual, in which the deities were transferred from Ushio-gu Shrine and Sannomiya-gu Shrine to the shrines at the foot of the hill and were enshrined there again.

3. The enshrined deities are Ooyamakuinokami in Ushio-gu Shrine and Kamotamanoyorihimenokami in Sannomiya-gu Shrine. They are male and female deities. After the Uma-no-Shinji ritual, the mikoshi are placed facing and crossing each other in the hall of worship in Higashi Hongu Shrine at the foot of the hill. Then, the Shiri-tsunagi-no Shinji ritual, representing marriage of the male and female deities, is performed.

4. The Yomiya-otoshi Shiji ritual performed on the evening of the following day symbolizes the birth of Wakamiya, a child of Ushio-gu and Sannomiya-gu. The scene of birth of a new life, expressed by movements of the mikoshi, is enhanced by the hashirama of the building where they were placed, and the festival reaches the climax.

5. After the above rituals, other rituals follow, replicating the scenes of inviting outside deities to Nishi Hongu Shrine, Usa-gu Shrine, and Shirayama-gu Shrine.

6. Finally, the seven mikoshi are decorated and paraded into towns around Lake Biwa. After going through a hashirama of the torii on the shrine grounds, the torii below the approach way, and the torii along Lake Biwa, the mikoshi are carried on boats around Lake Biwa. Then, each of the mikoshi is carried off the boats, paraded around the town, and returned to the mikoshi storage house on the shrine grounds. The mikoshi joyfully proceed through the town, and audiences along the roadsides seem to be very relaxed and having fun, as they receive luck and energy from the parading mikoshi.

The Sanno Festival is annually held for about one-and-a-half-month period. The purpose is rejuvenating and renewing the spirit of the deities, in order to keep the deities vigorous(i).

(i)Haruki Kageyama, “Shintaizan” (Tokyo: Gakuseisha, 1971).


〈The Sanno Festival and Hashirama Equipment〉
Life and Festival Created by Hashirama

The rituals performed in the Sanno Festival are deeply related to the spaces created by “ma“.

It is the same as the traditional himorogi (a tentative yorishiro of a deity), which creates a sacred space inside of the four slender pillars.

In Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, ma between its shrine building and the two shrine buildings on top of Mt. Hachioji serves as a space to accumulate the energy of Kogane-no-Oiwa. In the Okoshiage Shinji ritual of the Sanno Festival, each of the mikoshi is stored in the respective shrines. The energy is passed on to the mikoshi during the one-month storage period, and when the mikoshi move down to the foot of the hill in the Uma-no-Shinji ritual, the energy is doubled due to the conversion from potential to kinetic energy through the movement from a high location to a lower one.

Furthermore, the hashirama of the architectural stage, where the Yomiya-otoshi Shiji ritual (representing a birth of a new deity) is performed, provides very dramatic effects. The mikoshi are gathered and placed in each hashirama, creating a sacred scene. This is deeply related to the fact that deities are often represented by the term “pillar”. A new life is born from two (a male and a female) pillars (deities).

Later, the energy is passed on to various spaces as the mikoshi parade through Lake Biwa, while passing through the spaces formed by the torii (signifying the sacred boundary).

  • Torii along Lake Biwa

Sacred Boundary by Hashirama Equipment and Life

An invisible sacred boundary exists between pillars.

In religious architecture, such hashirama is made as a boundary between the everyday world, utsushiyo, and the sacred world of deities, tokoyo(i), and plays an important role particularly in services and rituals. A typical example of such hashirama-like architectural equipment is the torii, which are specific to shrines. In the Sanno Festival, the mikoshi leave from Okumiya Shrine and move along the approach way towards Lake Biwa, while passing through several torii. By passing through each torii, the mikoshi are moved from the sacred space of deities (Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine grounds), to the space for people who serve the deities (the area with monksʼ residences), to the Sakamoto district at the foot of the hill where people supporting Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine live, and finally to the endless world sprawling beyond Lake Biwa. During that time, the torii become the gates to the next space, and the energy of the deities carried on the mikoshi is transferred to various spaces, spreading the energy around.


・Haruki Kageyama, “Shintaizan” (Tokyo: Gakuseisha, 1971)
・Shiga Prefecture “Conservation Management and Environmental Preservation Plan for a National Historic Site, Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine”(2009)
・Tatsuru Sagai “Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine and Sanno Gongen” (Jimbun Shoin, 1992)
・Mamoru Sudo, “Hiyosi-Sannousai and the beliefs of Yama no kami (Mountain God and Goddess)” (Ryukoku University Intercultural Communication No.15, March 2011)

(i)Tokoyo: An important view of the world in Japanese myths, ancient Shinto, and Shinto. Tokoyo (the perpetual world) is opposite of Utsushiyo (the actual world), meaning an eternal and unchanging, holy precincts. It also perceived as the afterlife world.

Norihito Nakatani
An architectural historian, professor of Waseda University, and the principal researcher of this study. His chief literary works include Revisiting Kon Wajiroʼs ʻJapanese Housesʼ (as part of the Rekiseikai group, Heibonsha, 2012), Severalness+: The Cycle of Things and Human Beings (Kajima Institute Publishing Co.,Ltd., 2011), and The Study of Classical Literature, the Meiji Period, and Architects (Ikki Shuppan, 1993).