Izumo: Transfer Of The Land
There are many myths set in Izumo, and we think that Izumo is a very important place in Japanese myth. Izumo-Taisha Shrine is dedicated to “Okuninushi”, the deity who used to form the land of Japan, and Izumo was the base of his activities.
As I introduced before, Ise-Jingu Shrine is located in due east of Izanagi-Jingu Shrine in Awaji Island, which means the direction that the sun rises in spring and autumn. Similarly, Izumo-Taisha Shrine is located in the slightly north from the due west, which corresponds to the direction that the sun sets at the summer solstice. I think it very mysterious that the movement of the sun is closely associated with the location of these old shrines. Let me introduce the world of Izumo myths.
“Yamata no Orochi” (Eight-headed giant snake)
After being expelled from the heaven, “Susanoo” descended on Izumo. He met a crying beautiful girl “Kushinada-hime” and her old parents who told that the eight-headed giant snake came here to eat their daughters every year and that the snake was about to come to eat “Kushinada-hime”, the youngest and last remaining daughter. “Susanoo” decided to kill the snake in exchange for taking “Kushinada-hime” as his wife.
He prepared eight tubs filled with liquor and waited for the snake. The snake found the tubs and put each head into the tub to drink liquor and fell asleep at last. He attacked the snake with his sword and succeeded in killing it. During the battle with the snake he found a wonderful sword in the tail, and presented it to “Amaterasu” in the heaven. It is called the “Kusanagi” sword, one of the three sacred treasures of the Japanese Imperial Court.
“Susanoo” got married to “Kushinada-hime” and was blessed with many offspring including “Okuninushi” and many elder brothers. One day the brothers and “Okuninushi” took a trip to make a marriage proposal to a beautiful female deity “Yagami-hime” in Inaba, and met a hare suffering from scraped skin. Although the brothers cheated it to hurt more, “Okuninushi” told the hare how to heal the wound. This is the story called “Hare of Inaba”.
“Yagami-hime” in Inaba accepted the proposal by “Okuninushi”. The brothers were angry to hear that and killed him at last. However, his mother asked “Kamimusubi”, one of the three deities of creation in the heaven, to help him and he came back to life again. He decided to visit “Susanoo” to avoid the brothers who did not stop chasing him.
When he came to the house of “Susanoo”, he met with “Suseri-bime”, the daughter of “Susanoo”, and they fell in love with each other soon. “Susanoo” noticed their relationship and decided to give “Okuninushi” severe trials to test him. After overcoming the trials with a help of “Suseri-bime”, he began to run way with Susanoo’s sword, bow and harp in his hands, with “Suseri-bime” on his back. “Susanoo” found him soon and told that he should drive away the brothers with the sword and the bow, marry “Suseri-bime” and build a magnificent palace to live.
After coming back to Izumo, “Okuninushi” succeeded in driving away the brothers and got married to “Suseri-bime”.
Forming of the land
When “Okuninushi” stood at Cape Miho in Izumo, he found a deity “Sukunabikona” on the boat coming across the ocean. He was a child of “Kamimusubi” who used to make “Okuninushi” come back to life, and told to be a partner of “Okuninushi” to form the land of Japan. That is why “Okuninushi” and “Sukunabikona” began to form the land of Japan together.
Transfer of the land
On the other hand, “Amaterasu” in the heaven was about to govern the land of Japan and sent a messenger “Takemikazuchi” to “Okuninushi” in Izumo. “Takemikazuchi” descended on Inasano-hama beach and told “Okuninushi” that the land of Japan should be governed by the son of “Amaterasu”, and then waited for his reply. “Okuninushi” decided to ask his sons for their opinions instead of replying by himself.
The first deity was “Kotoshironushi” fishing in the sea. After agreeing to accept the transfer of the land, he hid himself behind a green hedge in the sea.
The second was “Takeminakata”, who came to compete with “Takemikazuchi”, but was thrown as soon as he held a hand of “Takemikazuchi”. He began to get away and “Takemikazuchi” chased him down to Lake Suwa in Shinano. At last he asked “Takemikazuchi” not to kill him and accepted the transfer of the island.
After the obedience of the two deities, “Okuninushi” decided to transfer the land of Japan to the son of “Amaterasu” in exchange for building a palace with large pillars for his residence. Thus there was build a grand place in Izumo where “Okuninushi” lived a secluded life.
The grand palace with large pillars which “Okuninushi” requested in exchange for the transfer of the land is the origin of Izumo-Taisha shrine. The shrine is dedicated to “Okuninushi” and has Main Hall, Worship Hall, Kagura Hall (for Shinto music and dance) and so on in the large grounds. It is said that all of the deities in Japan get together at this shrine every October (under old calendar) to discuss matchmaking, and recently many Japanese wish for good matches here.
The old name of October in Japan is “Kanna-zuki” which means “Gods absent month”. This is because all of the deities in Japan leave for Izumo in October. However, it is called “Kamiari-zuki” which means “Gods existing month” in Izumo, where the deities get together. There is held a festival to welcome the deities from all over the country on October 10th (under old calendar) at this beach, which is located about 1km west of Izumo-Taisha shrine. “Takemikazuchi” in the myth also descended on this beach to offer “Okuninushi” the transfer of the land.
Matsue, the city located east of Izumo, has a quiet and traditional atmosphere and known as the “City of Water”. The first place to see is Matsue Castle, a symbol of this city, which is designated as a National Treasure. It is surrounded by the Horikawa River and the top floor offers you a panoramic view of Matsue city and Lake Shinji. Another recommendation is Shiomi Nawate, the street along the castle moat with a traditional atmosphere, where is preserved the samurai residence “Buke-Yashiki”, the teahouse “Meimei-An” and so on.
It is the seventh largest lake in Japan. Since it is located between Izumo and Matsue, you will see it while on the move. It is a brackish lake connected to the Sea of Japan which has many kinds of aquatic life such as clam and eel. It is also famous for its wonderful scenery of the sunset.
Tamatsukuri-onsen Hot Spring
It is an ancient hot spring located between Izumo and Matsue, which is said to be discovered by “Sukunabikona”, the deity forming the land of Japan together with “Okuninushi”.
If you go by train, you should take a bullet train “Shinkansen” and change trains at Okayama station to the limited express “Yakumo” for Izumo-shi station. After getting to Izumo-shi station, take the private Ichibata Railway and change trains at Kawato, and you will reach Izumo-taisha-mae station. Izumo-Taisha shrine is about 7 minutes’ walk from the station. There is also the overnight train called “Sunrise Izumo” which is operated between Tokyo and Izumo-shi station. It seems to be very popular among the Japanese tourists and I hope to take this train sometime.
Another option is to take a flight. There is Izumo Airport near the shrine, and it is about 35 minutes’ ride by direct bus from the airport to the shrine.
I will show you an example which departs from Kyoto. Even if you depart from other cities in Japan, you should usually get to Okayama first. I also recommend you enjoy a beautiful scenery of Lake Shinji and visit the castle town Matsue after the worship at the shrine. If you have enough time, it must be a great additional experience for you to have a rest at Tamatsukuri-onsen hot spring and visit Iwami Silver Mine which is registered as a World Heritage Site.
|1||Kyoto -> Okayama (JR Shinkansen)
Okayama -> Izumo-shi (JR Yakumo)
|2||Izumo-shi -> Izumo-taisha-mae (Ichibata Railway)
Izumo-taisha-mae -> Matsue-shinjiko-onsen (Ichibata Railway)
|3||Matsue -> Okayama (JR Yakumo)
Okayama -> Next (JR Shinkansen)