by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No. 7

The Miyoshino (Shinto) Shrine, which is located very near the remains of Kawagoe Castle

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the Miyoshino (Shinto) Shrine. This shrine is located very near the remaining part of Kawagoe Castle, "Honmaru-goten," which I introduced to you in the previous chapter. This is number seven in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The "Tale of Ise" and Kawagoe
The Miyoshino Shrine is called "Tenjin-sama" by the natives of Kawagoe. On the right hand side, at the entrance to the narrow path leading up to the shrine, you will find a stone monument with a 31-syllable Japanese poem from the "Tale of Ise." This tale was written in the Heian Period but the writer has not been identified. It covers 125 stories about the life and romances of a certain man as well as 31-syllable poems by Ariwara-no-Narihira. Narihira was born in 825 as grandchild of Emperor Heizei. I wonder if Narihira could have come to Kawagoe from Kyoto?
Narrow path to the Miyoshino Shrine
Narrow path to the Miyoshino Shrine
Let's look at part of the "Tale of Ise."
"Long ago, a man wandered aimlessly and came to the province of Musashi. He visited a girl at her house under cover of night. (...) Her house was located in Miyoshino, Iruma County (Kawagoe)."
Next, come two poems mentioning "Miyoshino" and a wild goose in a paddy field.
From the tale, we can assume the following: The girl's father was a person of ordinary rank but her mother was proud of her good birth in the Fujiwara family, which was strongly related to the Emperor's family. Since the man, who could have been Narihira, paid visits to her daughter she was very pleased. In the first poem, the mother indicated that she would like to see them officially married. In the second poem, the man, who was playboy, sends a form letter reply saying "I will never forget her."
"Miyoshino" means "sacred beautiful wide land." It is said that Kawagoe then was very beautiful because of the many paddy fields along the Iruma River. It became famous for visits by wild geese.
There are many theories about where "Miyoshino" was located and "Uwado" near Kasumigaseki Station, next to Kawagoe-shi Station on the Tobu-tojo Line, is a strong contender. However, a man who could have been Narihira and came to Kawagoe from Kyoto might have visited the Miyoshino Shrine as well. This is because the shrine was established in 807 in the period of Narihira's grandfather. He might have glanced down over the beautiful green paddy fields from the Miyoshino Shrine.
Remainder of the Jomon Period
They say the area on which the shrine is located was under the sea in the Jomon Period. There is a shell mound called Kosemba Kaizuka east of the Kita-in Temple. In excavations conducted in 1990 and 1993, pieces of shijimi clam, mud snail, clam and oyster shells were excavated and it has been verified that this shell mound existed at the beginning of the Jomon Period (6,000 years ago).
A canoe that was found in the Iruma River several decades ago and is currently exhibited in the Kawagoe City Museum is also regarded as being as old as the late Jomon Period (about 3,000 years old).
A canoe thought to be as old as the late Jomon period by courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
A canoe thought to be as old as the late Jomon period
by courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
Narrow Path to "Tenjin-sama"
In Japan, there is a famous old song for children, "To-ryanse." The song tells of how difficult it is to get to a shrine and how scary it is to come back. How should we interpret the meaning of this song? Some people think as follows: A boy of 5 goes to the shrine for a ceremony and swears that he will live honestly even though it may be a hard life; Once you take an oath, live honestly even though it will be tough; This could be the meaning of "scary."
There is one opinion that this song was "born" very long ago based on the Miyoshino Shrine. However, some people say that the song is not specially related to Kawagoe. But I would like to support the former opinion. Children in Kawagoe will love and sing this old song, thinking it was "born" in Kawagoe. I hope this old song will continue to be passed down from one child to the next.
Why don't you walk the narrow path to the Miyoshino Shrine? You may feel Ariwara-no Narihira or meet some Jomon people. The shine was re-established in 1624 by the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, and repaired in 1656.
The Miyoshino Shrine
The Miyoshino Shrine
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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