by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.27

The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine

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 Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine. This is number twenty-seven in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is cherished by Kawagoe natives and called "Ohikawasama." "Ohikawasama" is the Shinto deity for the whole of Kawagoe, they say. What or who is a local Shinto deity? It is a god(s) or its shrine that guards the local area and makes the spirits living under the ground in the castle and village calm down. In Japan, there is an annual celebration which is a gala day for honoring boys of three or five years old and girls of three or seven. When I turned three and seven, my parents celebrated on November 15. First, my parents took me to visit the Miyoshino Shrine, which is dedicated to our Shinto deity street protector, and then we paid a visit to the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine.
The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
"Hikawa" and Kojiki
It is said that the Hikawa Shrine in Kawagoe is named after the Hikawa River in Izumo (now in Shimane Prefecture). Though the Kanji are different, the pronunciation is the same. This means that long, long ago, people from Izumo must have settled in Kawagoe. In a very old writing called Kojiki, there is a story related to the Hikawa River in Izumo. In the legend, "Susano-no-mikoto," a male god, killed "Yamata-no-orochi," a monster snake, which had eight heads and tails. The Kojiki, consisting of three volumes, is the oldest literary work in Japan. It was produced in 712 during the Nara Period (710-784). They say that Hieda-no-are recited from memory tales of ancient times and the world of the gods. Commanded by Emperor Temmu, it was O-no-yasumaro who incorporated the stories into the Kojiki.
"Susano-no-mikoto" and Hikawa Shrines
According to the Kojiki, "Susano-no-mikoto" was the child of "Izanagi-no-mikoto (a male god)" and "Izanami-no-mikoto (a female god)" and a brother of "Amaterasu-omikami (the Sun-Goddess of Japan)." Due to "Susano-no-mikoto's brutal behavior, he was banished from "Takamagahara," which was the place for gods, and went down to Izumo. There he fought with and killed the monster "Yamata-no-orochi" to rescue "Kushinadahime-no-mikoto (a female god)." Then "Susano-no-mikoto" and "Kushinadahime-no-mikoto" married and lived happily ever after. This is one story from the Kojiki. We do not know what the world of gods was like or if it really existed.
It seems true that "Hikawa" in Kawagoe got its name from Hikawa in Izumo because the shrine is dedicated to worshipping the Izumo gods, including "Susano-no-mikoto" and "Kushinadahime-no-mikoto." There are about 250 Hikawa shrines worshipping the Izumo gods in Saitama, Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefectures. In each Shinto shrine, there is an object of worship, such as a mirror or something from nature. What the object of worship is in the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is not known, but they say it might be a spiritual stone that came from the Iruma River. From ancient times, rivers have had special significance to the people since they support life.
The sacred water
The sacred water
The sacred trees
The sacred trees
Establishment of the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
It is said that the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine was established in the middle of 6th century. In 1948, a stone (talc) sword, a tool used in a ritual, was excavated within the site of the shrine. This verified that the timing in the legend was true.
The Sanctuary Building of
the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine and Edward S. Morse
The construction of the current sanctuary building of the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine was started in 1842 and completed in 1849. It is designated as a Saitama Prefectural Cultural Property. The master carpenter was Indo Sutegoro, who was in service to Matsudaira Naritsune, Lord of Kawagoe Castle. The carving was done by Shimamura Genzo, the head of an Edo Carving School. When you go to the back of the building, you can see the wonderful carvings through the fence. When Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925), an American archaeologist, came to Kawagoe in 1882, he visited the shrine and was struck with admiration. Edward S. Morse is famous for his discovery of the Shell Mounds of Omori. After viewing the sanctuary building of the shrine, he wrote in his diary: "They are art works that would be displayed in glass boxes in a museum in America; there are no such art works in America." However, it took more than 70 years after his visit for Japanese people to designate the sanctuary building as a cultural property.
The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s Sanctuary Building by courtesy of the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
The Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine’s Sanctuary Building
by courtesy of the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
Edward Sylvester Morse
Edward Sylvester Morse
Collection of Maine Historical Society
The main ritual of the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is "Kawagoe Hikawa Matsuri (Festival)" or "Kawagoe Matsuri." Many floats called "dashi" are displayed and pulled by people on the 3rd weekend of every October. Then, Kawagoe is enveloped in an enthusiastic mood of festival.
"The dashi event of the Kawagoe Hikawa Matsuri" was designated as UNESCO's World Intangible Cultural Heritage on December 1, 2016. Why don't you visit the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine?
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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