2014-03-20

Naganuma Hachimansha

On an early spring evening, I took Dale the border collie on her dog walk after a light rain storm. One of the experiences I like about living in Japan is that there are numerous Shinto shrines in almost every neighborhood. Most shrines are not famous per se, but are intricate parts of their local neighborhood and community.


Naganuma Hachimansha shrine is one such shrine. Unlike most shrines that I have visited, Naganuma Hachimansha has been painted white with red trim, which reflects more of a Buddhist temple design or architecture than a standard Shinto design.


During the post-war development of the Japanese economy, landscaping, city planning, etc., took backseat to the need for new homes, building industries, and so on. One effect has been the loss of traditional values when building new communities, which included the destruction of Japan's beautiful landscape that was once abundant. Temples and shrines are often enclaves of living museums where we can see what the local flora and fauna consisted of before the bulldozers moved in. At many shrines, you can enjoy the sight of huge trees with trunks so huge that you'd need several people to clasp the trunk arm-in-arm. Fortunately, caretakers at many, but not all, shrines take exquisite care of their inherited natural heritage. I hope these two trees will always continue to be alive and well here at this shrine for future generations to enjoy.


I don't know exactly why, but many shrines tend to be located on a hill. Their is a tradition of the Gods residing in the hills and mountains, from which the primary source of life -- water for the rice paddies -- comes from. So, I can only wonder if shrines are built to enshrine those very Gods in their own backyards. 



For most shrines, you can count on climbing a set of stone stairs. Even though concrete steps may have been a more economical choice, maybe the stones are used for steps at a time when concrete was not readily available, or someone had the foresight to realize that some stones will not only outlast concrete, but outlast the lives of the builders themselves.


Using a Sony Handycam to take these shots at evening has resulted in photos with a high ISO, which although great for catching the shot, tends to create a lot of noise into the shot.


Although I typically dislike modern utilities showing up in my photos of traditional landscapes in Japan, I thought this shot was a little interesting. It is not exactly clear that the power line in this shot is actually a power line. One could imagine a clothesline, or maybe a wire to support the stone lantern.


Shrines are often left unattended by a regular caretaker. Members of the local community, typically retired, older individuals, are the main caretakers who volunteer their time to clean and maintain upkeep of the Shrine grounds. I often wish there was someone with some in-depth knowledge of the shrine. One question I would like to ask is what is the meaning of the carved openings in this stone lantern. Are they strictly decorative? Are they symbolic? Why is the top of this lantern more rounded on top and less angular as what is seen at other shrines? So many unanswered questions.


After all these years in Japan, I still struggle with the written language. However, even if I were functionally literate in the written language, I have heard that it would still be difficult to properly read and decipher the kanji characters used on some of these stone inscriptions due to the use of older forms of characters and without any context, one might not understand what is being read even if they were able to read the characters correctly. That mystery alone is intriguing enough for me to be constantly tantalized by what I see at almost every shrine throughout the country. 


The roofline of this shrine is quite similar to other shrines you can see throughout Japan, both large and small. The extensive use of white paint makes this shrine somewhat peculiar if not a little strange.


Another nice thing about shrines is that there are typically more than one deity enshrined at the shrine grounds. The main deity is housed in a smaller building behind the main hall that we see when we approach the shrine. And behind the main structure, you can find small caves or smaller "mini shrines" near or behind the main shrine housing other deities. These stairs are behind the main structure leading to a smaller shrine that is even further up the hill.


Ise Shrine, one of the few shrines that is officially visited by members of Japan's imperial family, has a roof design much like the design shown in this shot. It's perplexing how the roof of Naganuma Hachimansha has a very traditional roof design, while the lower part of the structure looks more like a Buddhist temple. 


The rain brings out a nice dark greenish tone from the copper leafing on this tiled roof. 


Again, I wish I could ask someone what the symbolic meaning is behind the use of these kinds of roof ornaments. 


This is a shot of the mini shrine housing an "auxiliary" deity up on the hill directly behind the main shrine structure.


Leaving the mini shrine and heading back down to the main shrine. The irregular alignment of these stone steps might be reflective of how the ground has shifted over the years or might be a result of small changes in the terrain as a result of earthquakes.



With night approaching, some security lights automatically lit up each time I approached the shrine. 


Dale is the main reason I am even here at this shrine in the first place. She loves climbing the steps leading up to the shrine, and gives me a break from the monotony of taking the same route day in and day out during our dog walks.



Another example of the new and the old.


After leaving the shrine, a local home had a cute looking, tiny flower garden with even a smaller stretch of wrought iron gating. 


A shot of the shrine with normal camera settings.


The same shot after some digital editing on the computer.

長沼八幡社
〒244-0841神奈川県横浜市栄区長沼町字改正ノ七775
Established in April 1605

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