Akutsu Hachiman Shrine

Akutsu Hachiman Shrine

Takahata, Yamagata

Akutsu Hachiman Shrine
Akutsu Hachiman Shrine is a popular spot to view cherry blossoms in the spring

In Shinto lore, Hachiman is the god of archery, warriors, and battles and shrines devoted to him are said to rally the aid of the god to bring success and victory during times of war. Akutsu Hachiman Shrine was built in 860 under the leadership of the legendary Buddhist priest Ennin and through the support of the local lords of the area. Ennin’s goal at the time was to erect 3,000 Buddhas in the eastern part of the country, and so at the time of its founding, the temple was no more than one of humble local standings.

During the Gasannen War (1083-1087), forces of the Kiyohara clan and the Minamoto clan clashed, and chaos broke out in southern Tohoku where the City of Takahata lies today. While a peaceful agreement between the two parties was attempted, when negations went south, and the conflict dragged on. It was then that the governor of Mutsu Province, Minamoto no Yoshiie, called upon the power of the Hachiman Shrine, which is said to have delivered him a swift, decisive victory on a silver platter that ended the conflict once and for all. Since then, the shrine has become highly revered and has been a prominent place of worship for warriors and warlords throughout Tohoku.

Blessed by a sea of sunflowers in the summertime, shaded by crimson groves of maple in the autumn, carpeted by a blanket of snow during winter, and festooned with cherry blossoms in the spring, today the crown jewel and pride of Takahata is the three-tiered pagoda standing proud on the center island of Akutsu Hachiman Shrine. Originally constructed in 1625, this designated prefectural historic treasure features a two-storied roof as well as detailed wooden beam endpoints carved into the heads of lions and elephants.

In 1790, the original pagoda collapsed due to typhoon winds; however, seven years later, a new shrine tower was constructed, which is the one that still stands today. True to the original style of the shrine, the new pagoda was built using the Kanawatsugi (金輪継) technique, which is a traditional style of Japanese carpentry where the various wooden pieces all perfectly interlock and not a single nail is used. Although the building has been well restored and receives frequent maintenance for preservation, it still retains much of its ancient charm and is a standing remnant of the time in which it was built.

Akutsu Hachiman Shrine
Even in the winter, Akutsu Hachiman Shrine still holds a stoic presence

Every year on May 3rd, Akutsu Hachiman Shrine holds its annual spring festival, where shrine maidens draped in red will perform the ancient Yamatomai dance and the Taumai dance on the shrine stage. The shrine maidens will also sing, play the koto, and perform a fan dance, so it is well worth a visit. Each year, in addition to the shrine maidens, several elementary-aged girls will perform alongside them as well. The purpose of this spring ritual is to pray for a successful rice planting season which will lead to a plentiful harvest come fall.

Once autumn arrives, however, the annual autumn festival is held on September 15th, and the Ennen no Mai dance is performed by elementary school boys in prayer for a good harvest. Other things that are prayed for during the festival are national security, safety, and longevity. Yabusame Horse Archery is also on display during this festival. Both festivals are considered intangible folk cultural property designated by the prefecture and are an experience like no other.

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