Japan Shinto Shrine Dragon

I spotted this wonderful dragon carving while visiting a Shinto shrine in the Japanese port city of Shimizu. The shrine is called Minowa Inari Jinja as is nestled amidst a community of old homes and shop along the river and just inland from the sea. I visited the shrine on the last day of the year in 2009 and I was able to experience a slightly excited atmosphere as the shrine prepared for many visitors later in the evening and in the hours leading up to midnight. Traditional music was being played over loudspeakers and on an impulse I captured this brief footage of the dragon carving above the shrine’s business entrance. Dragons are called ryuu in Japanese and I always enjoy encountering their images in art, carvings and sculpture whenever I go exploring in Japan.

The area around this shrine was the birthplace and home to Japan’s Robin Hood character Shimizu no Jirocho (1820-1893). Over 100 films have been produced in Japan telling the story of Jirocho’s life and times and how he organized and helped the city of Shimizu make the transition from a feudal community to a modern city in the new and open Japan.

Regarding the object clutched in the dragon’s claw the following information from YouTube user “TacNguyen” helps explain the meaning:

“it was believed the ball or pearl represents the dragon’s reign over all rivers, lakes and seas and held all of the dragons power within. In some stories a pearl was given to a magistrate after saving the life of the serpent son of the dragon king. In others stories mostly in Korea the stone or jewel is embedded on the dragons forehead and had healing abilities.”

Shinto is one of the two major religions of Japan (the other is Buddhism).  Shinto is often considered to be the native religion of Japan, and is as old as Japan itself.  The name Shinto means “the way of the gods.”  Shinto is a pantheistic religion, in which many thousands of major and minor gods are thought to exist.  The Japanese have built thousands of shrines (jinja) throughout the country to honor and worship these gods.  Some shrines are huge and are devoted to important deities.  Other shrines are small and may be easily missed when strolling along roads in the countryside.

Shinto gods are called kamiKami are thought to have influence on human affairs, and for this reason many Japanese make regular pilgrimage to community shrines in order to offer prayers to local kami.  The act of prayer involves approaching the shrine structure, passing through the gate-like torii, cleansing the hands and mouth with water and possibly ascending stairs to the main entrance of the shrine.  Usually without entering the shrine the worshipper will throw some coins into a stone or wooden collection box and then rattle the suzu bell which is at the top of a long hemp rope.  The worshiper grabs hold of the rope and shakes it back and forth causing the copper bell at the top to rattle.  This is thought to get the attention of the shrine god.  The worshipper then bows twice, claps his or her hands twice and then bows again.  In addition, the worshipper may clasp their hands together in silent prayer.  Shintoism and Buddhism have managed to find a comfortable coexistence in Japan.  Evidence of this harmonious relationship is found in the fact that that most Japanese are married in a Shinto shrine, but buried by a Buddhist priest.


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About softypapa
I love to walk and think.

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