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Chigi 千木                                                                  May 21, 2017

The literal meaning of "chigi" is thousand trees. In shrines they are the forked finicles (OED: an ornament which surmounts the apex of a roof) seen on many shrine buildings. The chigi is usually paired with the katsuogi. In the photos the chigi are the "V"-shapes pointing upwards at the end of the roof, the katsuogi the horizontal poles placed at right angles along the roof.  The chigi and the katsuogi are now found only on shrine roofs and their presence, or lack of, is considered to be one of the simplest ways to distinguish shrines from Buddhist temples. Both date back to the Jōmon Period, when they had structural functions although they are now almost purely decorative.  One indicative function they still fulfil is showing whether the enshrined deity is male or female.  In the case of the chigi, where the tip of the V is cut vertically, as in the photo to the top, the deity is male, where it is cut horizontally the deity is female. For the katsuogi, the gender indicator is their number,  if it is even the deity is female, if odd male. Toyama, (Japanese, p 90) however, points out that these indicators are far from reliable, with the chigi and katsuogi determinants often contradictory. Toyama, though with tongue somewhat in cheek, also indicates another function for the chigi, He was told by an unnamed gūji that the chigi is an antenna facilitating communication between the kami in heaven and their supplicants on earth.

Hashirimizu Jinja 走水神社
素盞雄神社  Susano-o Jinja

Ema  絵馬                                                        Jan 1, 2017

lit. "Picture Horse." A small votive wooden plaque, typically 85cm X 160cm, purchased at the shrine office. The price is usually between ¥100 - ¥1,000, with ¥500 probably being the most common.  On the front is a picture, usually of a zodiacal animal or the kami of the shrine, though far from limited to these, along with the name of the shrine and its seal. The picture immediately to the right is the ema from my local shrine, Higashi Tamagawa Jinja, and is for the just beginning Year of the Rooster, (toridoshi). The back is left blank, allowing those so inclined to write a message to the kami asking for things such as favourable examination results or success in finding a soul mate. If not taken home as a souvenir they are often hung on a special rack, emakakejo,  in the shrine. The nearby examples are from my own 300+ collection of ema: many of the individual shrine descriptions have in situ examples.  

Higashi Tamagawa Jinja  東玉川神社
Hashirimizu Jinja 走水神社

Koma-inu 狛犬

Koma-inu is usually translated as "lion dog;" They are the stone statues depicting such a mixed animal most often seen in  front of shrines. They are usually 1 - 2 metres in height though there are some as tall as 3 metres. They originated in China, probably in the T'ang dynasty, as models of lions, most likely Indian ones, and possibly originating from as far back as the Sphinx. The Chinese ones are known as shishi, meaning  "lion," which is still used in Okinawa; passing through Korea on their way to Japan they were given the name ”高麗犬” (also read as koma-inu), and in Japan the canine  element became more marked.  Toyama says that the more koma-ish/ leonine the koma-inu is the higher the plinth on which it stands is likely to be, the more inu-ish/canine the koma-inu the lower the plinth (bibliography 21), p70.

The first koma-inu made in Japan in the Nara and Heian imperial courts were carved from wood and used among other things as throne guardians. Unlike the koma-inu we see at shrines the pairs used as throne guardians consisted of one koma-inu and one shishi. The oldest pair of

koma-inu   狛犬

stone koma-inu found in Japan is usually  said to be the one behind the South Gate of the Todaiji Temple in Nara. Takuki points out that both items in this pair were shishi and that they had been brought from China: the oldest authentic Japanese pair  dates to 1405 and is to be seen at the Kumano Shrine in Ichikawamisato in Yamanashi-ken (p23).

They almost invariably come in pairs, and are usually carved from stone, although some, particularly in the Kansai region,  are bronze castings. Their function is to protect the shrines against evil spirits and they are most often seen in two places, close to the torii, one on either side, facing out, or in front of the Haiden, often facing each other. The one on the left of the pair usually has an open mouth, and is thought to be uttering the sound "ah," the one on the right with a closed mouth "um," together the first and last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, Alpha and Omega, the sacred syllable aum. There are many other fine distinctions and I shall be illustrating some of these in due course.


Fujizuka 富士塚

​Probably not so much a shrine appurtenance as an appendage but in the context of this site this seems the most appropriate place to make this entry. Fujizuka (lit. "Fuji Mound") appeared in the Edo Period along with the Mt. Fuji cult. They were small, usually man-made mounds designed to resemble Mt. Fuji and its ten stations and allow those people who for whatever reason were unable to make the trip to Mt. Fuji itself to ascend the mound in the same spirit as they would ascend the sacred mountain and to worship the kami of Mt. Fuji from afar. They are mostly found in and around the Kantō  region and this web site (Japanese) identifies 870, 300 of which are in Saitama. Sengen Jinja are the shrines most closely associated with the Mt. Fuji cult and the main deity enshrined at them is Konohanasakuya-hime, a female kami. There are over 1,300 Sengen Jinja  


Shingaku 神額 & Shagōhyō 社号表

The shingaku and the shagōhyō are the main tools by which a shrine identifies itself to the passing world. The shingaku is a frame, sometimes wood, sometimes stone,  bearing the shrine's name and hung at the top centre of the torii. Not infrequently though they are sometimes so weather-worn as to be illegible. Most individual shrine descriptions in this site will feature the shingaku near the top. The shagōhyō is a stone pillar, very occasionally wood, roughly the height of a person, placed in front of the shrine and bearing its name. 

Shagōhyō 社号表
社号表  Shagōhyō 

Hengaku 扁額

These are the signs indicating the shrine's name hung in front of the prayer hall. The word is sometimes mistakenly used in place of shingaku.

Hengaku 扁額
扁額  Hengaku

Temizuya 手水舎

Lit. "Hand Water Hut." A small open structure where people intending to worship at the shrine ritually purify themselves by rinsing their hands and mouth using clear running water. A bamboo ladle is often provided to help the process.

Temizuya 手水舎

Torii 鳥居


The torii is usually defined as the traditional gateway to a Japanese shrine, but I think this is a mistake. Gateway implies the presence of a gate, which in turn implies the capability of being locked shut. This is very much not the case with a torii: I can't recall ever seeing one that could be locked, although I have very occasionally seen small shrines in urban areas with gates separate from the torii which can be locked. The simplest way to describe the shape of a basic torii is as very close to pi if the right and left legs were  straightened out:



The most important function of the torii is to mark the change from the everyday to the divine.


Kawaguchi and Ikeda (Japanese bibliography ​25) identify 22 different types of torii. They are broadly divided into two categories, Myōjin (明神) and Shinmyō (神明). I will be giving examples of each of these in due course, the first I am presenting is the Ryōbu (literally "both parts") torii. This features the addition of four pillars at the bottom about half the height of the two main pillars (hashira) effectively strengthening the entire structure. The  photo at top right is from the Ouchi-dani Jinja (樗谿神社)  in Tottori-shi. Almost certainly Japan's most famous ryōbu torii. if not most famous torii per se,  is the one in Itsukushima Jinja (厳島神社) in Hiroshima-ken's Hatsukaichii-shi (photo from Wikipedia).

Ryobu Torii
Itsukushima Jinja
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