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"Miyajima" (Shrine Island) is the popular name for Itsukushima, an island in the western part of the Seto Inland Sea, in the northwestern sector of Hiroshima Bay. It used to be part of the town Miyajima, but in 2005 it was merged with the city of Hatsukaichi. Because the island is sacred, trees are not cut for lumber; deer, regarded as messengers of the gods, and monkeys roam freely throughout the town. Since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near the main shrine; pregnant women are supposed to leave the island as the day of delivery approaches, as are the terminally ill and the very elderly. Burials on the island are forbidden. The shamoji, a large, flat, paddle-shaped wooden (bamboo, lacquer, or plastic) spoon used to stir and serve cooked rice without impairing the taste, and to mix vinegar into the rice for sushi and to crush vegetables such as garlic and cucumbers, was invented by a monk who lived on the island. It is a symbol of unity between a mother and wife and is sometimes passed down from one generation to the next to symbolize the family duties that were handed down. In 1551, Sue Harukata, a local warlord vassal, revolted against Ōuchi Yoshitaka, forced him to commit suicide, and installed the next clan lord as his puppet. Out of loyalty to Yoshitaka, in 1554 one of his vassals, Mōri Motonari, rebelled and the following year defeated Sue at Miyajima, then built a fort ("Miyao Castle") on Itsukushima. Eventually he defeated the Chūgoku area's main clans, Amago and Ōuchi, and gained control controlled over the the entire region.
Itsukushima gets its "Miyajima" nickname from the number of important religious sites on the island. The "floating" Itsukushima-jinja torii is the island's most familiar landmark. Because the island itself was sacred, in order to maintain its purity commoners were not allowed to set foot on it for much of its history. To allow pilgrims to visit, the shrine was built like a pier over the water, so that it appeared to float, separate from the land. The red entrance gate (torii) was built over the water for a similar reason: Commoners had to steer their boats through the torii before approaching the shrine. Built of decay-resistant camphor wood, the gate is about 16 m high, and the current one was built in 1875. The placement of an additional leg in front of and behind each main pillar reflects the style of Ryōbu Shintō (dual Shinto), a medieval school of esoteric Japanese Buddhism associated with the Shingon sect. The shrine dates back to the 7th century reign of Suiko, Japan's first empress regnant. She was one of Japan's first Buddhist rulers (she took nun's vows shortly before she took the throne) and issued the Flourishing Three Treasures Edict which officially recognized Buddhism. The current shrine only goes back to the mid-16th century, but it is modeled after a design that was established in 1168 by the warlord Taira no Kiyomori, who created the first samurai-dominated administrative government a year later: In 1169 he was appointed daijō daijin, the chief minister of the government, and two years later he arranged for Takakura-tenno, the emperor, to marry his daughter Tokuko; their first son, Tokihito, was born in 1178. The next year, Kiyomori staged a coup, forced his rivals to reign all their posts, banished them, replaced them his own allies and relatives, and imprisoned his former patron, the "retired emperor" Go-Shirakawa; in 1180 he forced Takakura to abdicate in favor of 2-year-old Tokihito (Antoku-tenno). Prince Mochihito, Takakura's brother, immediately the rival Minamoto clan to revolt, leading to the Genpei War. In 1181, Kiyomori became ill (according to the period's greatest literary work, the "Tales of the Heike," his fever was so high that anyone who went near him was burned by the heat) and died. Four years later the Taira clan's power was destroyed by the victorious Minamoto. Kiyomori lavished great wealth upon the shrine, and he liked to show the place to visiting personages. It contains the "Heike Nōkyō" ("Sutras dedicated by the Taira House of Taira"), 32 scrolls on which Kiyomori, his sons, and other family members copied the Lotus Sutra and other sutras have been copied by Kiyomori, his sons, and other members of the family. The shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, the Shinto god of seas and storms, brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Near the main shrine is a noh stage (dating from 1590) used to pay homage to the gods through the ritual acting out of key events in Shinto myth.
Next to the Itsukushima shrine is the Daiganji Temple, which is open to the public only once every year, on June 17. Like the Itsukushima-jinja, it may date to the 6th century, but it was reconstructed around 1200. It is dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten and the three Buddhas important to Shingon Buddhism: Gautama Buddha, Wisdom Buddha, and Mercy Buddha. Benzaiten is a syncretic entity with a Buddhist and a Shinto side, but she first appeared as the Hindu goddess Saraswati, and is often depicted holding a biwa, a traditional Japanese lute, just as Saraswati generally holds a veena. Worship of Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th-8th centuries, mainly via the Chinese translations of the "Sutra of Golden Light," which has a section devoted to her. The original characters used to write her name read "Biancaitian" in Chinese and reflect her role as the goddess of eloquence. Because the "Sutra of Golden Light" promised protection of the state, in Japan she became a protector-deity, at first of the state and then of people. When the Sino-Japanese characters used to write her name changed to "Benzaiten," emphasizing her role in bestowing monetary fortune, she became one of the Seven Gods of Fortune (fukujin). In Shinto, as Ichikishima-hime-no-mikoto, she is a female kami, and in Tendai Buddhism she is the essence of kami Ugajin, whose effigy she sometimes carries on her head along with a torii. As a consequence, she is sometimes called Uga Benzaiten (or Uga Benten). Saraswati was the Hindu goddess of of everything that flows: water, time, words, speech, eloquence, music, art, and by extension, knowledge, wisdom, learning, and wealth. She first appeared in the "Rigveda" as the killer of the three-headed Vritra also known as Ahi ("snake"), and in Japan is strongly associated with rivers, snakes, and dragons. Acording to the "Enoshima Engi," a history of the shrines on Enoshima written by Kōkei in 1047, Benzaiten is the 3rd daughter of the 5-headed dragon-king of Munetsuchi (lake without heat"), known in Sanskrit as Anavatapta, the lake lying at the center of the world. Earlier documents linked her to the periodic appearance of comets, such as the one that appeared in 552 and 593.
On a hill above the Itsukushima shrine, Toyotomi Hideyoshi built the Senjō-kaku; in the 16th century, this son of a peasant foot soldier became Oda Nobunaga's sandal bearer and kitchen manager and rose to become one of his principal generals and negotiators during that clan lord's rise to power. In 1576 Nobunaga sent him against Himeji Castle to conquer the Chūgoku region from the Mōri clan. When Nobunaga and his eldest son were assassinated in 1582, Hideyoshi made peace with the Mōri and defeated the assassin, Akechi Mitsuhide, at the battle of Yamazaki, then arranged to have young Hidenobu installed at the head of the Oda clan. The clan's main general, Shibata Katsuie, revolted the following year but was defeated, and Hideyoshi took control of most of the Oda assets. Nobunaga's other son, Nobukatsu, allied with Tokugawa Ieyasu, but, after neither side was able to gain a military victory, Hideyoshi and Nobukatsu made peace, and Ieyasu became Hideyoshi's vassal. In 1585, he became kampaku (imperial regent), and the imperial court formally gave him the Toyotomi name the following year. He spent the next few years establishing imperial control over the rebellious clans, and in 1588 he banned peasants from owning weapons inorder o prevent armed rebellion. The 1590 siege of Odawara against the Hōjō clan in the Kantō region eliminated the last resistance to Hideyoshi's authority and consolidated imperial rule over all of Japan. During the siege, Hideyoshi offered to exchange Ieyasu the eight Hōjō-ruled provinces in the Kantō region in exchange for the submission of Ieyasu's five provinces to himself. In 1592 he resigned as kampaku to take the title of taikō (retired regent), and his adopted son, his nephew Hidetsugu, succeeded him as kampaku; but "retirement" in east Asian cultures of the time merely served to enhance one's actual authority. However, after the nirth of Hideyoshi's on in 1593, Hidetsugu was exiled and ordered to commit suicide in 1595; his family members were purged, including several children and 31 women. In 1592 his forces invaded Chosun (Korea), quickly occupied Seoul, and within four months controlled much of Korea and had a route into Manchuria, but a year later China sent 43,000 troops against the Japanese, took Pyongyang, and marched against Seoul, only to be defeated in the capital's suburbs. After a period of fruitless negotiations, Hideyoshi renewed the Korean campaign, and in June 1598, the Japanese turned back several Chinese offensives but were not able to achieve a decisive victory, and Korean guerrillas continued to harrass them. Hideyoshi's death in September 1598 was kept secret, and the forces in Korea were ordered home. But Tokugawa Ieyasu acted quickly to secure power for himself, defeated the Toyotomi forces at Sekigahara in 1600, and was proclaimed shogun in 1602; his dynasty ruled Japan (and mostly closed it off to the rest of the world) until 1868.
Daishō-in (or Daisyō-in), near the top of Mt. Misen,contains a flame which has been been burning since its foundation in 806 by Kūkai (known posthumously as Kōbō Daishi, "The Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching), the 9th-century founder of the tantric Shingon-shū ("True Word") school of Buddhism, one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia. ("Shingon" is the Japanese reading of "Zhēnyán" [True Words], the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit "mantra.") The doctrine was originally expounded by the Universal Buddha Vairocana, but the first human to receive the doctrine was Nagarjuna in India, from whom it was passed down to six more patriarchs. Gonsō had brought from China an esoteric mantra of the bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha, the "Kokūzō-gumonjihō" ("Ākāśagarbha Memory-Retention Practice"), which he taught to 22-year old Kūkai; for the next seven years, Kūkai went into the woods to recite it. Then, in a dream, he was told him that the "Mahavairocana Sutra," which had only recently become available in Japan, contained the spiritual answers he was seeking. But most of it was still in Sanskrit, and the translated part was difficult to understand. In 804 the government sent him to China to gain better understanding of the text (another famous monk, Saichō, the founder of the rival Tendai school, was a member of the same expedition). He studied Chinese calligraphy and poetry, as well as Sanskrit, and was initiated into esoteric Buddhism by the 7th patriarch, Hui-kuo, who had fot it from the 6th patriarch, Amoghavajra. Kūkai claimed that his years of mastering the "Kokuzō-Gumonjiho" enabled him to learn all of Hui-kuo's teachings in only three months. When he returned to Japan in 806, it was as the school's 8th patriarch. He also became famous as a calligrapher and the creator of "kana," the syllabary that, along with "kanji" (Chinese characters), serves as Japanese writing; he also wrote the "Iroha," one of the most famous poems in Japanese, which uses every phonetic kana syllable once. Kammu-tenno had moved the capital from Nara to Heian (Kyoto) in 784 and commissioned two new temples, Tō-ji (Eastern Temple) and Sai-ji (Western Temple), which were still unfinished. In 823 Saga-tenno put Kūkai in charge of completing and operating Tō-ji. The next emperor, Junna-tenno, gave the Shingon sect exclusive use of it and the right to retain 50 monks there. Kūkai completed his monumental "Jūjūshinron" (Treatise on The Ten Stages of the Development of Mind), in 830, and in 834 he established a chapel in the palace, which allowed Shingon to be incorporated into the official court calendar of events. In 835, two months before he died, his monastery on Mt. Kōya was allowed to ordain three monks a year, marking the site's transition from a private institution to a state-sponsored one. Then he died, at 62; instead of being cremated, he was entombed on the mountain's eastern peak. High-ranking monks still take him food every day and change his clothes, believing he is not dead, merely meditating.
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