Do you know about the first emperor of Japan?
Yes, that is Emperor Jimmu, who is also known as “Iwarehiko”. He is known as the deity of the Kashihara Shrine.
In the “Kojiki” and “Nihon-shoki” (the history books of the Nara era) there are stories of “the birth of Japan” wherein Iwarehiko, who is was founder of the imperial family, came from Kyushu in the west to Yamato (current-day Nara Prefecture) and founded the country.
On the way, he stopped by at Yoshino and met a fisherman, a man with a tail who crawled out of a well, and another man with a tail who was pushing rocks out of his way as he emerged from a chasm in a massive boulder. These seem like myths, but places with connections to these stories can still be found in various parts of Yoshino.
For this article, let’s go up the Yoshino River and visit the places related to the story!
Ada-hime Shrine (Hara Town, Gojo City, Nara Prefecture)
The first place to visit is the Ada-hime Shrine.
Ada-hime Shrine is included in an old list of shrines which was composed during the Heian era (794–1185).
The main shrine and the Yasaka Shrine, which is an auxiliary structure in the complex, both have Edo era architecture (1603-1868) and are Designated Cultural Assets (restored in recent years) in Gojo City.
The deities enshrined here are Ada-hime (also called “Konohana Sakuya Hime”) and her three children, Hos’seri, Hoakari ,and Hoho-demi.
This area is the ancient “Ada village” in Uchi-gun, which is the root of the “Ada no Ukai” that appears in the story of the “Eastern Expedition of the Emperor Jimmu.” The folks who were said to have once inhabited the area (who learned the technique of using cormorant birds to catch fish), called themselves “the children of Niemotsu.” Iwarehiko met a fisherman when he arrived at the Yoshino River who called himself “Niemotsu” and claimed to be a deity and the ancestor of the fishing folk in the land of Ada.
The name of “Ada” comes from the ancient “Ada Village” in Satsuma (the western part of Kagoshima in southern Kyushu). It was also the home of Iwarehiko, and the home of the sons of Hos’seri (Ada Hayato). It is written in the “Eastern Expedition of the Emperor Jimmu” that Iwarehiko reunited with these descendents of Niemotsu (from Ada) along the Yoshino River in Nara, far from Kyushu.
The next person who Emperor Jinmu met was a man with a tail who came out of a well.
He said his name was “Ihika of Kunitsu,” the deity of Yoshino. He is the ancestor of the “Obito” clan who shows up in “Kojiki” and “Nihon-shoki.” The Obito clan called themselves the “Muraji” during the days of Emperor Tenmu, and played an active part as a leading family in the Yoshino region.
In later generations, “Ihika” is also called “Kami-hikane” or “Mihika-hime”.
There are 2 locations for “Ihika’s well” that can be visited; the first is located near the south shore of the Yoshino River and the other is in the deep mountains of Kawakami Village.
The kanji characters for “Ihika” is the same as another place name known as “ikari” which, according to the “Yamatoshi” (which was published in the Edo era), can be found in Kawakami Village. On the ikari site, there is now a monument near a huge crater-like depression, surrounded by rocks. On the monument, remarks such as “Emperor Jimmu’s ruins,” “Muraiji Tomb,” and “Ikari house ruins” are written alongside the date “December 25, 1900.
Well of Ihika
One thing of great interest to me are tumuluses that have a stone chamber with a horizontal hole. Among them, the largest horizontal hole type stone chamber is located in the Yoshino River Basin. Known as the Doyama Tumulus, it remains in the mountains of Kamiichi, Yoshino Town.
It is a round tomb with a diameter of about 20 meters and there is a horizontal hole type stone chamber with an entrance facing south; the tomb inside is about 4.6 meters in length.
It is believed to have been built sometime from the end of the 6th century to the 7th century.
Standing at the entrance of this tumulus, I could see the flow of the Yoshino River, and could think about the days must have been like for the leader of Yoshino at that time.
Doyama Tumulus (Kamiichi, Yoshino Town, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture)
Iwarehiko also met a man emerging from a chasm within a huge boulder, who was pushing large rocks around as he made his way out. This was Iwa-oshiwake, the ancestor of the people of Yoshino’s “Kuzu” area.
The whole area of Kuzu, as it exists today in the town of Yoshino, is actually the original ancient ancestral home of the Kuzu people.
In this area, an annual event called the “Kuzuso” (designated as a Nara Prefecture Intangible Folk Cultural Property), has been held annually for 1300 years on the New Year’s Day of the lunar calendar (February 14).
Also, one should definitely pay some attention to the Iwagami Shrine (located in Yaji, Yoshino Town), which has a giant rock as its main object of worship.
The huge rock with a large chasm in it that fits perfectly with the image of the legend of Iwa-oshiwake.
The huge rock of the Iwagami Shrine (Yaji, Yoshino-cho)
The Okura Shrine, located in the mountains of Minami-kuzu, Yoshino Town, also attracts attention as a place associated with Iwa-oshiwake.
It is located on the southern slope of Mt. Kinugasa at an altitude of about 300m, and the tutelary gods are Iwa-oshiwake, O-kura-hime and Kaashitsu-hime (also known as Konohana-sakuya-hime).
The goddesses are sisters who appear in the “Kojiki” and “Nihon-shoki”, and they are both married to descendants of a god in Kyushu.
As Iwa-oshiwake is said to be the son of a descendant of a god in Kyushu and O-kura-hime, it can be said that Iwarehiko met with people in Kuzu who were from his own homeland.
You can get a glimpse of the connection between the people of Yoshino and the Emperor’s family, which is not often depicted in the story of the “Eastern Expedition of the Emperor Jimmu”.
Giant tree at Okura Shrine (Minami-kuzu, Yoshino-cho)
When thinking of the ancient people of Yoshino, such as the children of Niemotsu, Ihika, and Iwa-oshiwake, I ask myself many questions.
Where did they come from, when did they live in Yoshino, and how did they live?
I think the images drawn in the “Kojiki” and “Nihon-shoki” reflect some historical facts, as well as lore.
What do you think?
Please let us know if you are interested in the theme of Emperor Jimmu and Yoshino, or are interested in visiting these sites.