What is Izumo Taisha's Sengu?

Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine is a Shinto shrine. Shinto is indigenous and one of the two major religions of Japan (The other is Buddhism, which came to Japan around the 6th Century). Shinto is polytheistic and it is believed that there are multitudinous gods in Japan.

The main structure after the renovation work

Among them is O-kuninushi-no-okami, who is enshrined in the main hall of Izumo Taisha. According to mythology, the god created all things under the heavens. He is commonly known as the god of En-musubi (match-making), the creator and arranger of relationships. These relationships are not only those that bind men and women together in marriage, but also those that bind friends, good business partners, and all things together.

A bronze statue of O-kuninishi-no-okami

The main hall of Izumo Taisha has been described as a building of magnificence since ancient times. In a book compiled in the 10th Century, it was depicted as the largest building that existed at the time. The Great Buddha Hall of Todaiji in present-day Nara Prefecture was the second largest. The current main hall structure is the largest of its kind in Japan.

A bronze statue of O-kuninishi-no-okami

"Sengu" literally means to move the go-shintai (the sacred representation of the enshrined god) from the original sanctuary to a temporary shrine, while construction of a new shrine building or repair work on the shrine building is conducted. There are various theories about the purpose of the Sengu. Below are some of them:

  • To maintain the wooden structures,
  • To pass on traditional artisans' techniques,
  • To keep the shrine building immaculate and clean (As a result, the power and vitality of the god of the shrine is thought to be renewed).

In April 2008, Kari-den senza-sai, a ritual to transfer the sacred representation of the enshrined god to the temporary main hall, was held. After the repair work, which took about five years to be completed, Hon-den senza-sai, a ritual to transfer back the god to the main hall, was conducted in May of 2013.

Other shrines at Izumo Taisha

In addition to the main hall, a lot of shrines of various sizes which enshrine the gods, who are closely connected to O-kuninishi-no-okami, can be found surrounding the Izumo Taisha. The repair work on the shrines and other structures will be completed in 2016.

The new roof of Izumo Taisha displays the essence of traditional artisans' techniques

The roof of Izumo Taisha under construction

Covered by approximately 640,000 pieces of cypress bark weighing a total of 40 tons, the new roof on Izumo Taisha's main hall is a testament to traditional architecture and its enormous size is an impressive sight.

The new roof of Izumo Taisha

Cypress bark, which provides superb waterproofing protection, is regarded as the best material for roofs of traditional wooden structures. The total area of the roof is 590 square meters and the thickness at the edge of the eaves is almost one meter.

Izumo Taisha is where the myriad gods from all over Japan gather
Izumo Taisha is where the myriad gods from all over Japan gather

In the old Japanese calendar, which is based on the lunar calendar, October is called Kanna-zuki (‘the month without gods’), but in the Izumo Region, the month is called Kamiari-zuki (‘the month of gods’). This is because it is thought that O-kuninishi-no-okami rules the realm of the gods and once a year all the gods throughout the country leave their homes and gather at Izumo Taisha.
The gods hold meetings and discuss various topics such as the yield of grain, liquor production, and marriage ties for the upcoming year. Kamiari-zuki falls somewhere around November in the Western Calendar.

gods' meeting about En-musubi

This picture drawn in the Edo Period (1603-1867) depicts a gods' meeting about En-musubi (match-making). They create ‘matchmaking couples’ by knotting the nameplates of a man and a woman. The match made couples go down in a big, thick record book. Every year they need to take care of matching up all the couples in Japan. It's no small job even for the gods !

Kami-mukae-sai

A ritual to welcome the gods

Kami-mukae-sai

Monday, December 1 at 7pm
Venue : The beach at Inasa-no-Hama

This ritual will be held to welcome the myriad gods from throughout the country on the beach at Inasa-no-Hama, located one kilometer west from Izumo Taisha, on October 10th on the old calendar.

Juku-sha

Temporary lodging for the gods

Juku-sha (This wooden building serves as temporary lodging for the myriad gods)

This wooden building serves as a temporary lodging for the gods. Two identical structures can be found on both the east and the west sides of the grounds at Izumo Taisha, facing each other. During Kamiari-zuki, a series of rituals are held over an eight day period, beginning with the ritual to welcome the gods.

Karasade-sai

A ritual to see off the gods

Karasade-sai

Monday, December 8 at 4pm
Venue : Izumo Taisha

This ritual will be held to see off the gods, leaving Izumo Taisha.

 

Further information on Izumo Taisha can be found here : Home of Japanese Mythology "SHIMANE"
Home of Japanese Mythology "SHIMANE"