And… we are off on another adventure! In this article we’ll take a look at one of my favorite hidden gems, Kashima Jingu. Much like Nagoya’s Atsuta Jingu, this ancient shrine hides a long-forgotten legacy. The shrine lays claim to roots dating to before the dawn of history. In fact, Kashima Jingu’s earliest records denote that it was founded by the legendary first emperor of Japan. If the chronicles are to be believed, this would place the founding of Kashima Jingu at around 660 BC. To put that in perspective, Kashima Jingu is over TEN times older than the United States!
Given that Kashima Jingu’s is located near the remote southern tip of Ibaraki Prefecture, its age may come as a surprise. After all, most people often incorrectly associate “old Japan” with the the likes of Kyoto and Nara. However, the truth of the matter is that eastern Japan also holds its own narrative that has been largely lost to the history books. While the nobility of the imperial court were busy bickering among themselves, pioneers to the east were boldly waging war with Japan’s indigenous populations.
Kashima Jingu’s chief deity is Takemikazuchi, the god of thunder and blades. He is perhaps most famous for subduing the behemoth catfish Namazu who is said to be responsible for inciting all of Japan’s earthquakes. Legends hold that Takemikazuchi pinned the beast with a giant rock known as the Kaname-ishi to keep him from thrashing about. Supposedly, whenever Takemikazuchi lets his watch slip, Namazu gets loose and causes violent earthquakes. You can’t make this stuff up folks!
Monstrous catfish aside, the Kashima Jingu’s enshrinement of Takemikazuchi meant that it synergized well with the military. In the early years of the Japanese empire, the shrine served as a staunch frontline base during the imperial court’s war against the Emishi and Ezo populations. Just as with the Native American peoples, these two native groups heavily resisted the imperial court’s push for dominance over Japan. Along with the nearby Katori Jingu, Kashima Jingu played a central role in subjugating the northeast.