As part of my summer Musha Shugyo this year I visited the spiritual and historical center of budo in Japan: Kashima and Katori shrines, located in Ibaragi and Chiba prefectures respectively.
Their proximity to each other is very close, about 15 mins by train. Although 400 years ago there were no trains nor cars and travel was done by foot or horse, I can easily imagine kenshi of yore walking between these shrines as part of their musha shugyo.
The areas most famous for the development of the classical martial traditions (koryu) are located, as the saying goes, in the Kanto region, “Heiho wa Togoku kara”: heiho comes from the East, referring to the Kanto area surrounding Tokyo (heiho means martial or military arts; strategy). The Kashima and Katori Shrines lie on opposite sides of the Tone River in Ibaraki and Chiba Prefectures.
There are enshrined two of the most important Shinto martial deities: Takemikazuchi no Mikoto (Kashima Jingu) and Futsunushi no Kami (Katori Jingu). They, along with the Buddhist goddess, Marishiten, serve as the patron and protective deices for many of the martial traditions. Historical records show very clearly that young warriors gathered, or were sent by their masters, for advanced training at these shrines, which became centers for the martial arts after the end of the Heian era. Eventually this led to the foundation of the oldest known formal traditions in the martial arts, the Kashima Shinto-ryu and the Katori Shinto-ryu.
As this quote states, these shrines did not only serve as centers for religious and psychological development of warriors, but were also places they could study the more physical aspects as well. Kashima in particular was noted for its training of swordsmen.
The most noteworthy and influential swordsmen to come out of that area during the 16th century included Matsumoto Bizenokami Naokatsu, Kamiizumi Isenokami Nobutsuna, Tsukuhara Bokuden, and Iizasa Choisai Ienao. Starting with Iizasa, these men would go on to systemise the basis of almost all modern extant sword-based koryu
Iizasa was the first (historically verifiable) person to create a structured combat system (physically and psychologically). There were older systems at that time but there form is unknown.
Let’s have a brief look at each shrine individually.
A kami produced from the blood adhering to the sword when Izanagi killed the fire kami Kagutsuchi. Together with Amanotorifune (Kojiki) or Futsunushi no kami (Nihongi), Takemikazuchi descended to the land of Izumo and entreated Ōkuninushi to transfer the land (kuniyuzuri) to the heavenly kami.
Kojiki adds that he engaged in a test of strength with Takeminakata, the child of Ōkuninushi, who had opposed the heavenly forces. Subduing Takeminaka, he drove him away to Suwa in the province of Shinano (present-day Nagano). On the occasion of Emperor Jinmu’s eastern campaign, Takemikazuchi deferred from descending to aid Jinmu, but in his place sent his sword Futsunomitama, in this way aiding Jinmu’s forces in their successful pacification of the land. Takemikazuchi is worshiped at Kashima, Kasuga and other shrines.
-Kadoya Atsushi. From the Encyclopedia of Shinto.
I had long wanted to visit Kashima shrine and it was a joy to do so on a hot August morning. It’s very close to the station and its impossible to get lost. En-route there is a big statue of Tsukuhara Bokuden, reminding us of the kenshi that went before us.
The shrine itself is relatively spacious, though small compared to places in Nara or Wakayama. The deer here are don’t run free as they do in places like Miyajima so you can safely sit and eat a bento or a sandwich without being harassed!
Wandering through the area I noticed that this years Iaido hachidan competition results were posted and that reminded me that there is a dojo on-site. However, there was no practise going on when I was there. Next time I come, I think I will try to combine it with some keiko.
I spend a peaceful hour or two here, just wandering about, listening to the cicadas, and drinking water, I bought myself a budo omamori and headed on towards Katori Shrine (I did both of these shrines on the same day).
Address: Kyuchu 2306-1, Kashima-shi, Ibaraki-ken 314-0031
Train: Kashima Jingu station (from here walk 10mins to the shrine)
A tutelary kami of swords, interpreted by some as the divine personification of the sacred sword Futsu no mitama, and revered as one of the ancestral kami (sojin) of the Fujiwara clan. Futsunushi’s activities frequently overlap with those of the kami Takemikazuchi, such as when the latter joins the former in descending from heaven to pacify the Central Land of Reed Plains (Ashihara no Nakatsukuni). But accounts found in Izumo no kuni fudoki and Izumo no kuni no miyatsuko kan’yogoto portray Futsunushi descending alone. As a result, it is believed that Futsunushi was a martial tutelary of the warrior clan Mononobe, but with the rise of the Nakatomi clan, his divine attributes were gradually appropriated by Takemikazuchi. Futsunushi is the central kami (saijin) at Katori Jingū and other shrines.
-Kadoya Atsushi. From the Encyclopedia of Shinto.
Katori shrine is accessible from Kashima shrine (and vice-versa) via a small local train line. There is only 1 train per hour so if you intend to do both shrines on the same day, be sure and time things correctly.
Arriving at Sawara station I realised that the area was pretty much completely countryside. With very little signs (there are a few in Japanese though) I somehow managed to find the shrine after a 20 minute walk. The place was almost empty and that left me free reign to wander about, take pictures, and pay my respects at the shrine.
Its much smaller that Kashima shrine but my feeling is its a much more defined shrine area. Buildings are grouped a little less haphazard and are beautifully kept.
There was no information available in English anywhere, so if you want to visit the small dojo in the area or Iizasa Choisai’s grave, you might have to ask someone.
Trudging slowly back in the scorching afternoon August heat I arrived at the station 3 minutes after my train left… leaving me stranded in the middle of nowhere for 57mins until the next train arrived!
Train: Sawara station (from here walk 20mins to the shrine, or get a taxi)
This is just a small introductory article to introduce both shrines to those that either haven’t heard about them, or know little about them. If this spurs on your own personal research into these shrines or a pilgrimage of your own, then I will be very happy.