The Oyamazumi Shrine Festival on Omishima, the Island of the Kami
The "Shimanami Kaido" is a road stretching from Onomichi, Hiroshima across the Seto Inland Sea to Imabari, Ehime. Right in the middle lies Omishima Island, Ehime, home of the "Make Omishima the Most Popular Place to Live in Japan Project" from Ito Juku, the architectural school run by Toyo Ito. In a previous article (in Japanese), we introduced the almost supernaturally beautiful scenery on the island, and its citrus-based industry. This second installment covers the Oyamazumi Shrine festival, a tradition maintained on the island since the distant past. Our tour guides will, once again, be Kikumi Furukawa and Joyce Lam from Ito Juku, and the photographer Yusuke Nishibe.
The Samurais' Shrine and the Great Camphor Tree
"I recommend taking the approach from Miyaura Bay, imagining the warriors arriving by boat in ancient times and heading for the shrine in an orderly line. Spending some time looking at the armor in the treasure house, a collection full of actual National Treasures, gives insight into another side of this relaxed island." (Nishibe)
For all of recorded history, Omishima has been revered among all the islands of Japan as the "Island of the Kami." The reason is Oyamazumi Shrine, dedicated to Oyamazumi no Kami, who has long been worshiped as the patron kami of Japan's mountains and seas and a protector of warriors. Another impressive presence on the shrine grounds is the gigantic camphor tree, which is estimated to be over 2,600 years old! The shrine is a "power spot" that has drawn visitors from around Japan from ancient times to the present day.
"It's worth coming to Omishima just to see this tree," says Furukawa. "There's good fishing in the area, but because the island was sacred, taking life was forbidden, so there has never been much of a fishing industry here."
Thirteen communities connected by one great shrine
"Festivals are a vital part of culture on any island. A festival creates unity in the community and helps maintain social structures. This same spirit can be felt from those you meet on Omishima today." (Nishibe)
There are thirteen individual communities along the coast of Omishima. In olden times, it was easier to cross the water to a nearby island than make the trek overland to another community, and so each one developed its own unique festival culture. All thirteen are connected by Oyamazumi Shrine, and on the fifth day of the fifth month by the old calendar, a ritual is performed where girls ("saotome") plant rice shoots and pray for a bountiful harvest and "one-man sumo" is performed as an offering.
"The one-man sumo is performed at the community in Miyaura, where Oyamazumi Shrine itself is," says Furukawa. "It's actually sumo against an invisible spirit. There are three rounds. In the first, the spirit wins. In the second, the sumo wrestler does. In the third, the spirit wins again, but the sheer determination and presence of the wrestler draws you in despite yourself."
Next page: "A dancing lion at every autumn festival"