[The Minase Jingu Shrine]
My reason for going to Minase were the many links this spot has with literature. In the first place Emperor Go-Toba himself, who was a serious waka poet and editor of the Shin kokinshu collection of waka - my favorite Japanese poetry collection. In the second place, in the late 15th c., Minase returns to center stage in what is probably the most important renga (linked verse) sequence, the Minase sangin hyakuin, by Sogi, Shohaku and Socho. And finally, Minase plays a small role in Tanizaki's novella Ashikari (The Reed Cutter). I'll come back to these literary links, but let's first have a closer look at Emperor Go-Toba as the subject of veneration in Minase Jingu.
Go-Toba was put on the throne as a small boy in 1183, at a dramatic moment in Japanese history and at a time that there were in fact briefly two emperors. The other one was the (also) child-emperor Antoku, Go-Toba's half-brother. Antoku had been put on the throne at the start of the Taira-Minamoto war (1180-85), in which the Minamoto would eventually destroy the Taira (a story which is the subject of the Heike Monogatari). The Taira abandoned Kyoto in 1183 and fled to Western Japan, taking Emperor Antoku with them, at which time Go-Toba was installed as rival emperor by the Minamoto. Go-Toba became sole emperor in 1185 when Antoku was drowned in the naval battle of Dannoura.
[Emperor Go-Toba - Wikipedia - Public Domain]
Go-Toba remained titular sovereign for 15 years and was made to abdicate in 1198, when his son Tsuchimikado was put on the throne, soon followed by another son Juntoku in 1210 and Juntoku's son Chukyo in 1221. The 12th c. had been the age of the Insei ("cloister government"), where political control was exercised by retired emperors rather than by the titular rulers or the official bureaucracy. But unfortunately for Go-Toba, the Insei system ended with Go-Shirakawa, Go-Toba's grandfather who died in 1192. In that year the warrior government of the Minamoto was established in Kamakura and that is from where real power emanated from now on. Go-Toba foolishly tried to bring down the shogunal regime in Kamakura and win back power for the court in Kyoto. In 1221, he started the Jokyu Disturbance, in fact a war against the shogunate. Go-Toba's forces were, however, smashed by the samurai from Eastern Japan and the Retired Emperor was sent into exile on the lonely island of Oki in the Sea of Japan. where he spent his remaining 18 years (his sons were also exiled, Tsuchimikado to Sado Island and Juntoku to Shikoku (Awa); grandson Chukyo was after just a few months replaced as emperor by Go-Horikawa, a nephew of Go-Toba).
[The entrance to Minase Jingu]
Political intrigues are blown away by the winds of time, but literature remains. Go-Toba was an important waka poet and author of a major poetic treatise, an interest he cultivated after his abdication. His teacher was the excellent Fujiwara no Shunzei. Besides writing high-quality poetry himself, he also had the eight imperial poetry collection, the Shin kokinshu or New Collection from Ancient and Modern Times, compiled by a team of poets and scholars, retaining for himself the final decisions as editor. Together with the first collection, the Kokinshu, the Shin kokinshu is considered as a brilliant achievement. In contrast to the Kokinshu, which was still heavily influenced by the playful but superficial Chinese poetry of the Six Dynasties period, the dominant feeling in the Shin kokinshu is one of melancholy and the world view is deeply Buddhist.
Here is Go-Toba's most famous waka:
gazing out over
beyond the river Minase,
who could have thought
evenings are autumn?
miwataseba | yamamoto kasumu | Minasegawa | yube wa aki to | nani omoikemuThe poem above is quoted in the translation by Haruo Shirane (Traditional Japanese Literature, Columbia U.P., p. 612), who adds that this spring poem challenges the famous assertion by Sei Shonagon in the Pillow Book that evening is the most poignant moment of an autumn day - replacing it with a day in spring. The last two lines are translated by Donald Keene as "why did I ever suppose evenings were best in autumn."
Interestingly, the location where this poem is set is at Minase, at the detached palace where the Retired Emperor often held poetry gatherings. After his death in exile, at his own behest, a Buddhist chapel (Mieido) was built at the spot of that detached palace. The temple supposedly remained in existence until 1873, when in the purely ideological notion that everything linked to the imperial house had to be Shinto, the temple was removed and the present Minase Jingu shrine built in its place. It is thus one of the representative State Shinto shrines of the Meiji period, together with other "jingu" (shrines linked to the imperial house), such as Heian Jingu, Kashihara Jingu, Akama Jingu and Meiji Jingu (although Minase Jingu is much more modest in size than these more famous establishments).
[A place to return the old shinya of the previous year]
The second link with literature occurs in 1488, when the three renga poets Sogi, Shohaku and Socho come together here to write the Minase sangin hyakuin. This renga was meant as a tribute to Emperor Go-Toba (written exactly 250 years after the emperor's death) and the poem was donated to the temple set up in his memory.
The first verse of the renga sequence starts with an allusion to Go-Toba's poem quoted above, and goes as follows:
snow still remains
on mist-shrouded foothills
yukinagara | yamamoto kasumu | yube kanaThe season here is spring and the second line about the mist-shrouded foothills is quoted directly from Go-Toba, while the next line states unambiguously that it is evening. The Minase sangin has been fully translated by Steven D. Carter in Traditional Japanese Poetry (Stanford U.P., pp. 303-326).
[People fetching water from the spring in the shrine grounds]
Evening is also the time Tanizaki Junichiro's beautiful, poetic and ambiguous story The Reed Cutter (Ashikari, 1932) is set. It has been translated by Anthony H. Chambers (Knopf). One fine evening (the evening of the full autumn moon), the narrator who lives in Kobe, decides to visit the Minase Shrine with its many historical allusions. Musing on old poems and passages of history, the narrator eventually finds himself sipping sake among the reeds of a sandbar where the three rivers flow together, while enjoying the view of the full moon. Then a voice rings out: a man appears who tells him how he used to come here every year with his father when he was a small boy. The father would stop at a hedge surrounding a large mansion and peep through it to watch the beautiful Lady Oyu presiding over her annual moon-viewing party. Many years before that, the father had met the twenty-two-year-old Oyu in the theater; it was love at first sight, but Oyu was already a widow, and as she had a son, her husband's family did not allow her to remarry. Oyu's sister Oshizu thereupon offered to help: she would marry the man in love with her sister, but in name only, so that the sister and her husband could be together in a secret ménage-à-trois. Thus they lived happily for some time until Oyu's son died, and she was married off by her family to another man - therefore her lover could only see her once a year by peeping into the moonlit garden. As usual in Tanizaki, the mysterious woman has become a lasting obsession...
P.S. I should have mentioned a fourth link with literature: the story of Go-Toba and his failed revolt is told in The Clear Mirror (Masukagami, 1338-76), one of the four historical chronicles written in the late-Heian - early Kamakura period all with the term "mirror" in the title. The history of Emperor Go-Toba fills the first chapters of the book.
Minase Jingu is a modest and unassuming place, but also clean and dignified. When you enter through the rustic gate, you see the Main hall in front; to the left stands the Haiden. The halls face West. The main hall has been constructed from wood from the Naishidokoro of the Gosho palace in Kyoto.
In the grounds of Minase Jingu, you'll also find the Rikyu no mizu ("Water of the Detached Palace"), a spring drawing subsoil water of the Minase River, a tributary of the Yodo River, which originates on nearby Mt Tennozan. The spring has been certified as one of Japan's "Best 100 Natural Water Sources" by the Environment Ministry, and people from the neighborhood come here with jerrycans to obtain its pure water. Tea master Sen no Rikyu apparently loved the quality of this water for making tea. In fact, the shrine owns a tea house (in the garden behind the main hall, not open to the public) where annually a tea ceremony is held by the heads of the major tea schools. Of course, water from the shrine's spring is used.
The Minase Shrine owns several important cultural properties, including two national treasures (a portrait of the Retired Emperor Gotoba and his autograph testament with a print of his hands).
The area itself is also quite rich in interesting places to visit: the next station on the Hankyu line (Oyamazaki) gives access to not only the Suntory Whisky Distillery which can be visited upon appointment, but also the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art with its mingei collection.
How to get to Minase Jingu: Take the Hankyu line from Umeda or Juso to Kyoto and get off at Minase (only stop trains). Take the road on the west side running parallel to the elevated tracks (there is a green-colored footpath) for about 10 min, when on a road to your left you see a green forest. That is the shrine; go around to find the entrance.