2009 / Lecture Note: The Grand Shrine at Ise – Architect Hayahiko Takase, Sept 29

Takase, left, and Terasaki

Architect Hayahiko Takase, left, and host Dr. Paul Terasaki

Nibei Foundation Japan Study Club

“The Grand Shrine at Ise” How the structure of Japan’s most secret shrine has been sustained for over thousand years?

Presenter: Mr. Hayahiko Takase, Architect

September 29, 2009 at Terasaki Foundation Laboratory Building, West Los Angeles

Japan Study Club Lecture Note is complied by Cultural News

Mr. Hayahiko Takase is an outstanding architect who utilizes both his Eastern and Western knowledge to create unique and beautiful works of architectural art and design.  He received a Bachelor of Architecture from Tokyo University in 1953 and also a Master of Architecture from Harvard University in 1956.  He then went back to Japan, but again returned to the US in 1964 and in 1977 started his own architectural firm.

He designed the Kajima Building, the New Otani Hotel, presently the Kyoto Grand Hotel and the Higashi Honwanji Temple, etc. in Little Tokyo, LA.  He is also credited with the Riccar building in Ginza, Tokyo, the Nissan building in Carson, Seiko Instruments in Torrance and is presently working on the Budokan of Los Angeles in Little Tokyo.

He was awarded Design Honor Award from the Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ),

Design Merit Award from the American Institute of Architect (AIA), also awarded the prestigious kunsho award from the emperor of Japan for his contribution to Japan and the US relationship.

His lecture for the evening concentrated on the Ise Jingu, commonly referred to simply “The Jingu.”  This shrine is probably considered the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan with its unique historical, architectural and religious significance.

The Ise Jingu is an outstanding example of early Japanese architecture called “Yuiitsu Shinmei-zukuri”, such as using thach for roofing and exposed,unpainted wood for columns, beams and walls, raising the structure on wooden posts, and adapting buildings to the natural beauty and environment.

As for Ise Jingu’s religious significance, it is deeply embedded in Shinto, “The Way of God,” religion.  Shinto is the belief that there is a divine spirit in nature in general which embedded in mountains, trees, animals, and even people.  It is also intricately woven into Japanese mythology.

According to Japanese mythology, Ise Jingu enshrines the sacred goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess.  It is said that it is from Amaterasu from which the Imperial line is said to be descended.  The myth goes that the God Izanagi and the Goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto wished to make something useful on Earth and therefore took a spear to the ocean, lifted the salt water and from its drippings, formed the islands of Japan. This gave birth to eight islands and 35 kami-Gods.  During the birthing of Kagu-Tsuchi-no-Kami, the fire god, Izanami burned herself so badly and died. Izanagi was desperate to look for his beloved wife and followed her to the underground world.  He find Izanami’s terribly descomposing body and run to escape. He then returned to the upper world and cleansed his left eye and the Sun Goddess was born.  When he later washed his right eye, he produced the moon goddess.  With the final cleansing of his nose, he created the God of the Sea.

This mythology also elaborates on the Three Sacred Treasures; the necklace, the bronze mirror and sword.  These three comprise the Imperial Regalia of Japan.  This mirror is a token of Amaterasu and a symbol of her presence.  Later Amaterasu sent her grandson Ninigi-no-mikoto to rule over the land of Japan. Amaterasu presented those three Sacred Treasures to him and his great garndson became the first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jinmu in 660 BC.

Later around 30 B.C., towards the end of the Yayoi Period, the 11th emperor Suinin decided to build a special shrine to worship this sacred mirror.  He ordered his daughter Yamatohime-no-mikoto to find a permanent location for this most sacred of shrines. 20 years later, sometime around 4 BC, it was decided to be at Ise, a decision based upon hearing the voice of Amatersasu, the Sun Goddess saying “ Ise is a secluded and plesant land. In this land I wish to dwell”  She was then to be worshipped as a symbol of the Japanese Imperial family.  Even today, as days past, the High Priest or High Priestess who is responsible for overseeing the Ise Jinju, must come from the Imperial Family line.

The Ise Jingu, in addition to smaller shrines in the vicinity, is comprised of two main Shrines.  The Geku which enshrines Toyo-Uke-Omikami, The Goddess of Food and the Naiku, which enshrines Amaterasu-Omikami, the Sun Goddes.

To visit Ise Shrine, the proper way is to visit Geku first then go to Naiku. To go into the Naiku compound one goes across 300 feet wooden bridge called Uji Bashi stretches across the Isuzu River.

Though Ise attracts many visitors, basically only the tops of the thatched roofs of the fenced area can be seen by guests.

The main sanctuary of Naiku is called the Naiku Seiden.  The special hinoki Japanese cypress comes from a special area in Nagano Prefecture and is carefully selected and transported to the Ise Jingu building site.  The Shin-no-Mihashira, or the Heart Pillar stand under the middle of the floor holds the sacred mirror which sits on a special stand.

The roof ridge is supported by two free standing pillars called munamachi-bashira that are sunk directly into the ground in the hottate-bashira style used in preceding  Jomon and Yayoi elevated storehouses. The walls also rest upon heavy pillars that support the raised floor, which is surrounded by a graceful veranda with a hand rail.

At each end of the roof, the roof poles cross and extend beyond to form the cigi forked finials. The top of chigi cut horizontally at the Naiku and vertically at the Geku. Laid across the ridgepole is a row of long, close-set pegs, the katsuogi, ten at the Naiku and nine at the Geku, reflecting thire difference in status.

The whole shrine complex is assembled without any nails, but by intricately connecting wooden joints.  Metal pieces were later introduced in the Nara and Heian Periods for decorative purposes only.

The outstanding thing about the Ise Jingu is that it is completely rebuilt every 20 years in a process called shikinen sengu. This project established by the 40th Emperor Tenmu and started by the 41st Empress Jito in 690 A.D. According to the program every 20 years the structures of Naiku and Geku are rebuilt on ajoining exactly same size lot where structures from the previous cycle were dismantled.

After the new construction is completed, the old shrines are completely torn down and its remaining material is given to other tributary shrines throughout Japan.  This building and rebuilding has been taken place continuously up to the present time except during Japan’s warring period in the 15th and 16th centuries. The shrines at Ise Jingu were rebuilt for the 61st time in 1993. The latest 62nd rebuilding started in 2005 and entirely new shrines will be completed in 2013.

This shikinen sengu rebuilding project is quite overwhelming.  It is an incredible undertaking that replaces 650 structures and moves and returns 16,000 artifacts to its proper place.  It takes numerous craftsmen with each cycle, taking a full 8 years to complete a cycle.

Details are painstakingly taken in all areas.  For example,14,000 hinoki trees are needed, 90% of which need to be 200 years old and two feet in diameter.  The columns on either side of the shrine, known as munemochi-bashira, must come from trees 400 years old. Even the method in which the trees are cut is dictated by axes utilized from three different directions; of course, without the aid of any chainsaws. These trees are then floated down the Kiso River and the Ise Bay to the designated site. Therefore, both the materials and craftsmanship is as it was practiced over 2,000 years ago is truly amazing.

Even the ceremonies associated with shikinen sengu rebuilding is preserved. The three main ceremonies among 32 of them are 1.) Yamaguchi Sai, the first ceremony in the rebuilding process, 2.) Ricchu Sai, column building ceremony, 3.) Sengyo ceremony which consists of the sacred mirror being transferred from the old shrine to the new shrine in midnight.

This is of paramount importance as with this constant building and rebuilding, ancient Japanese culture, history and crafts is preserved for future generations.  Unlike the Parthenon in Greek, Ise Jingu remains as Mr. Takase so eloquently elaborated, this shikinen sengu rebuilding allows the shrine building “to be forever new and forever ancient. It is a treasure not just for Japan, but to the whole world.”

At the end of this most interesting and informative lecture, came a number of most compelling questions from the audience.

Question #1  What is the extent of the rebuilding process?

Mr. Takase related that it encompasses 62 buildings and even the Uji Bridge itself which passes over the Isuzu River.

Question #2  Why is not the Ise Jingu classified as a World Heritage?

Mr. Takase said that Japan has not filed the application to UNESCO and that the Japanese government probably does not really want so much attention and commotion at such a sacred of sites.

Question #3  Where do the funds for the rebuilding project come from?

Mr. Takase said it comes from the Japanese government, but one of the guest brought up that he had heard that private funds were now involved.  Mr. Takase said he was not aware of such funds.

Question #4  What is the architectural basis of the columns at the base of the foundation?

Mr. Takase said it is still done in the old Ise style where the wooden columns are put directly into the ground.  Adding, rotting would become a problem if the buildings were not reconstructed periodically.

Question #5  Why is the designated period set at every 20 year intervals?

Mr. Takase said the reason is unknown but gave the following four possible answers.

1.)     Shinto belief that the shrine should be as clean and fresh as possible. Old to new would also renew the power of the spirits.

2.)     This program started about a century after the introduction of Buddhism to Japan and invasion of Chinese culture. This policy established to maintain and protect original Japanese design, the Yayoi style Architecture.

3)      To transfer the building techniques to next generation 20 years is most appropriate considering the human life span was about 50 years at that time.

The carpenters and artisans first experience Rebuilding Program at 10 to 20 years old as apprentice, able to experience second Rebuilding Program at 30 to 40 years old as foreman. They can experience Program two times in their life

4) 20 year intervals coincide with the lifetime preservation of rice grain.

Mr. Takase gave a most interesting and informative lecture concerning not only Japanese architecture, but the uniquely Japanese thought and culture in general.