Just outside the main entrance gate is a makeshift tree (constructed because the natural tree was full!) of long, thin hanging wooden dowels, on which many white paper fortune strips (mikuji) are folded.
This structure marks a large grove within the Minatogawa shrine compound in which Kusunoki Masanari died in 1336.
This banner advertises an upcoming festival, on July 15th, that will feature the lighting of a thousand lanterns, the rope circle through which one may walk (chinuwa kuguri), and a purification rite aimed at "countering obstacles, eliminating illness and vanquishing troubles."
This large and famous shrine is just uphill from the main shopping area of Sannomiya in downtown Kobe. Its quiet grounds present a great contrast to the thriving cosmopolitan center just outside the gate. Many Japanese shrines preserve some of the only undeveloped land and large trees in urban areas.
This young woman works in a stall that sells various types of amulets (o-mamori). Many Japanese visitors will purchase one when they visit a major shrine such as Ikuta Jinja. They will often keep it near them until their next visit (and purchase), in places such as in their purse, tied onto a back pack, or hanging from a car mirror.
This ema, signed by a man and a woman with different last names, says, "May the two of us get along well this year." Appended to the left is also a note saying, "Please also watch over littleTaro!!"
This is the view from the place where most visitors stop to pray. One pulls the rope visible to the right and bows.
This is the view of the interior of the shrine from just to the left of where worshippers deposit coins, ring the bell, clap and bow. Beyond the courtyard-like space, bathed in sunlight in this photo, back in the shade is a structure that houses the symbols of the deity honored here. Shinto shrines rarely have an indoor space for worship. The structures are built to demarcate and embellish the area but usually not to contain worship indoors.
This plaque tells of the founding of Minatogawa Shrine. It notes that the shrine was created by order of the Meiji Emperor in 1868 in honor of Kusunoki Masanari, who died here in 1336 along with fifteen of his family members, all of whom committed suicide.
This warrior helmet is priced at 30,000 yen (roughly $250).
This ema reads, " School: I pray that I may easily get into school." From a young age, Japanese children take what are often very competitive tests to enter both public and private schools. In the month of May, petitioners will post such ema around exam time, whether they seek to enter a junior high, high school or college.
The two large lanterns flanking the approach are noteworthy.
This is a "mikujior&quo box, from which one draws a paper packet in which is written a fortune. The fortune is printed on a small piece of paper and, if it is auspicious, a visitor will usually fold it into a long, thin strip and then tie it around a small branch of a tree in the shrine compound. It is as if this act also ties a bond between one's future and the deity of the temple: one wishes that the kami will help fulfill your good fortune. If the fortune does not bode well, the visitor has the option of taking another mikuji (which usually costs less -- this box says, "first fortune 200 yen," a little under $2).
The petitioner asks specifically for success in his applications to six universities, the first two spelled out nearly in full and the last four in extreme shorthand (either for lack of space or as an indication of lessened importance), that is nonetheless recognizable for any one who lives in the greater Kansai (Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto) area. The ema includes the date and the petitioner's name and address.
This plaque in front of the tree with the himorogi says that the tree was over 500 years old when it was severely injured by burns received in the bombing of Kobe during WWII. However, even though shattered, it managed to stay alive, and so became revered as a symbol of rebirth and resuscitation. The plaque refers to it as a "divine (kami) tree."
This map of the shrine compound is erected near the entrance.
An old tree stump within the Ikuta Jinja is herein celebrated by having its own enclosed space. Wrapped around it is a "himorogi," which is a rope with stylized paper strips hanging from it that traditionally demarcates any sort of sacred space. Large old trees are frequently honored in this regard; the presence of the himorogi will prompt some Japanese visitors to place their hands together and bow briefly before such a tree. This particular tree, however, is unique because it survived the ravages of war. See the explanation accompanying the photo of the wooden plaque pictured in cocrejpn0087.
This sign instructs those (probably of younger generations) who need a reminder how to worship (from right to left): "First you bow twice with back bent to ninety degrees and head lowered. Then you clap your hands twice at chest level. Then bow one last time."
This short path leading to a small shrine within the Ikuta Jinja compound is lined by vermillion torii. Many Shinto shrines will have paths almost covered by torii in this manner. The torii are commonly erected on behalf of donors to the shrine.
This ema, written in an accomplished calligraphic style, reads, " For the curing of illness -- [Name] -- December 26, 1957. Please, somehow, help."
This young woman sits in the shade on a ledge beside the main hall. She holds her cell phone and either reads or sends an email message.
This image of Kusunoki in full warrior regalia on a horse is priced at 80,000 yen (roughly $600).