A New Year festival with shooting arrows symbolizing prayers for good health and safety took place at a shrine in Nikko, north of Tokyo, on Wednesday.
The annual ritual at Futarasan Shrine is based on an ancient legend. It’s said that a master archer shot an arrow that settled a territorial dispute between the deity of Mount Nantai in Nikko and the divinity of Mount Akagi, about 40 kilometers away to the southwest.
Shinto priests and archers wearing traditional costumes shot 2 arrows each in the direction of Mount Akagi.
The shrine compound was crowded with spectators. Many rushed to where arrows fell to the ground in the hopes of claiming one. It’s believed they bring good luck.
Source: NHK, January 04, 2012
Japanese archery ceremony is traditionally held on the 4th of January. This ceremony is derived from historical hero of archery, named Yoichi Nasuno. According to legend, he was from Shimotsuke (former Tochigi prefecture) and prayed at Futarasan shrine for winning at the battle in the 12th century. (Source: Nikko Tourist Assn)
More about the shrine’s origins below (source: Wikipedia):
The shrine was founded in 767 by Shōdō shōnin (勝道上人). The shrine takes its name from Mount Nantai, which is also called Futarasan (二荒山?). Archeologists affirm that during the Yayoi period the most common go-shintai (御神体?) (a yorishiro housing the enshrined kami) in the earliest Shinto shrines was a nearby mountain peak supplying with its streams water, and therefore life, to the plains below, where people lived.
The Sacred Bridge belonging to the shrine, was registered as a World Heritage in December 1999 and is associated with another famous legend. Shinkyo measures 28 meters long, 7.4 meters wide, and stands 10.6 meters above the Daiya River. According to legend, a priest named Shodo and his followers climbed Mt. Nantai in the year 766 to pray for national prosperity. However, they could not cross the fast flowing Daiya River. Shodo prayed and a 10 foot tall god named Jinja-Daiou appeared with two snakes twisted around his right arm. Jinja-Daiou released the blue and red snakes and they transformed themselves into a rainbow-like bridge covered with sedge, which Shodo and his followers could use to cross the river. That is why this bridge is sometimes called Yamasugeno-jabashi, which means the “Snake Bridge of Sedge”. The Shinkyo has been rebuilt many times but has followed the same design pattern since 1636, when it could be used only by messengers of the Imperial court. It has been opened to the general public since 1973.
For more on Japanese sacred archery legends, see the Encyclopedia of Shinto’s “Busha sai” page.
The nearby Mt Nantai is steeped in legends of deities and mountain worship and festival traditions, see this page for their mountain-opening ceremonies.
Three volunteers bring three gods back to the Oku-miya shrine on the top of Mt. Nantai. These gods are Oomunashino-mikoto, Tagorihimeno-mikoto and Ajisukitakahikoneno-mikoto.
The Ohmunachino-mikoto is the God, who made the country. The Tagorihimeno-mikoto is a wife of the Ohmunachino-mikoto. Also, the Ajisuki-takahikoneno-mikoto is a god of cultivation and agriculture.
People dedicate a dance to the God in a part of festival.
Parishioners dedicate folk dance and music to the god at Chugushi shrine in the night. Lanterns are put on the water of the lake, and fireworks are displayed. Mountain climbers wait for the sunrise after worshiping at Takinoo shrine at the 8th stage of Mt. Nantai. After that, they visit religious relics around Tarousan shrine, or view the magnificent nature.
Sunrise and God’s sword on the top of Mt. Nantai