The god of Arima-Ontouguu shrine and the three crows of Arima

Arima Hotspring has an interesting legend where three crows of Arima have a central role:

The history of Tousen Jinja (Shrine) which is familiarly known as the protecting god of Arima Hot Springs says that Onamuchi-no-mikoto and Sukunahikona-nomikoto discovered Arima Hot Springs. When the two gods visited Arima, three injured crows drank water from a pool. A few days later, they found the pool curing their injuries, which proved the pool was a Spa.
Only these three crows who found the place of the Spa were permitted to live in Arima and are called “Three crows of Arima”
An Imperial visit of the 34th Emperor Jomei (593 – 641) and the 36thEmperor Koutoku (596 – 654) made the name of Arima popular.  Jomeiki of Nihonshoki, Chronicles of Japan, says The Emperor Jomei stayed at Arima-Ontouguu (shrine) in Settsu to enjoy bathing for 86 days from September 9th till December 13th since 631.

Shakunihonki, a commentary of Chronicles of Japan, says the Emperor Koutoku liked Arima Hot Springs and he stayed there for 82 days with his ministers, Abe-no-Kurahashimaro and Soga-no-Ishikawamaro and his guardians for 82 days from October 11th till his Imperial vist on New Year’s Eve in 647.

The monk Gyoki enshrined

??Arima Hot Springs History tells the story that Arima Hot Springs declined gradually after the famous period of the Imperial visit of the Emperor Jomei and Koutoku. The monk Gyoki founded and rebuilt the Arima Hot Springs.
Gyoki whom the Emperor Shomu (701 – 756) trusted deeply was a high monk who dedicated himself to building ponds and bridges, digging ditches and enshrined temples.

When Gyoki dug a big pond in Koya Itami, northern part of Osaka plain, he met one person. The person pleaded with Gyoki, “I have a bad tumor and it has made me suffer for a long time. I heard the Spa in Arima mountain cures illness. Could you kindly take me there?” To meet the person’s demand, Gyoki took the person to Arima and fulfilled the person’s wishes. Then the person changed to a gold solemn Buddha and rode the clouds to fly to the east.

Gyoki was moved deeply by this, and wrote down Nyohoukyou and buried it in the pond, and built a life-sized Yakushi Nyorai ;Buddha who deals with medicine to enshrine the temple. Yakushi Nyorai ;Buddha who deals with medicine ;who felt Gyoki’s virtue made him open Arima Spa, found Arima’s prosperity.

In fact, it is said that Arima prospered for 370 years since Gyoki constructed the temple.

In the Heian era, much literature tells of many writers, Emperors, ministers who had visited Arima.  Seishonagon(an old lady writer) also wrote “The Spas are Nanakuri Spa, ArimaSpa, Nasu Spa, Tsukasa Spa and Tomoni Spa” in Makuranosoushi, sho highly valued Arima Hot Springs as one of the three famous Spas like Sakakibara Onsen Spa in Ise in those days.”

Source: History  of Arima, the Arima Onsen website

Another version of the legend goes:

In olden times, the gods Onamuchi-no-Kami and Sukunahikona-no-Kami descended to earth one day and saw three injured crows bathing in a puddle. Some days passed when the gods happened again upon the three crows. To their amazement, the crows had been cured. Thinking this was remarkable, they took a closer look at the puddle and discovered that it was, in fact, a hot spring with a miraculous healing effect. This is how the world came to know the magical properties of the hot springs of Arima. From this day forward, the crows and two gods have been worshipped as guardian deities of Arima Onsen.

There is a sloping path called “Slope of Wish” extending from Onsenji Temple to Nenbutsuji Temple. Along the way there is “Garden of Wish”, where there are statues of the three crows and Saint Gyoki. The gods Onamuchi-no-Kami and Sukunahikona-no-Kami are worshipped at the Tosen Shrine. — Folklores of Arima

See also The Legend of the Three Crows of Arima (by Daily Glimpses of Japan) which mentions the Ainu legend:

Michael Ashkenazi wrote in his book on Japanese mythology about crows as well. He mentions an Ainu story, saying that at the beginning of times, the sun was swallowed by a monster. And the crow, Pashkuru Kamui, pecked at its tongue until it released the sun, the source of light and warmth. On another occasion, when the first Ainu were starving, the crow led them to a stranded whale, saving their life (page 117 of the book mentioned above). So generally, the crow is a bird of good omen in Japan.

See also my earlier article The Legend of Yatagarasu and its possible origins


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