Myoken-gu shrine’s starry festival: Significance of Polaris and the Big Dipper

 

Lyrics of the song music commemorating the Starry Festival from the Myoken-gu Shrine video above:

You are watching the shooting stars from a distant universe (sora)

The drops of the tears of the stars that have spilled on your earth, which hurt each other as they hurt

See, like a dark night, now that you’re slowly opening up,

don’t be afraid to wake up, don’t be afraid to wake up, we’ll all start anew We’ll meet you, the day when you’ll meet in the galaxy

Will surely reach your heart

The light of hope is not a competition for you

Only sharing is to connect to the future (tomorrow)

Your darkness is saved by somebody

Only the person who knows the pain can shine I wish for you

because there’s a day in the galaxy that resonates with you, a symphony of joy

When every one of the stars twinkling in the night sky feels someone’s feelings,

you’re not alone anymore We’re waiting for you

The joy of overflowing If you look up at the night sky for the time of separation,

and listen carefully to the night sky, our thoughts will surely reach your heart.

 

The Myoken-gu shrine in the video above venerates the Three Deities of Creation (zooka no sanshin 造化の三神). Myoken gu and Myoken jinja are originally star shrines.

The shrine offers Big Dipper amulets (hokuto shishisei reifu 北斗七星霊札) which shows the origins of the worship as a worship of the Polestar (hokushin 北辰)

The Big Dipper (Hokuto Shichisei 北斗七星)  itself is a constellation of seven stars – known as Ama no nanaboshi (Shishisei) 天の七星 The Seven stars in the Sky, is identified with Myoken.

When Buddhism arrived, the Taoist star deities were syncretized into Hokushin Bosatsu 北辰菩薩 and Myoken Bosatsu 妙見菩薩.

According to shrine tradition, in 816 when the Kobo Daishi Kukai* was trapped in a rock cave at Shishigaji Temple, he learned the secret method of Buddha:  At this time, seven stars descended and fell into three parts of Hoshida no Sato, which is how the three star deities came to be enshrined here as “Sanko Kiyoiwa’s true mystery.” Hoshida Myoken-gu has dedicated this event as the “Starry Festival” on July 23.

The shrine also commemorates the event of the falling meteor at the Hoshida Myoken shrine’s waterfall site, “Toryu-no-taki” Hiroji on 816, July 7th, which is celebrated as the Star advent on 23rd of July. Comet explorer Tetsuhiko Kiuchi discovered iron comet bits which he attributes to have come from the comet Swift-Tuttle, which is the mother comet of the Perseid meteor shower (that came from the direction of the Big Dipper).

The comet, now known as 109P/Swift-Tuttle, is the parent of the Perseid meteor shower led a renaissance in meteor astronomy, and also linked with many of the major meteor showers observed throughout historical times. The most detailed and precise observations come from China, as astronomers were ordered to watch the night sky to glean any omens related to their Chinese Emperor’s reign.

The role of the Polestar (Polaris) looms large in East Asian psyche because it is deemed to be the place where the soul of the Emperor resides. This ideology affected the idea of Tiandi which spread to Korea and Japan, is seen in the change in nomenclature of the rulers of Japan, from the kimi to the Tenno, Heavenly Emperor.

Encounter Or Syncretism: The Initial Growth of Japanese Buddhism  by Jacques H. , pp 5~6

 

Two large boulders called iwakura (磐座) tied with sacred ropes are seen the rear of the shrine on top of the mountain.  The two boulders are possibly associated with the two lovers who meet once in the night at the Tanabata star festival which is also celebrated by Myoken shrines. In addition, one of the shrine treasures is a statue of the genbu 玄武像 tortoise, which indicates possibly the entire astronomical and geomancy package that arrived with the founders of the shrine.

Although the founding of this shrine is said to be in 816, it is likely that the Taoist ideology of the Big Dipper and associated astronomical ideas had arrived much earlier. The Myoken cult’s practices of the 8th century are well documented in the Nihon Ryoiki, and the change of the nomenclature of kimi to the polestar name Tenno pushes polestar and Big Dipper ideas back to at least the late 6th century, but it could go back even earlier to the Yayoi period, as the Big Dipper was carved into a twin set of ceramics of the Yayoi period.

 

*Kukai was posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師, “The Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching”), 774–835, was a Japanese Buddhist monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist who founded the Esoteric

 

 

References:

Production of the Hoshino Tomodachi music and video: Shigezo Kamimura

Big Dipper cult and Myoken worship in Japan (Japanese mythology, this site)

Hoshida Myooken-Guu (星田妙見宮);  Shrine Hoshida Myoken-Gu Shrine
Hoshida Jinja 星田神社 9 Chome-60-1 Hoshida, Katano, Osaka

Encounter Or Syncretism: The Initial Growth of Japanese Buddhism  by Jacques H. , pp 5~6

Hokuto Big Dipper (Gabi Greve’s website)

 

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