Notes: About Okinoshima and Munakata shrine

Map of Okinoshima Island

Map of Okinoshima Island, 57 km from Kyushu Island

The Three Goddesses of Munakata

The Three Goddesses of Munakata

Princess Ichikishima is worshipped at Hetsumiya Shrine in Tashima, Princess Tagitsu at Nakatsumiya Shrine in Oshima, and Princess Tagori at Okitsumiya Shrine in Okinoshima.

On the main island, the three goddesses are worshiped at the Munakata Shrines 宗像 and Munakata Taisha 宗像大社. See Onmark production’s Shrines by type, shrines by kami:

“Munakata Taisha in Munakata City (Fukuoka) is the mother shrine for some 6,000 satellite Munakata shrines nationwide. Munakata shrines are dedicated to the Munakata Sanjoshin 宗像三女神 (also written 胸形三女神), the “Three Female Kami of Munakata.” These three are water goddesses, island kami, patrons of safety at sea, bountiful fishing, guardians of the nation, protectors of the imperial household. The trio appear in the Kojiki 古事記 (K) and Nihon Shoki 日本書紀 (NS), two of Japan’s earliest official records of the 8th century, although the spelling of their names differ slightly. Their worship began under the patronage of the Munakata 宗像 clan on Kyūshū (Kyushu) island, hence they are named the Three Goddesses of Munakata. In the 8th and 9th centuries, Japanese envoys to Korea and China visited Munakata Taisha before their departure to pray for safety on the sea voyage. In the classical texts mentioned above, all three kami were formed when sun goddess Amaterasu broke Susanō’s sword, chewed it in her mouth, then blew out a mist that produced the triad .”

'Pair of Gilt-Bronze Dragon Head Ornaments,' China (sixth century), a National Treasure | MUNAKATA SHRINE

‘Pair of Gilt-Bronze Dragon Head Ornaments,’ China (sixth century), a National Treasure | MUNAKATA SHRINE

‘National Treasures of the Munakata Shrine’

AUG 14, 2014

The location of the city of Munakata, on the coast of northern Kyushu and close to Oshima and Okinoshima islands, helped it become a historical cultural hub that welcomed incoming crafts shipped from Korea, China and Persia.

This exhibition showcases a selection of works from around 80,000 national treasures, many originally from other countries, that were excavated during archaeological digs in Okinoshima. Now part of the Munakata Shrine collection, items on show include 62 votive offerings from the fourth to the ninth century, two of which are being displayed outside of the shrine’s museum for the first time.


In addition to the Korean, Chinese, Persian and other works, 106 paintings and calligraphic works related to Okinoshima, such as those by Sengai and Shikijo Hoshi, will be displayed; Aug. 16-Oct. 13.

Idemitsu Museum of Arts; 9F Teigeki Bldg., 3-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Yurakucho Stn. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri. till 7 p.m.). ¥1,000. Closed Mon. 03-5777-8600;

Information from the Encyclopedia of Shinto on Munakata Shinko

The faith related to Munakata Jinja, The faith has elements of guarding the nation and protecting the imperial house, as well as safety at sea and ensuring fishermen a bountiful catch. Munakata can also be written with the characters 胸形 or 宗形. The Jinmyōchō section of the Engishiki records that there were Munakata shrines stretching from northern Kyushu to the Kantō area. Among these, Munakata Taisha located in Fukuoka Prefecture is the most famous. The shrine’s enshrined kami’s (saijin) are the “Three Female Kami of Munakata” (Munakata Sanjoshin), Ichikishimahime no kami enshrined at Hetsumiya in Genkaimachi Tashima, Munakatagun, Tagitsuhime no kami, enshrined at Nakatsumiya on the island Ōshima, located roughly ten kilometers from land, and Tagorihime no kami, enshrined at Okitsumiya on the island of Okinoshima in the center of the Genkainada sea. That the Munakata Sanjoshin are worshipped individually at a different location is recorded at an early date in such documents as the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki, but there are variant characters for the kami’s names and different locations for their enshrinement. At the approximately six thousand Munakata shrines in Japan, the respective “enshrined kamis” (saijin) worshipped vary according to each shrine’s origin legend. The Sanjoshin are said to have been born on the occasion of the “divination trial” or “contract” (ukehi) between Amaterasu and Susanoo. The original meaning of the names of each kami derives from “female mediums” (miko) (Ichikishimahime), rough water (Tagitsuhime), and fog (Tagorihime), and the Sanjoshin are deifications of miko, rough water, and fog. In the Nihonshoki Amaterasu ōkami commands that the three kami of Munakata “descend to the middle of the route (the sea route from Northern Kyushu to the Korean Peninsula), assist the heavenly grandchild (tenson – i.e. Ninigi no mikoto) and allow yourselves to be worshipped by the heavenly grandchild.” The kami was also prayed to for safe sea travel by emissaries along northern routes, such as the early envoys to China (kentōshi) and demonstrated wondrous efficacy at the time of Empress Jingū’s military expedition to the Korean peninsula. The kami developed into a guardian of the nation and protector of the imperial house, as well as a protector of sea travelers, and enjoyed the fervent faith of people from all walks of life. The Munakata clan officiated at the festival of the Sanjoshin. Along with the new system of land governance instituted during the Taika Reforms, the county Munakatagun was designated a “shrine tribute land” (shingun) and the Munakata clan simultaneously occupied the post of governor (tairyō or kōri no miyatsuko) of that county. The Munakata clan not only had close ties to the imperial house, but established marriage connections with powerful people on the continent. Even after the Japanese government stopped sending envoys (kentōshi) to China, the clans trade with the continent continued and they were powerful with regard to rights of sea travel and trade.
Today only shrine priests (shinshoku) reside on the island of Okinoshima, which has a circumference of approximately four kilometers. The island has a tremendous “altar constructed from stones” (iwasaka) which was the subject of a fieldwork study from 1954-1972. Research revealed the remains of ceremonies and objects in the crevices of the rocks dating back to between the fourth and ninth centuries, elucidating the development of early Shinto rituals and how people worshipped. The more than 100,000 ceremonial objects discovered originate not only in Japan, but also include objects from the Korean peninsula, China, and even Persia. Many have been designated National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. There is a taboo against speaking about Okinoshima and against removing any objects from of the island.

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