More Oarai Isosaki Jinja – And Shrines and Tsunami
Here are some more photos from my visit to the grand Oarai Isosaki Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture to the north east of Tokyo a few weeks ago. But first a few thoughts on the nature of shrines in Japan.
If you have visited Japan you might have noticed something peculiar with shrines, namely that they tend to be located on higher ground, and looking further you might notice that the higher the shrine is located the more of them belong to the Izumo-branch of shrines or the Hachiman branch. Most peculiar of all is that these shrines tend not to be located on the highest ground possible but at a very specific point that is found again and again all along the coast of Japan, namely just above the highest reach of any historical tsunami. In the pre modern era, Japanese people knew that when a tsunami was approaching you started running and preferably towards either a Izumo or Hachiman shrine. Not only would they most often be safe against tsunamis but they were usually constructed relatively earthquake proof and usually with ample space to safeguard it against spreading fires. Many shrines also had access to wells and ponds which would be useful in the case of natural disaster. When government researchers catalogued the 215 shrines inside Miyagi prefecture that was within the immediate disaster zone only 53 of those actually suffered damage (partial or complete), a much lower rate than secular buildings or temples, and no shrine older than 1000 years were damaged by the tsunami.
In conclusion, the old folk customs and religions of Japan has managed to transmit an awful lot of information that directly affects risk management and survival mechanisms to this day. Mapping shrines (and their age and type of deity) can be a useful part of any local risk management toolbox.
While Ibaraki was not particularly devastated by the tsunami in 2011, several lower outbuildings and two of the tori (gates) of the Oarai Isoaki Shrine were damaged or destroyed. By 2015 all of that damage has been restored though and the shrine looks as good as ever. Unfortunately they were still renovating the main shrine building by the time I visited so I had to focus my picture taking on the minor buildings!