Kasuga No Shinboku (The Sacred Tree Of Kasuga-Taisha Shrine) (春日神木)

"Kasuga no Shinboku" refers to "Shinboku" (the sacred tree) of Kasuga-taisha Shrine located in the present Nara Prefecture. It is made up of a twig of "sakaki" (Cleyera japonica, an evergreen shrub in Japan) or "nagi" (Podocarpus nagi, an evergreen tall tree in Japan), "sime" (sacred rice-straw ropes), and the sacred mirror as "goshintai" (also called "yorishiro," the object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity, and here, the deity is "Kasuga Myojin" [the deity of Kasuga-taisha Shrine]).


Kasuga-taisha Shrine is known as the Fujiwara clan's "Uji-sha Shrine"(shrine built for praying clan's glory), and before the Meiji Restoration, it was closely linked with the neighboring Kofuku-ji Temple, which was the Fujiwara clan's "Uji-dera Temple" (temple built for praying clan's glory).

When monk-soldiers of Kofuku-ji Temple did their "goso" (direct appeal to the court, brandishing the divine retribution), they asked the chief Shinto priest of Kasuga-taisha Shrine to take out the divine mirrors enshrined at "Honden" (the main shrine, called "Omiya-shisho") and also asked him to set Shinboku on the mirrors. Then they held "Senza no Gi" (the ritual in which the shinboku was transferred to 'Utsushidono-hall' located at the side of Honden), thereby giving an advance notice of goso to the court and to the "bakufu" (Japanese feudal regime headed by a shogun), and the whole process mentioned above was called "Shinboku Doza no Goso" (the goso by means of moving the sacred tree). If their petition was permitted at this time, the sacred mirrors attached to Shinboku were returned to Honden, and their goso ended. If not, they transferred shinboku to "Kondo-hall" (the main hall) of Kofuku-ji Temple, asked both Isonokami-jingu Shrine and Yoshino-katte-myojin Shrine to send "mikoshi" (portable shrines carried in festivals), and occasionally called for help to seven large temples of "Nanto" (southern capital, referring to Nara), including Todai-ji Temple. In addition to monk-soldiers, peasants and farmers are thought to have been gathered for goso by "shokan" (an officer governing the 'shoen' [manor in medieval Japan]) of Kofuku-ji Temple. When everything was ready, "Sogo" (Office of Monastic Affairs) of Kofuku-ji Temple assumed the negotiations between the court and the temple, and the chief Shinto priest of Kasuga-taisha Shrine and the "jinin" (associates of Shinto shrine) held Shinboku. And monk-soldiers and jinin lined up and - with a trumpet shell roaring - marched off to Kyoto. Going via Nara-zaka slope, Kizu, and other places, they stopped by Byodo-in Temple (in the present Uji City), made negotiations, and saw how it went. If their petition was not permitted here, either, they entered Kyoto with Shinboku. In Kyoto, they usually enshrined Shinboku at "Kangakuin" (an educational institution), but occasionally, they held it aloft in front of the Imperial Palace, thereby threatening the court. If their petition was yet to be permitted here, the chief Shinto priest and others left Shinboku behind and returned to Nara - this was called "Furisute" - thereby putting psychological pressure on the court.

When Shinboku was moved, - especially when it was carried into Kyoto, - court nobles and officials of the Fujiwara clan were suspended from court and they stayed home. If a court noble or official went against it, or criticized (or ignored) the goso, he (or she) was purged from the Fujiwara clan. At that time, more than half of the court nobles and officials belonged to the Fujiwara clan, and so, when Shinboku was carried into Kyoto, the court fell into suspended animation and the national administration was paralyzed. If a samurai family prepared an attack against monk-soldiers and goso-supporting people, they made goso on the samurai family and demanded that the family members should be punished with the death sentence, banishment, or other severe penalty. Therefore, Kofuku-ji Temple had its own way in the end, whatever unreasonable demands they might make. These unreasonable demands were sarcastically called "Yamashina dori" (Yamashina arguments), and this Yamashina came from Yamashina-dera Temple (the predecessor of Kofuku-ji Temple), which was located in today's Yamashina Ward of Kyoto long before the national capital was transferred to Heian-kyo (today's Kyoto). Incidentally, when "Shinboku Kiza" (the return of the sacred tree to Nara) was completed, court nobles and "tenjobito" (high-ranking courtiers allowed into the Imperial Palace) of the Fujiwara clan customarily accompanied monk-soldiers and others to "Rakugai" (the outside of the capital Kyoto) or even to Nara, and they offered thanks to Kasuga-taisha Shrine. And "Hoheishi" (an imperial messenger to a Shinto shrine) was dispatched to Kasuga-taisha Shrine and to its Kyoto branches (Oharano-jinja Shrine and Yoshida-jinja Shrine).

"Nihongi Ryaku" (Summary of Japanese Chronologies) says that the goso with Shinboku carried into Kyoto was made for the first time on July 15 (in the lunar calendar), 968, when Kofuku-ji Temple was in conflict with Todai-ji Temple, but "Yasutomi-Ki" (Diaries of Yasutomi NAKAHARA) says the first one was in 1093. And "Shinboku doza no ki" (the book on moving the sacred tree, owned by the Cabinet Library) says the first one was in 1006. It says that in that year monk-soldiers and others advanced to Kohatayama Otani (in the present Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City), demanding that MINAMOTO no Yorichika, who occupied "Yamoto no kami" (the governor of Yamato Province, which is today's Nara Prefecture), should be deprived of the position. The article on July 12 (in the lunar calendar), 1006, in "Mido Kanpakuki" (FUJIWARA no Michinaga's diary), which goes, "They said monk-soldiers have just come and made an appeal, and that about 2000 people arrived at the place called Kohatayama Otani, and so forth," is thought to have mentioned this goso.

The goso with Shinboku carried into Kyoto was made frequently from the period of the retired emperor's rule to the Kamakura period. Also, that on August 14 (in the lunar calendar), 1379, during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, showed an extraordinary development. In this case, the negotiations' director on the side of the court was Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, who occupied the position of "seii taishogun" (literally, 'great general who subdues the barbarians') in Muromachi bakufu and also the position of "Gon Dainagon" (Provisional Major Counselor) in court. Partly because Yoshimoto NIJO (a sympathizer of Muromachi bakufu) wanted it, the two sides reached an agreement in December (in the lunar calendar). In the next year, however, Kofuku-ji Temple argued over the sixth anniversary of the Retired Emperor Gokogen and broke its promise of shinboku kiza, so Yoshimitsu actively participated in the court administration and began to suggest that he would take the lead in the negotiations. In spite of this, Kofuku-ji Temple could not purge Yoshimitsu, because he came from the Minamoto clan, not from the Fujiwara clan. Therefore, Kofuku-ji Temple was forced to sit back and watch the court managed under Yoshimitsu, and on December 15 (by the lunar calendar), 1380, it was forced to return to Nara with their demands almost completely rejected. This was a setback for Kofuku-ji Temple and Kasuga-taisha Shrine, and thereafter, Shinboku was moved at most to Byodo-in Temple. In "the Sengoku period" (Period of Warring States), Shinboku Doza no Goso itself became difficult, and it came to an end in 1501.

Incidentally, Kofuku-ji Temple and Kasuga-taisha Shrine had another custom, which was implemented when their manor was disseized by others, or their "nengu" (land tax) was unpaid or embezzled. In such a case, the shrine's jinin in "koe" (yellow vestments) was dispatched to the manor, and simplified Shinboku, which was made up of the shrine's sakaki and "shide" (a hanging), was stood at the center of the paddy or the field in question. In Japanese, this process of the custom was depicted as "sime wo tatsu" (stretch the sacred rice-straw ropes), or as "Shinboku wo furu" (stand the sacred tree). And this process made the paddy, the field, and the products the holy and sacred thing, so nobody - except for the jinin - could enter there or touch the products. If somebody broke the taboo, he (or she) was fined the fee of Shinto purification ritual for the sin of "Shinboku han-e" (profanity to Shinboku). When the nengu was paid - or the disseized real estate (or the embezzled nengu) was returned (or promised to be returned) - to the temple or the shrine, Shinboku was removed, and the temple and the shrine imposed punitive money, such as "shime no moto" (a kind of a commission), on the person who caused the trouble.

[Original Japanese]