Kaname-ishi (spirit rocks) (要石)

Kaname-ishi (spirit rocks) are found in Kashima-jingu Shrine in Kashima City, Ibaraki Prefecture and Katori-jingu Shrine in Katori City, Chiba Prefecture. Buried almost entirely in the ground, they are believed to appease the earthquakes.

The above ground segments of the spirit rocks are more than ten centimeters.

The ground segment of the spirit rock in Katori-jingu Shrine is round while that of Kashima-jingu Shrine's has a dent.

Kashima-jingu Shrine's spirit rock is situated in a small shrine in the woods, far away from the main buildings of the Shrines. The spirit rock in Katori-jingu Shrine is located near the main gate.

The spirit rocks whose above ground segments are small are buried deep under the ground to keep a gigantic catfish or dragon which causes the earthquakes under control. Or they have pierced through, struck down or stuck into the catfish or dragon.

That is why they say that the areas are earthquake-free. The spirit rocks are also the protectors of Japan since the gigantic catfish (or dragon) is believed to travel across or surround the entire country. They play a significant role since the two shrines are counted among the three "jingu" (grand shrines) (of which the other is Ise-jingu Shrines) since ancient times.

The spirit rock of Kashima-jingu Shrine holds down the head of the gigantic catfish and Katori-jingu Shrine's spirit rock is put on its tale. The two rocks may be connected underground.

It was Takemikazuchi no kami (who is variously called but we use this name after the shrine; also known as Kashima-sama), the enshrined deity of Kashima-jingu Shrine, who struck down the catfish with the spirit rock. This was added later because it is described in neither the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) nor the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan). Takemikazuchi no kami is a god of war or the god of dagger so that the spirit is often compared to a dagger. The rock is sometimes called "stone dagger." "Namazu-e" (Pictures of the gigantic catfish) often depict the deity tramping on or swinging a dagger down to the catfish.

The Manyoshu (Collection of Ten-Thousand leaves) includes a poem about the spirit rock which reads, 'The spirit rock may move but will never be pulled out while Kashima's deity is alive.'
In the Edo period people believed that they could escape damage from the earthquakes if they write down the poem, recite it three times and stick it on the gate.

FUJIWARA no Mitsutoshi who visited Kashima-jingu Shrine in 1255 composed the following verse: 'At long last, today, I saw the rock enshrined in the deep mountain.'

In 1664 Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA who led excavations of kofun-tumuli gave orders to dig around a spirit rock (which some sources refer to Kashima's and others identify with Katori's). At the sunset the work was discontinued and the following morning the rock was buried by itself. After this happened two days in a row, the workers kept digging around the clock for seven days and seven nights, but they could not get to the bottom of the rock.

After the Ansei Great Earthquake, in the tenth month in the old calendar of 1855, Kashima-jingu Shrine's paper charm with a picture of the gigantic catfish became very popular, spreading the spirit rock to the people in Edo. Some said that the earthquake occurred because Takemikazuchi no kami went to Izumo Province to attend the annual meeting of the deities held in the tenth (Kanna) month.

The Spirit Rock of Kashima-jinja Shrine
Kashima-jinja Shrine (in Kami-machi) in Kami-machi, Miyagi Prefecture has also a spirit rock which was modelled after the one in Kashima-jingu Shrine according to the local fudoki (topographical records). In 1973 another spirit rock was offered to and buried in the shrine in Kami-machi.

Although this Kashima-jinja Shrine enshrines the same deity as Kashima-jingu Shrine, unlike in many other 'Kashima-jinja Shrines' however, the deity was transferred not from Kashima-jingu Shrine but from Shiogama-jinja Shrine.

The word "kaname-ishi" may be used as a metaphor for something one cannot or should not move.

However, the word, "keystone" which is used as a metaphor for something important or indispensable is sometimes translated as "kaname-ishi." These two metaphors are therefore often mixed up.

[Original Japanese]