Yashiki-gami (Household God) (屋敷神)

Yashiki-gami are kami that are enshrined at a dwelling.

Summary and History

Yashiki-gami are kami that protect a dwelling or the land on which one is situated, and are enshrined to the rear of the residence, on land attached to the site, or in a nearby mountain forest. They are referred to by different names that vary by region. These kami are deeply connected to the house but different to those enshrined in shrines within the home and are generally not enshrined inside the house itself. The belief of enshrining yashiki-gami is present throughout Japan with the exception of Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) areas.

The origin of yashiki-gami is not clearly understood. However, as is mentioned below, their divination is said to have the same origin as that of agriculture gods and ancestor gods. A particularly deep connection to ancestor gods has been identified.

It has long been believed in Japan that the souls of deceased ancestors resided in mountains, and it is thought that the practice of enshrining yashiki-gami originated when this belief led to the creation of places of worship in mountain forests near to domestic residences. It was generally believed in ancient times that spirits did not reside in a single place but only came to certain locations at specific times, from which they would return after being worshipped. For this reason, it is thought that the places of worship established in mountain forests were not small shrines but rather ancient trees or rocks to which spirits were believed to be drawn only during the holding of rituals. Shrines only started to be constructed when the belief later emerged that kami permanently resided in a single area. It is thought that kami enshrined in mountain forests were gradually brought closer to residences before being enshrined in shrines built within houses as can be widely seen today. The belief that yashiki-gami serve to protect buildings and land is thought to have developed when it became possible to construct shrines near to people's homes.

The assumption is that it was originally the case that only the main family enshrined a deified ancestor spirit as a yashiki-gami, but the emergence of branch families gradually led to any house becoming able to enshrine yashiki-gami.

In some areas, the increase in the power of what was once the guardian yashiki-gami of a family allowed it to become more than simply a family deity and ascend to the status of a local ujigami (a guardian god or spirit of a particular place in the Shinto religion).

According to Koji NAOE, yashiki-gami can be classified as general yashiki-gami, main family yashiki-gami and clan yashiki-gami.

General yashiki-gami: All houses within a community have yashiki-gami which are worshipped individually.

Main famiy yashiki-gami: Only specific old families within a community have a yashiki-gami which is worshipped.

Clan yashiki-gami: Only specific old families within a community have yashiki-gami which are worshipped by members of the family.

This three classification system describes changing community structures. In places in which relationships by blood and marriage are close and the main and branch family system is firmly rooted in the community, the entire family gathers in the main house to worship the 'clan yashiki-gami', but as family relationships weaken and members grow apart, the practice of gathering in the main house to worship becomes replaced by worshipping a 'main family yashik-gami'. As a family's institutional connection disappears, branch families emerge as independent units that worship 'general yashiki-gami'. It can be said that the forms of yashiki-gami correspond to the relationships between houses in a community.

The word 'yashiki-gami' is a technical term and the actual word used varies depending on the region.

In the Tohoku (northeast) region and Kagoshima Prefecture, they are referred to as 'Uchigami' or 'Ujigami'.

The words 'Uggan,' 'Jigami,' and 'Jinushigami' are also used.

South of Ibaraki Prefecture, it is usual to affix the honorific title 'sama' to give 'Ujigamisama'.


Yashiki-gami are identified as being related to agriculture gods (field gods and mountain gods), as the times in which they are worshipped (autumn and spring) coincide with one another. They are also identified as having the characteristics of ancestor gods, as there are many areas in which the entire family is assembled to worship yashiki-gami. It is also understood that there are areas in which yashiki-gami are referred to as 'ujigami'. The understanding that yashiki-gami, agriculture gods and ancestor gods are related comes from the fact that there are areas in which the enshrined deity is clearly known to be an ancestor god as well as cases in which the yashiki-gami is identified as having characteristics in common with agriculture or ancestor gods.

However, it is not the case that yashiki-gami can be simply considered to be ancestor gods. It is particularly true in urban areas that a new resident of a house will inherit the yashiki-gami, so it therefore cannot be unconditionally claimed that yashiki-gami are ancestor gods.

Despite this, it is generally thought that yashiki-gami originate from the ancestor gods of a particular house and were not enshrined at specific Shinto shrines, but those shrines that once did so include many that now enshrine the deities of famous Shinto shrines.
What is likely due to the involvement of folk religion followers, it is known that these shrines were changed to enshrine separated deities transferred from various famous shrines such as 'Inari-shin,' 'Ise-jingu Shrine,' 'Yasaka-jinja Shrine,' 'Kumano Sanzan' (three major shrines in Kumano), 'Hakusan-jinja Shrine,' 'Tenman-gu Shrine,' 'Hachiman-gu Shrine,' and 'Wakamiya Shrine.'
There are also a great many places in which Inari (the god of harvest) is considered to be a yashiki-gami.

Enshrining Location
Yashiki-gami are mainly enshrined in a corner of the site on which a house is situated and, when this is the case, the deity is enshrined to the northwest or northeast of the house. This is because, in Japan, it is considered to be unlucky to enshrine a deity in the northwest. In agriculture a northwesterly wind is also considered to be unlucky. The belief that the northeast is an unlucky direction was influenced by the later arrival of the Way of Yin and Yang, and is a fairly recent custom.

There are also places in which yashiki-gami are not enshrined next to the house itself, but in a nearby mountain forest. This is thought to remain from the time when kami were originally worshipped in forests or mountains as mentioned above.

It is generally the case that yashiki-gami are enshrined outdoors, but there are exceptions in which they are enshrined indoors. This is believed to be a result of kami that were once enshrined in mountain forests being brought closer to the residence itself before finally ending up within the house.

Shrines and Sacred Objects

Many yashiki-gami are enshrined in a small stone or wooden shrine. These shrines do not have a main sanctuary on the scale of an ordinary Shinto shrine. Where the yashiki-gami is very formally enshrined, the main sanctuary will on a scale similar to a massha branch shrine, and some even have torii.

However, the construction of main sanctuaries only developed when the later belief emerged that kami permanently reside in a single location, and before this time, they were not enshrined in small shrines but simply worshipped on site. Kami were believed to be drawn to trees or rocks, as have been retained in places such as Izu Toshima Island, the Kumano region and Iki Island.

There are also places in which kami were installed into temporary straw shrines. This practice is believed to remain from the time when kami were believed to descend upon a location only when worshipped. It was therefore deemed unnecessary for a shrine to be built as the kami is not ordinarily present.

As has been mentioned above, it is thought that ancient trees and rocks are the oldest forms of objects to which kami were believed to be drawn. Carved wood and strips of paper also became used with the spread of sharp tools and the increasingly widespread diffusion of paper. Nowadays, paper talismans issued by each shrine are enshrined, particularly at locations enshrining the divided deity of a certain shrine.

Time of Worship
Yashiki-gami are worshipped twice during the year; spring in the 2nd month (lunisolar calendar), and autumn during the 10th or 11th month (lunisolar calendar). Although there are places in which worship is only conducted once in autumn. In places where Inari is enshrined, the main time of worship is the Inari festival on the first day of the horse in the 2nd month.

The reason for worshipping in spring and autumn is thought to be due to the belief that agriculture gods descend the mountains to the paddy fields at the beginning of the rice growing season in spring and return to the mountains in autumn, and, as has been described above, yashiki-gami are believed to be closely related to agriculture gods.

[Original Japanese]