“Ōbatake no Seto”, one of Japan’s three major tides, is located just under Ōshima Bridge, which connects Yanai City in Yamaguchi with Suō-Ōshima Island.
At one time, this was considered the most difficult point to sail across for ships heading to the Seto Inland Sea.
With a fast tide and whirlpools that swallowed many lives, people were terrified of the golden dragon they believed lived there.
Now however, as the tide brings nutrients, the once frightened people of the area know it as a mecca for sea bream fishing.
This is a typically idyllic Setouchi scene, but what if I told you there was a Dragon’s Palace at the bottom of the sea? What would you think?
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Yeah, I know. That’s Urashima Tarō’ s place, right?” But might it be the house of the terrifying golden dragon??
In ancient documents it is written that, “about 82 m beneath Ōbatake no Seto, there is a rock called Ryūjin-yashiki that is also known as the Dragon’s Castle…” (Modern Translation)
Checking the seabed, there is a point that drops off abruptly. Nearby, there is a stone lantern baring the inscription “Dragon Lantern” (Rebuilt in 2013.)
Now, it starts to ring true…
So, why hasn’t anyone tried throwing in a fishing line to catch the dragon?
The reason is that “Hannya Hime”, the unsurpassed beauty with whom Mikado (Emperor) fell in love at first sight, sacrificed herself and calmed the dragon.
About 1400 years ago, the out-of-control dragon created many storms and sank many ships. They say his anger calmed only after Hannya Hime had given herself to him. She tore herself away from her servants and jumped into the whirlpool. Her dying words were, “to prevent accidents from happening again, I’ll be a guardian deity of Seto. Please bury my body on that mountain.”
At the top of the mountain towards which Hannya Hime pointed, stands “Hannya-ji” Temple.
The temple that enshrines Hannya Hime has been protecting Ōbatake no Seto for 1400 years.
Mr. Fukushima Kōshō, the temple’s 90th chief priest says, “Ryūjin-yashiki is the place that Hannya Hime rests with the golden dragon. It is said that her soul comes back as a dragon lantern (will o’ the wisp) to Hannya-ji temple on each New Year’s Eve. The fact that people are able to safely enjoy fishing now might be by the grace of Hannya Hime.”
From Hannya-ji Temple, you can look out over Ōbatake no Seto.
Imagining Hannya Hime holding the golden dragon under the deep dark sea… the calm scene brings tears to my eyes…
Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Masashi Fujimoto
Built by Emperor Yōmei to pray for Hannya Hime’s soul, this Shingon Buddhist temple is located high on the mountain, separate from the world. It houses precious cultural assets such as mausoleums for Hannya Hime and Emperor Yōmei, a small “Golden Kan’non” Buddhist statue, a Ryūjin pond, and 3 documents about Hannya-ji. You can feel the abundance of local folklore and legends here.
Address: 1166 Usanagi, Hirao-chō, Kumage-gun, Yamaguchi
Open Hours: 8:00 – 17:00
Parking: 120 spaces available
Website (Japanese): http://hannyaji.net/index.html
Masafumi Fujimoto Hi there! My name is Masafumi Fujimoto. Until the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, I was engaged in editing production at an advertising company in Tokyo. However, the earthquake was a turning point in my life and I headed home to Yamaguchi. When I arrived, I was extremely energized and motivated to help revitalize the region, but I had a hard time adjusting to the motivation level of the local people. Around that time I met an elderly lady who said: "It doesn't matter if all the people move away from the island; that's just the nature of things. Someday people will come back again." Lessening the tension I’d been feeling, those few words relieved me hugely, and I was able to finally adjust. Since then, I've been involved in writing and editing magazines, and working in advertisement production, as well as doing a little bit of farming. I also spend time walking around Setouchi searching for the many, many voices out there.
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