Suooshima is an island floating in the Seto Inland Sea. And on this island, there are four strangely shaped rocks!
They have all been worshipped by islanders since ancient times, and at some point touring these stones while praying for happiness began to be called “Shiiwa Awase Kigan”, or as a play on words, “Shiawase Kigan” (‘Wish for Happiness’ and “Shiiwa Awase Kigan” (‘Ensemble of 4 Strange Rocks’).
The name aside, there is a legend associated with each of these four rocks.
I’ll introduce them briefly. First off:
At around 40 meters high, it towers over its surroundings by the seashore. Whenever I see it, I’m overwhelmed by its scale.
“Why is there such a large boulder at the seaside?”
As you see Tateiwa standing before you, this is the simple question that comes to mind. Apparently ancient islanders wondered why, too, so there is a legend according to which “it came tumbling along the current from Oita prefecture and stood up smoothly in this place”. They even say there’s proof!
The next strange rock is this one:
It’s around 8 meters high and has a circumference of around 30 meters. There is an obi-like uneven pattern that has been carved on the large round rock.
It is said that the characters for “Namuamidabutsu” (‘I sincerely believe in Amitabha’) were roughly carved on the spot where Kobo Daishi (Kukai) threw his writing brush from a boat.
Islanders have worshiped the rock for over 1000 years as a deity of fertility and smooth childbirth.
The next rock is “Ganmon“! It has a large hole and its name includes the character for ‘gate’.
According to some, the hole was made by wave erosion, but according to others it was manmade.
Either way, the sight of the evening sun setting in the hole is truly mysterious!
“If it was manmade, what on earth was the purpose?”
As you gaze at the setting evening sun, it feels like you might just know the answer, which is somewhat peculiar!
The last one is “Iwaya”.
At the entrance there are 4 large Japanese cedar trees tied with a rope. Behind them the gigantic boulder is enshrined. The surroundings are wrapped in silence by the forest, and a small shrine stands silently within the wide-open cave within the rock.
During the first three days of New Year, it is filled with islanders coming to worship. The tradition of starting off a new year by frying sticky rice cakes inside the cave and praying for good health still remains on the island.
We don’t know when it started, but the tradition has continued since ancient times.
All the rocks are closely connected with life on the island, and you can see that they’re objects of worship.
Well then, we’d all like to know the biggest blessing of the rocks, wouldn’t we?
That’s something the islanders know best. If you need to ask for directions, do ask this question, too.
Oidemase! Come to Yamaguchi!
Shiiwa Awase Kigan
Address: 4 places within the town of Suooshima-cho, Oshima district, Yamaguchi prefecture
Inquiries: 0820-79-1003 (Suooshima Commerce, Industry & Sightseeing Department)
URL: http://www.town.suo-oshima.lg.jp/syoukoukankou/shiawasekigan.html (Japanese)
Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Masashi Fujimoto
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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