They cleaned everything, every lantern, every banner, every paper fan. Yikes. Nothing was spared. The lion mask (shishi-gashira) that is used every June in their lion dance (shishi-mai) was unpacked, clean, polished, cleaned again and polished again. It kept grinning throughout.
Shirahige was founded in 951, but has been rebuilt many times. The deity that is worshipped here is Jurōjin, the god of wisdom and longevity (and one of the seven lucky gods). The interesting thing about this shrine is its Korean history. It's named after Shirahige, a Korean tutelary god who was brought to Japan by immigrants who settled in the Lake Biwa area.
The main Shirahige shrine is Koma Jinja in Hidaka, Saitama. If you want to read an arbitrary but quirky story about a Shirahige/Korean/Yon-sama connection, click here. If you'd like to learn more about Korean shamanism, this is a good summary.
Fascinating what you discover when you start Googling and compulsively following links. You unearth, for example, that this humble shitamachi shrine has a link to NHK's new 2012 Sunday night drama, Taira no Kiyomori. A bit tenuous, perhaps, but here we go:
Mukōjima means "island on the other side of the Sumida". It used to be fertile farmland thanks to soil carried along the Sumida River and deposited in this low-lying area close to the ocean. The river was crossed at a promontory not far from the shrine, and it was here that Minamoto no Yoritomo, future shōgun of Kamakura, crossed the river in his uprising against the Taira clan of Kyoto. The NHK drama chronicles the rivalry between the two families. (The official website is here.)
See? The shrine doesn't really have anything to do with the drama, but it nevertheless took me on a very interesting journey through history.
Here's an old photo of the shrine (exact date unknown), followed by more photos of the big clean-up.
|The entrance to Shirahige today|
|Cleaning Shirahige's mikoshi|
|They take everything apart! I will never again complain about oosōji!|
|I initially thought his butt was kawaii. I was very disappointed when I realized it was Hawaii.|
|A place to pray underneath a sacred tree|
|Detail of New Year's decoration at the shrine's torii|