Three 'torii' gates ride the waves in Saga Prefecture
Asahi Shimbun by Katsuyuki Iwaizako/ Staff Writer March 24, 2018
The three "torii" gates of Ouojinja shrine in Tara, Saga Prefecture, in the early morning of Feb. 14 (Satoshi Juyanagi)
The name of the Shinto shrine, Ouo, which means large fish in Japanese, derives from a legendary story featuring a guardian fish.
Around 1693, local residents were being harassed by a nasty regional government official. They decided to throw a party for the official so they invited him to Okinoshima island. There they plied him with sake until he was drunk. The residents then left the island, marooning the official. The tide rose and the official looked to be doomed.
The official pleaded to the dragon deity for help and then a large fish emerged from the ocean. He clambered on to the back of the creature and was able to ride it to land. The official was so grateful that he set up the shrine including the three aligned torii gates out of respect for the magnanimous fish.
This tale is told on a signboard at the shrine, where the scenery changes hour by hour ... dependent on the waves ... an artistic collaboration between the sun, the moon, the stars.
The sea level of the Ariake Sea varies by up to 6 meters between low and high tides. A reef of Okinoshima island in the distance can be seen vaguely, adding an air of mystery to the scenery.
The torii gates are made of wood. They become dilapidated due to being repeatedly soaked in seawater and then drying in the wind and sun. A large number of shellfish also cling to them.
The local residents have long had the custom of rebuilding them every 30 years, but Wataru Yamaguchi, 73, a member of an association to boost the town, says the torii should be rebuilt more often.
The existing torii were renewed by local carpenters including Yamaguchi in August 2012.
Offshore, other posts have been installed in the seabed on which nets to cultivate seaweed are attached. Also, next to the torii is a road that appears from underwater as the tide subsides.
A boat laden with seaweed and fish anchors beside the road and the load is lifted into a vehicle during low tide, according to a local fishery official.
Far beyond, in the direction of Ouojinja shrine’s torii and Okinoshima island, is the famed Itsukushimajinja shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture, where a large torii gate that soaks in sea water during high tide stands, as well as Mount Hikosan located on the border of Fukuoka and Oita prefectures.
From Okinoshima island facing the torii, there is the summit of Mount Taradake.
Each of these directions is associated with where the sun rises and where it sets.
“Here and over there could be something mysterious, couldn't there?” said Yamaguchi in a Kyushu dialect.