During the Nanboku-cho period, there was a brave and great samurai warrior named Nitta Yoshioki. He was the second son of Nitta Yoshisada. During that time, Japan was divided into North and South and they had repeatedly battled. Nitta Yoshioki fought for the Imperial Southern Court and became famous for being a strong warlord who could win against any kind of large army with his wisdom and bravery. However, he was killed by the enemies through a cowardly attack at the "Yaguchi Ferry." Enemies bored holes in the bottom of Nitta Yoshioki and his retainers' boat and fired off arrows from both banks. (Died on October 10, 1358) The Samurai warriors who engaged in Nitta Yoshioki's killing, was cursed by Yoshiaki's haunt and went crazy and died or saw ghost like fire balls, and lighting hit the place many times. Villagers witnessed these horrific events and decided to build a shrine for Nitta Yoshioki at the site of his death in order for his spirit to rest in peace.
Nitta Shrine is a shrine based on "Goryo Shinko” which is a Japanese belief. Japanese people viewed natural disasters that threatened people and great plagues as the work of evil spirits. Since the power of the spirits is enormously strong, people thought that the evil spirits could adversely save the people from accidents or disasters by enshrining them as a god. The belief was widely spread throughout Japan.
Nitta shrine commemorated the 650th anniversary of its construction in October 2008. The shrine is now well known as the "Good Luck Shrine" and is reverenced by Japanese.
There is a 700 year-old huge enigmatic zelkova tree in a premise of Nitta shrine. The tree survived through numerous unbelievable events. In the Edo period, when thunder hit the tree, the tree stayed standing, and during the Tokyo air raid, the wide area around Nitta Shrine was burnt down and the Zelkova tree was the only thing that remained. It is said that if you touch the tree, you will receive good luck in health, longevity and youthfulness.
There is a mystery about the bamboo trees planted behind the shrine pavilion. It is said that when it thunders, the bamboo trees split up with the breaking sound. In the Edo period, Hiraga Gennai who invented an elekiteru (electrostatic generator), made a "Yamori" with that bamboo that would invite good fortune and ward off evil spirits. This "Yamori" is the first "Hamaya" (sacred arrow) of the kind that is offered at shrines throughout Japan.
In order to commemorate this, the art piece "Yamori," produced by Mr. Asaha Katsumi, a famous Japanese graphic designer is showcased in front of the shine.
Shinto is known as the indigenous religion of Japan that came from the daily life of the Japanese people. You will see Shinto events/ceremonies everywhere in Japanese people’s life. Major events/ceremonies are New Year’s visits to shrines, ceremonies to drive away evil spirits, the rite of passage for children aged 3, 5 and 7 yeas old, and wedding ceremonies, among others.
In ancient times, Japanese ancestors lived life in harmony with nature. Humans are blessed by the power of nature, at the same time, we are threatened by nature. In ancient times, people felt the power of gods and goddess behind various natural phenomena. They were also grateful for the preciousness of life surrounded by nature, which continues from generation to generation. Thus, they believed that all life force that created everything was the power of Kami (gods and goddess). Thus, purity of nature, such as mountains, rocks, trees, and waterfalls contained a spirit, became objects of worship. In the course of time, people started to build a place for worship, which later became the shrine.
With the introduction of Buddhism and its rapid adoption by the court in the 6th century, native Japanese beliefs developed in various ways throughout Japan and those beliefs and spirits then started to be called “Shinto.”
Shinto's spirits are called “yaoyorozu no kami” , an expression literally meaning "eight million gods and goddess" because Japanese people believe that a countless number of Kami exist, like the nature of gods and goddesses which control natural phenomena related to the ocean, mountains, and wind, and other “kami” closely related to people’s lives. They also worship the spirits of ancestors and great figures who have made glorious achievements for their home towns as “Kami”. In Kojiki and Nihon shoki, the written historical records of the Nara Period, many Shinto practices and stories were recorded.
There are many types of “Kami” such as Shinmei at Shinmei Shrine, Inari at Inari Shrine, Hachiman at Hachiman Shrine, and Tenjin at Tenjin Shrine. Japanese ancestors felt reverence for those “Kami” as local protective deity.
Japanese "Matsuri" festivals have originated from the practice of Shinto belief. "Matsuri" festival represents Japanese people's life which is oriented around rice cultivation. There are distinctive festivals in each season; in spring, festivals to pray for a good harvest, in summer, festivals to pray for less damage from heavy rain or wind, and in autumn, festivals to cerebrate harvest. On the "Matsuri" festival day, along with the rituals, a parade of portable shrine and floats is also carried out to the shrine and many people come to see it. "Matsuri" festivals are not only held at shrines, but also held at each home. People pray for their family member's hearth or prosperity in front of the household altar, and such activity can also be considered as a small “Matsuri” festival.
The philosophy of Shinto is: to preserve nature like a sacred forest; to live in harmony with nature; to maintain peace in the local community through "Matsuri" festivals and strengthen the bond within the country; for prosperity of descendants; to pray for eternal prosperity of family, locals, and Japan. In addition, the Shinto religion values "purity" so the shrines are always kept "pure" and participants of "Matsuri" festivals are purified by visiting shrines. Japanese people's lives are deeply influenced by these philosophy and features.