金屋子と鉄の神々【Kanayago-The Gods of Iron-Workers】

Recently, I was asked to set up a visit to a Tatara furnace and a Kanayako Shrine for an American professor. I did this and found a couple of problems. They concerned the Gods of Iron-workers. The first problem was, the Kanayako Shrine is a male Taisha Zukuri shrine! I had thought that the Tatara furnace had a goddess. I went to several sources to find out the answers.


The main shrine is now in Nishi Hida of Hirose, and the day of worship is April 21st. The Kanayako Shrine is dedicated to two main gods! Kanayama Hiko, a god, and Kanayama Hime, a goddess. Of course the shrine “chigi” was to a god, but the main worship is to the goddess. She is said to hate women who are unclean, according to Shamanism. She will not forgive their presence at her shrine. However, she forgives death! This is strange in a religion that considers death as unclean.


I wondered why? The reason is probably that, the old Tatara furnaces were outdoors with no roof. During the iron-making process, if it rained, which it often does in the Sanin Area, the water would sometimes cause the furnaces to explode. Such an incident would result in deaths. Since these deaths were in her service of iron- making, she would forgive them.

なぜでしょう。 その理由はおそらく、古いたたら製鉄の炉が屋外の屋根もないような場所にあったことに関係していると思われます。雨の多い山陰地方では、雨水のせいで製鉄中の炉が爆発ことがときおりあり、命を落とした人もいました。しかしそれは製鉄という、金山姫に奉仕するための行為の中での出来事であったため、女神は死に対して寛容であったのだと思われます。

These gods and goddesses protect workers involved in Tatara iron-making! “Kanayako” means, those workers. The origin of Kanayako Shrines was in the distant past when everything in daily life had a god! It is said that they came to earth in Harima no Kuni in Hyogo Prefecture, but flew to the Chugoku Mountains on a heron. They were enshrined here by two lords of this area. They have been worshipped most in this part of Japan, but since then, with the decline of Tatara operations, their popularity has also decreased.


The iron technology probably came to the Izumo Area because of the huge iron sand deposits that exist in this part of Japan. It is high-grade iron sand, and is used in the world famous Japanese swords. It is also used by Hitachi Metals Co. They make the steel for Gillette.


One more fact that I discovered was that one of the Gods of Iron has two, or three, heads! I was really shocked to see this, because there are no gods, with multiple heads, in any mythology of Japan that I have read! Still, these two gods are recorded. I found them written about in very old books held in Hitachi’s Wako Museum of Iron in Yasugi. The books carried pictures of these gods, and they looked like gods from another country. Of course they did!


India has many gods with multiple hands, heads, and whatever you can imagine. These gods probably found their way to Japan through China and Korea, along with the iron technology. Everything will have an explanation in Japanese culture, if you search long enough. I must go into this research a little further before I will be completely satisfied.


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