In Japan more than 25,000 shrines are dedicated to the god Hachiman. Who was he and why is he so popular? Hachiman has long been known as the God of War, like the god Mars in the western world. Historical records suggest this understanding of Hachiman began in the 7th century.


Hachiman was the favorite god of Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate in 1192. He built the great Hachiman shrine at Kamakura, which still stands today. The true origin of Hachiman is shrouded in mystery, however. As you all know, the early Japanese worshipped all natural and living things. They believed that all things had life and also a Kami (spirit or god).


The story is this: One day long ago, some fishermen on Kyushu found a strange object washed up on shore. It had obviously come from a foreign land, and they began to worship it and pray to it for safe voyages upon the sea. They believed that since the object had survived a long trip in safety, it must be some sort of god. Many ancient shrines dedicated to “Safety at Sea” suggest the Oceanic origins of races contributing bloodlines, character, and legends to today’s Japanese people.


Hachiman, as they called it, became popular among fishermen all along the coast, so the oldest Hachiman shrines are on the seacoasts of Japan. Later, people using those shrines wanted something more definite to worship. They decided to use the child emperor, Antoku (1180 – 1185), and he became the deity of the shrines. Finally, however, the shrines were dedicated to the Emperor Ojin (270 A.D. – 312 A.D.). He had added 23 conquered provinces to his empire, so he is considered to be the God of War, and the Hachiman shrines today are all dedicated to him.


In this legend, Hachiman means, “8-banners,” which were said to have appeared in the sky at Ojin’s birth. It is said that every Hachiman shrine includes a small side deity. This is usually Takenouchi no Sukune, who was the permanent guest of the Empress Jingu (c. 200 – 270?), Ojin’s mother. Takenouchi no Sukune was famous for directing the war against Korea (3rd century), and represents the perfect loyal servant.


Another historical source indicates each Hachiman shrine usually has 2 sub-shrines. One is for the Empress Jingu and the other to Ojin’s wife. Hachiman probably originated in Yahata, Kyushu, because of the black current, which almost certainly carried the original object of worship to Japan hundreds of years ago.

八幡宮の中にはさらに二つの小さな宮があり、一つには神宮皇后、もう一つには応神天皇の妃が祭られています。 日本に流れ着き、漁師たちの信仰の対象となった物体が黒潮に乗ってやってきたことはほぼ間違いありません。このことから、八幡様の起源はおそらく現在の福岡県の八幡にあると思われます。

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