Monday, July 2, 2012

Mt. Miwa, Passed Down in Myths

In ancient time, lots of wild lilies whose ancient name was Sai or Saikusa (sasayuri, lilium japonicum) used to be thriving around Sai-river (狭井川) at the foot of Mt.Miwa. This is where legendary first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu came across the maiden and fell in love with her. She was a daughter of Ōmononushi who was believed to be a deity residing in Mt. Miwa according to the myth.


Saikusa Festival (三枝祭) is held on June 17 every year in honor of her at Isagawa shrine (率川神社), an auxiliary shrine where she has been dedicated to and Sasayuri grown  at her birth place are sent for that ceremony. Due to the change of environment, it has become  difficult they grow naturally so most of them have been cultivated there.

                                                                           image from Wikipedia

                  Mt. Miwa seen from Yamanobe-no-michi (last autumn)

Speaking of Ōmiwa shrine(大神神社)or also called Miwa shrine(三輪神社), my previous post is here, it is a prominent example of mountain worship and ancient snake cult. Snakes were widely revered as a water deity and thunder deity as well in Japanese myths surrounding Mt. Miwa as well as early Shinto in general. Here is a very famous story written in Kojiki, an ancient chronicle, as follows;

Long time ago, there lived a beautiful lady. An unidentified noble man visited her every night and soon she became pregnant. Her parents wondered who he was and advised her to tie a hemp thread with a pin to his clothes. The following morning, the hemp thread was found to go out of the house through the keyhole of the door and all the way to Mt.Miwa and stop in front of the shrine in the mountain. Here it gives a hint that he is a deity and a snake, however, in another two ladies stories, he is described clearly as a snake.

image from Wikipedia

Anyway Kojiki says there were only three coils of the thread left on the reel and from this incident, this place has been called Miwa (三輪、three rings) ever since.

There are three beauties loved by this deity according to the chronicles. The controversial Hashihaka Kofun (old tomb) is said to be one of theirs. 

The sight of snakes makes me creep all over but this weird appearance, regeneration
by their molting or their wavy movements or an image of fertility must have inspired people with a sense of awe, something unworldly power.  

There is a scenic view point at the foot of Mt. Miwa called 大美和の杜 (Ōmiwa grove).
You can see a breathtaking view of Yamato basin in a westward direction where there once was Fujiwara Palace.  I'd like to take a picture of sunset from here again.

 Looking back, you can see the beautiful figure of Mt. Miwa


 I saw  butterflies fluttering from flowers to flowers.

namiageha (ナミアゲハ swallowtail)


monkiageha (モンキアゲハ the red Helen)

In Greek,  butterfly is called psyche and inspired by butterfly’s power of transformation, the word also means the soul. I remembered Greek myth, a story of Psyche and Eros. 
Here in some region, they are also believed to carry souls. I felt as if those butterflies happily invited me to the ancient world. 


  1. 今年は古事記が完成してから1300年だそうですね。平城京よりもっと古い山の辺の道を古代を感じながら歩いてみたいです。 美和の社からの眺めは、大和三山と周りの山もふくめて、これぞ大和と思えるところです。新しいカメラで撮った夕日の写真も披露してくださいね。


  2. ブログデザイン、トップを飾る美しい花は菖蒲ですか?水辺に咲く豪華な花ですね。数年前京都鴨川の川辺を家族揃ってレンタル自転車で北上し上賀茂神社近くの太田神社まで少し姿が似たカキツバタを見に行った事がありますが、残念ながらこれほど見事ではなかったです。笹百合は首を長く伸ばし俯くように咲くのですね。淡い色もかわいいですね。また、静かな山が連なる風景に心が落ち着きます。このような里山に咲く花に踊る蝶も今では珍しく蝶の模様の不思議さにも驚きます。すべてに心なごみました。ありがとうございます。

  3. Ah, beautiful pictures! We have that first butterfly here, but it`s rare to see. I think it is the largest in Norway.
    Like your white liles very much.. so clean and romantic flower.

    Wish you a happy week!

  4. Those winged angels, the butterflies, are lovely. And gorgeous flowers too.

  5. beautiful pictures cosmos x

  6. What a wonderful tale filled with nature and history! You pictures are beautiful, too. I especially love the butterflies.

  7. 笹百合、とても美しいですね!素晴らしいショットです。


  8. Cosmos, you know I love stories, and this story is SO interesting. Maidens and snakes and deities and ancient legends ... I'm happy! ^^

    Funnily enough snakes don't scare me - perhaps because I grew up with them in Africa - but still, I'd rather see butterflies than snakes! These ones are particularly beautiful. Is it my imagination, or are they quite big?

    Now you'll have to excuse me, because I want to read more about Mount Miwa and its old tales. Thanks for telling us about it!

  9. How beautiful and cute lilies are!! This year also I went to see 三枝祭り, but all lilies in the shrine were drooping because of shortage of water. So I am very happy to see your beautiful photos!! The shrine choose the lilies with three flowers as three is a important number.
    大神神社 is always a very interesting place in many ways, isn't it?
    The view of Yamato is awesome!

  10. 笹ゆり、とてもきれいですね!それから、ヘッダーの花菖蒲、実に見事に撮れています!!淡い紫色が本当にステキ。この記事を読んで、お知り合いの三枝さんを思い出しました。蝶もすばらしい!ご神体が山である三輪山。きっとそうした山の中(富士山もそうですが)で、大和にとってもっとも原初なる地であり、原始信仰の源だったんでしょうね。cosmosさんの記事を読むと、いつも秋津嶋の広やかな野や山が語りだす世界に、誘われます。箸墓古墳のちゃんとした調査をしなければならないのに、なんであんなに宮内庁は頑固なんでしょうね? ありがとうございます。一陣の涼風が吹くようなさわやかな記事を!!

  11. I love the legend of Mt. Miwa. I can imagine an old granny telling the tale to young ones as they hold a spool of thread or yarn that she is crocheting or knitting from.

  12. ヘッダーの薄紫がすごくきれいであでやか。

  13. The vegetation on Mt.Miwa looks lush and beautiful.I love the way you've captured the butterflies on the flowers,ending on the lovely thought that they have invited you into another world......and you take us with you!I like the monkiageha image for it's simplicity,but all the photos are beautiful.Thank you Cosmos.

    Have a good weekend!

  14. Stardust
    すらりとした清楚なゆりですって?! いったいどこからそんな言葉が! でも百合、とくにこの野に咲く百合はやはり永遠の憧れです。


    The first butterfly can be seen often around here. They are big species but not the biggest in Japan. The lily is indigenous to Japan, a bit pinkish tint. I like this flower too. Thank you, spiderdama, for coming.

    Sy, Ladyfi, Jen
    Thank you for visiting and leaving the comments. I really appreciate it.


    I wish I wouldn’t shrink at the sight of a snake! They must be friendly except some poisonous ones. An acquaintance of mine says she would prefer snakes to cats. Those butterflies are sure big species. Have you ever seen them?
    I’m afraid there’s not an English version of Miwa tales. Wish you will be able to read in Japanese soon.

    I expected that there were rich lily field spreading at the compound of Miwa shrine. It was a limited space and flowers were sparse, however, they were graceful and lovely. I saw some being cultivated in another place. I didn’t know they chose the lily with three flowers for the ritual. Yes. It is an interesting place!


  15. w2w
    Yes, exactly w2w. These stories were told by “an old granny”, however here it is supposed to be a young intelligent lower-level official, very little is known about him or her, who was responsible for memorizing such matters. Those were recorded and compiled by the other official over 30 years and it was completed 1300 years ago.
    There are many stories in the book which hint at actual events and people, so it is a valuable book to trace the history of ancient Japan.
    Thank you for coming, w2w.


    Are you familiar with those butterflies? They sometimes visit my small garden. It’s good to see beautiful butterflies fluttering.
    However, I was surprised to see their caterpillars devour the bunch of parsley or soft leaves of flowers in my garden overnight. There’s not always a beautiful thing about ..maybe everything..
    Thank you, Ruby.

  16. Hello, Keiko!

    I especially liked the Japonese name of this flower - Sasayuri, it sounds just as sweet and seducing as the perfume of a lily is.
    I found the cult of the snake very interesting and I loved the story. Thank you for sharing! Snakes also have an important role in our mythology, they are believed to be a symbol of wisdom and mystic knowledge. It is also believed that if they can live hidden for 7 years, so that no man or other creature see them, they change into dragons. And as dragons they are ridden by a sort of sorcerers called 'solomonari' who can control the weather and command the clouds and the rains. It seems we have common ground for this cult, isn't it?

    The pictures with the butterflies are splendid and I only wish you get to take a picture of a sunset at the foot of Mt Miwa really soon!

    My warmest wishes and have a great weekend, Keiko!

  17. Beautiful photos!!!
    Saludos desde España, GDF

  18. Hi,Cosmos.
    First of all,I have to say that your header is very beautiful!!!透明感があって上品な色合いの菖蒲ですね~~!私も撮ってみたいです。奈良の歴史は奥深く、知れば知るほど興味がわく町なのですね。山之辺の道を少しずつ歩きたいとずっと思いながら実現してません。Stardustさんも言われてるように、私もゆりの花を見た瞬間Cosmosさんのようだと思いました。ひらひら舞う蝶を見事にとらえましたね。素晴らしい!

  19. Hi, Roxana,

    I am impressed that you liked the sound of “sasayuri”. Usually a lily is called Yuri in Japanese but Sasayuri is an indigenous species. You are so sensitive to the sound as well. It’s interesting to know that we have common ground for the snake cult. Thank you for sharing an interesting story about how snakes change into dragons. Here dragon cult was introduced from China and combined with snake cult .
    Thank you for coming, Roxana. Take good care of yourself.

    GDF, thank you for visiting and leaving the nice comment.

    Red rose

    最上級の褒め言葉が並んでて、笹百合も、ふん?一体どうしたの?って感じですね。Red roseさんのアップデート早く拝見したいものですが、今しばらく充電中とか。一段と素晴らしいものになるでしょうね。楽しみにしています。私のカメラもここしばらくお休み中。でもまた急に思い立って出かけるかも。コメントほんとにありがとうございました。

  20. m(__)mすみません。中山さんではなく山中さんです、、、。なぜかyamanakaとタイプすると一番先に中山になります。言い訳めきましたが、気がつきませんでした。

  21. I just love those old stories and myths that are associated with our
    religion. Loved reading the Mt. Miwa legend.

    Snakes are revered in India too, they are believed to be sacred and
    are worshiped, we had spoken about it too? Rmemeber?

    And I loved those butterflies fluttering on the pretty flowers. Excellent pictures, I feel like I have been walking along with you.

    Wish you a wonderful week ahead, Keiko. :)

  22. ❤✿•.¸•.¸¸
    Imagens muito lindas!
    ♡ Boa semana!

  23. Dear Arti
    Of course I remember well. Snake cult seems to be observed in many parts of the world.
    I am sorry there weren't any events or festivals you had wanted to go and see during your stay in Nara and Kyoto. I wish you could've stayed a bit longer.

    Thank you for your comment here, Arti.

    Thank you for visiting. Your comment is so lovely to see!

  24. おはようございます。 素晴らしいブログですね。美しさに見とれてしまいました。

  25. When I looked at your post, the first thing that struck me is that the lilies rather resembled the sleeves of beautiful robes. Then I came across the people with their arms raised, in their beautiful robes!

    The Red Helen is a lovely shape. I don't really mind snakes myself, but I would prefer to worship butterflies than snakes. There is no doubt that snakes have more power, though. And anyway, people don't choose what to worship really - but that is just my view!

    Thanks for another interesting post.

  26. Mironuさん、訪問ありがとうございます。奈良にもよく来ていただいているようでうれしいです。

    Hi, Jenny, thank you for your beautiful association. Where were they? At a party or a ball or …in a forest?

    I remember the picture of the shoes whose toes were in the shape of a snake head on your blog.
    I wish I don’t mind snakes because they are a part of nature like us.
    What I worship is not something concrete. Thank you Jenny for coming.

  27. so interesting! i have never heard any of these stories before...
    your pictures are wonderful!!

  28. Achei seu blog na blogosfera.
    E adoreii!

    Já estou te seguindo..
    Me visite tbm

    Ótima Noite \º/

  29. Hello, cosmos.

      It is my joy to share your wonderful work.
      And sweet message charms my heart.

      I pray for your happiness and world peace.

    Have a good weekend. ruma ❃

  30. 花の白。


  31. Annmarie, Lidi, thank you for visiting!


  32. ¸❤✿•.¸
    ♥ Bom fim de semana!
    ♡ Beijinhos.


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