Iwafune Jinja, in Kitano, Osaka, close to the borders of Kyoto and Nara has a story going back 1,500 years when the the enshrined deity Nigihayahi no Mikoto, the grandson of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, descended from the heavens down to Earth. Nigihayahi no Mikoto's mode of transport was a large 'ship'. After it had served its purpose the story tells that the ship turned in to a huge rock. The rock now sits firmly in place at Iwafune Shrine.
Pictured below, the entrance to Iwafune Jinja Shrine.
Due to covid safety regulations HIDDEN PATHS were unable to visit Iwafune Shrine prior to the location being entered in the HIDDEN PATHS - Walking Historical Kyoto companion book PARANORMAL KANSAI - Mysteries & Unexplained Stories of West Japan (published February 2021). But at last HIDDEN PATHS have been able to go to Iwafune Shrine (May 2022), and also go through 'The Holy Cave of Iwafune Jinja'.
The Kansai region is home to a number of ‘Rock Ships’, large ancient rocks that are either shrouded in mystery as to their origin, or have some folktale or Shinto history attached to them. The most famous is the Masuda no Iwafune rock ship in Nara, which was featured in an episode of the US television show Ancient Aliens.
The Iwafune 'Rock Ship' at Iwafune Shrine is a 12 metre tall, 12 metre wide deified rock, Amano no Iwafune (pictured below right).
The rock is reputed to offer prosperity and safe journeys for those that come to the shrine to pray. The shrine also has a rocky cave that is open for the public, though stipulations are put on entry. The story told is that the Sun Goddess Amaterasu shut herself into the cave to meditate and today many visitors to the shrine enter the short cave system as an ascetic practice.
It is written in ancient Japanese text and stories that Nigihayahi no Mikoto was given ten sacred treasures by Amaterasu and upon his landing on Earth that he instructed the native people of Kansai/Kinki on how to clear the land and plant rice. This deity, in effect, introduced agriculture to the region.
Pictured left, the rock ship from the side angle and standing beside the rock to give size perspective (wearing paper sash obtained from the shrine office which must be worn to enter the rock caves, entrance fee to enter is 500yen for adults, children 300 yen and must be over ten years old. Please note that lone entrance into the rock cave is not permitted, in case of an accident, you must go with at least one other person. Also adverse weather conditins may cause the caves to be closed on occassion).
The landing of a craft from the skies, a divine being with sacred treasures introducing new agricultural methods. Those that ascribe to beliefs of an extra-terrestrial nature could easily equate the tale of Iwafune Shrine, the Rock Ship and Nigihiyahi no Mikoto as a visitation from not just a being from another plane of spirituality (the heavens) but as from another galaxy, an extra-terrestrial visitor maybe.
Legend has it that during the construction of Osaka Castle, that under Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the famed samurai Kiyomasa Kato, who had fought at the Battle of Yamazaki against Akechi Mitsuhide, tried to have the great rock ship stone moved to be used in the castle wall, but failed in his attempts. The stone ship could not be moved or broken down.
In Part 1 of the blog posts of Iwafune Shrine we have featured The Rock Ship of Nigihiyahi no Mikoto, in Part 2 we will cover the Rock Caves of Iwafune Jinja.
Access - The nearest train station to Iwafune Shrine is Kisaichi Keihan, which can be reache dby transferring to a local train at Hiratakashi on the Keihan mainline between Osaka and Kyoto. By car the shrine is on route 168. 9 Chome-19-1 Kisaichi, Katano, Osaka 576-0033.