History and museums
Usa Jingū (宇佐神宮), also known as Usa Hachimangū (宇佐八幡宮), is a Shinto shrine in the city of Usa in Ōita Prefecture in Japan. Emperor Ojin, who was deified as Hachiman-jin (the tutelary god of warriors), is said to be enshrined in all the sites dedicated to him; and the first and earliest of these was at Usa in the early 8th century. The Usa Jingū has long been the recipient of Imperial patronage; and its prestige is considered second only to that of Ise.
The shrine was founded in Kyushu during the Nara period. Ancient records place the foundation of Usa Jingū in the Wadō era (708-714). A temple called Miroku-ji was built next to it in 779, making it what is believed to be the first shrine-temple (jingū-ji) ever. The resulting mixed complex, called Usa Hachimangu-ji (宇佐八幡宮寺, Usa Hachiman Shrine Temple), lasted over a millennium until 1868, when the Buddhist part was removed to comply with the Kami and Buddhas Separation Act. It is today the center from which over 40,000 branch Hachiman shrines have grown. Usa's Hachiman shrine first appears in the chronicles of Imperial history during the reign of Empress Shōtoku. The empress allegedly had an affair with a Buddhist monk named Dōkyō. An oracle was said to have proclaimed that the monk should be made emperor; and the kami Hachiman at Usa was consulted for verification. The empress died before anything further could develop.
Usa Jingū was designated as the chief Shinto shrine (ichinomiya) for the former Buzen province.
From 1871 through 1946, Usa was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines. Other similarly honored Hachiman shrines were Iwashimizu Hachimangū of Yawata in Kyoto Prefecture and Hakozaki-gū of Fukuoka in Fukuoka Prefecture.
The earliest recorded use of a mikoshi was in the 8th century. In 749, the shrine's mikoshi was used to carry the spirit of Hachiman from Kyushu to Nara, where the deity was to guard construction of the great Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji. By the 10th century, carrying mikoshi into the community during shrine festivals had become a conventional practice.
Over the course of centuries, a vast number of Hachiman shrines have extended the reach of the kami at Usa:
In 859, a branch offshoot was established to spread Hachiman's protective influence over Kyoto; and this Iwashimizu Hachimangū still draws worshipers and tourists today.
In 923, the Hakozaki-gū was established at Fukuoka as a branch of the Usa Shrine.
In 1063, Tsurugaoka Hachimangū was established by Minamoto no Yoriyoshi to extend Hachiman's protective influence over Kamakura; and today this branch shrine attracts more visitors than any other shrine in Japan.
Because of its mixed religious ancestry, one of the important festivals at the shrine is the hōjō-e (放生会), originally a Buddhist ceremony in which captive birds and fish are released. The ceremony is accompanied by sacred kagura dances meant to commemorate the souls of fish killed by fishermen during the previous year. This syncretic rite fusing Buddhism and Shinto, now performed in many shrines all over the country, first took place here.
The main hall and the Kujaku Monkei are designated amongst Japan's National Treasures.
The structures which comprise the current shrine complex were built in the middle of the 19th century. Their characteristic configuration, called Hachiman-zukuri, consists of two parallel structures with gabled roofs interconnected on the non-gabled side to form what internally is a single building. Seen from the outside, however, the complex still gives the impression of being two separate buildings. The structure in front is called the ge-in, which is where the deity is said to reside during the daytime. The structure in the rear is called the nai-in, which serves as the deity's sleeping chamber during the night.