Iwaishima island
Iwaishima ["Celebration"] island, circumference 12km, is situated at the southern extreme of
Kaminoseki town, Yamaguchi prefecture.  From Yanai city, on Honshu, the Iwai boat sails to the
island three times a day, taking sixty five minutes.  In ancient times, the island was known as a
key shipping landmark, worshipped by seafarers as embodying the spirit of the deities who ensure
safe landings.  In those days, the route linking Iwaishima and Himejima island (present-day Oita
prefecture) was the shortest crossing between Honshu and north-eastern Kyushu.  As the last sight of
land for those heading west, Iwaishima's position was even widely known in the imperial capital, as
witnessed by the island's appearance in the ancient collection of Japanese poems, the Manyoshu.

家人は 帰り早来と祝島 斎ひ待つらむ 旅行くわれを
My family may
Wait for me to return
As quick as I can
From my trip, cleaning themselves
As clean as Iwai isle

草枕 旅行く人を 祝島 幾代経るまで 斎ひ来にけむ
Praying for safety
Of people travelling on,
Pillowing the grass,
How many generations
Has Iwai isle remained?

trans. Teruo Suga, The Man'yo-shu, Tokyo: Kanda Institute of Foreign Languages:
Kanda University of International Studies, 1991

The climate of the island is mild; the landscape is blessed by the northern-flowing "black tides" of
the Bungo channel, which ensure fertile soil and bountiful fishing.  But in a region already rich in
ancient history, Iwaishima is particularly famous for its Prefectural Non-Tangible Cultural Asset:
the kammai [Dance of the Gods] festival.

祝島は、山口県上関町南端にあり、周囲12Kmほどの島です。本州の柳井市から、定期船「いわい」が、1日3便、所用時間65分で運行しています。古くから、行き交う船の航行安全を守る、神霊の鎮まる島として、崇められて来ました。当時は、祝島から姫島を経由して、九州北東地域に至るこの航路が、本州との最短コースであり、西下する時、最後の中継地である祝島の位置づけは、都にも広く知られていて、万葉集に見ることが出来ます。 豊後水道を北上する、黒潮に洗われる祝島は、気候温暖で、豊かな山や海の幸に恵まれています。そして、古代からの故事来歴も多く、とりわけ、山口県指定の無形文化財「神舞」は有名です。       

祝島遠景:北方から 祝島遠景:東方から 集落全景:西丘から
Iwaishima from the north
Iwaishima from the east
The village from the west
集落:中丘から 定期船「いわい」 傾斜地に建つ集落
The central port
The `Iwai` ferry
The village built on a slope
石垣:棚田では国内最大級 不老長生の秘果:コッコー          遊漁船
The highly renowned stone−
walled terraced fields
The secret to a long life: 
Iwaishima−style kiwis
A light fishing boat
練塀 海の幸 山の幸
Stone and mortar walls
Fruits of the sea
Fruits of the mountains

Origins of the kammai festival
Legend has it that in the year 886, a delegation from Imi village in Bungo province (northern
Kyushu) was ordered by its feudal lord to worship at the Iwashimizu Hachiman shrine near the
imperial capital, Heian (present-day Kyoto).  On their way back to Kyushu, they were caught in
a storm and anchored in Miura bay on Iwaishima.  At that time, there were only three
households in the bay, and the islanders eked out a difficult living in the harsh natural
environment. Nevertheless, they warmly received the Imi delegation, and it is thought that
in gratitude, the Imi priests invoked the local deities and prayed for peace - as well as giving
the islanders the so-called precious five grains.  Given this opportunity, the islanders began
cultivating their land and worshipping the Kojin deity, celebrating the vast improvement in their
standard of living.  In addition, they initiated the "Return of the Grains" rites - an annual
pilgrimage to the Imi Betsugusha shrine (now held in August) - and further decided once
every four years to welcome priests and sacred dance specialists from Imi,
in order to hold joint ceremonies of thanks to the deities.



大歳御歳神 時折、突風が吹き荒れる 大荒れの三浦湾
The kojin−sama shrines
Rough winds and seas
Heavy winds in Miura bay
伊美別宮社・楼門 拝殿・幣殿 拝殿の正面
Imi Betsugusha shrine:
main gate
Imi Betsugusha: 
main worship hall 
Front view of the main 
worship hall
回廊 御座船:八幡丸 八幡丸の説明板
The shrine’s exterior walkway
The `Hachiman maru`, in 
which the god crossed to 
Iwaishima from Imi
History of the 
`Hachiman maru`

The present-day kammai

During the kammai festival, ceremonial boats make the 49km crossing between Oita prefecture and
Yamaguchi prefecture.  Like a scene from an ancient scroll, the kaidenma row-boats are particularly
gorgeous and eye-catching: richly decorated with fishermen's pennants and flags, they take part in
the rites to welcome and send off the priests from Imi.  After the priests have landed, they process
to a thatched shrine hall (newly constructed especially for the festival), where the thirty-three
types of ancient kagura dances are performed over a five day period.  In ancient times, these dances
are thought to have been offered to the deities in Miura bay itself (now uninhabited), where even
today, overlooking the bay on the slopes of Mount Kojin, two small shrines remain.



仮神殿組立 昭和51年 入船 平成8年 入船
Constructing the shrine hall
The priests and deities arrive
 (1976 festival) 
The kaidenma row−boats 
(1996 festival)
三浦荒神祭 御座船(神様船) 酒迎えの儀(船上で)
Rites at Mount Kojin
The priests’boats
 Welcoming rites
         宮司祝詞 神主・荒神 白頭大神
Opening prayers
The entry of kojin−sama
Iwato Kagura dances
         舞 鉾 八重垣  葉 鬼
Iwato Kagura (cont)
Iwato Kagura (cont)
Iwato Kagura (cont)
鈿女命 戸取明神 二 刀
Iwato Kagura (cont)
Iwato Kagura (cont)
Children’s Kagura
神角力 御還幸行列 出 船
Yodo Kaguro (cont)
Procession back to the port
The sending off

The next kammai festival will be held in August 2008

日程    8月16日〜20日の予定
( 編 修 2006・8・10 橋 部 好 明 )