Hojoya is a festival heralding the advent of autumn in Hakata. It is a lively event during which many open-air stalls line the approach to the Hakozaki shrine. Many people turn out in the evening, when the site is well-lit by lanterns. The festival is held to offer compassion to all life, and to admonish the taking of life. It has been held continuously for more than 1,000 years.
The festival site, the Hakozaki shrine, is known as one of the three major Hachiman shrines in Japan. It is said to have been founded during the Heian period in the 10th century. The guardian deity is the spirit of the Emperor Ojin, who was born in what is now Umi-machi in Fukuoka Prefecture. His placenta was placed in a box and kept here, and a pine tree was planted on the site as a symbol of it. The place later became known as Hakozaki. The name of the shrine is written with a different kanji to distinguish it from other places with the same name. The pine tree that represents the box with the placenta is surrounded by a red enclosure.
The most visually striking part of the shrine is the splendid Sakura gate in front of the main hall. It covers only 12 tsubo of ground area at the base, but the roof extends over a magnificent 83 tsubo. The tower gate has bright gold-frame calligraphy with the inscription, “The surrender of the enemy nation”. At the end of the fierce battles that occurred during the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, the enemy fleet was destroyed by a storm that came to be known as the divine wind, or kamikaze. The calligraphy is said to have been dedicated by the Emperor Daijo Kameyama for the reconstruction of the shrine, which was burned down during the invasion. Since then, many military commanders have visited the site to receive good luck on the battlefield.
There are several other sites worth seeing at the Hakozaki shrine. One is the Wakide-ishi, from which good fortune is said to erupt when it’s touched, the sanctuary with a six-meter-high wooden sculpture of the Emperor Daijo Kameyama, and the garden with lovely flowers that bloom year-round. It is well worth a visit at any time of the year, not just during the Hojoya.
Originally published Sep. 2012.