About 1800 years ago, during the reign of Emperor Keiko, Kazuke no Kuni no
Miyastuka dedicated a shrine to Tenpa Nichimei, a descendant of Kajibe, on
Isobe Hill. The establishment here of a shrine in honor of Isobe Myojin is
the foundation of the present shrine.
Many centuries after that, from the year 1187, the Kiryu Family dynasty
revered this god as their protector. Around the year 1350, the spirit of
the god enshrined at Tenmangu in the Kitano area of Kyoto was apportioned
and brought to Kiryu where the shrine was renamed "Kiryu Tenmangu."
From that time this god came to be regarded as the tutelary god protecting
the 54 villages in the Kiryu area. In 1581, Lord Ieyasu Tokugawa beseeched
the gods far victory in the Kanto are before going into battle. Thereafter,
the shrine was officially designated a place of warship for successive
generations of the Tokugawa Family. From the year 1591 the area came under
the rule of Lard Tokugawa and in front of the shrine arch Kiryu Shinmachi (
former name of the city) was founded. At this time the area facing south of
the arch was divided into districts based upon the Japanese system of
"chowari" or town subsections, creating Kiryu's downtown arrangement.
In the year 1600, silk banners woven in Kiryu to be carried into the great
battle at Sekigahara were first offered to the gods at Kiryu Tenmangu where
a ceremony beseeching the gods for victory was held. This was the decisive
battle in which Lord Tokugawa was victorious and assumed the shogunate. The
soldiers' triumphant return from battle was considered an auspicious omen
and the Kiryu silk market was established on the shrine premises. This
market became the cornerstone of the flourishing silk trade in Kiryu.
~A Prefectural Cultural Treasure~
Tenmangu is a classic example of Early Modern Period(mid 16th~18th
centuries) construction designed for the enshrinement of a Shinto deity.
Gables over the Inner Sanctuary and Hall of Offerings are resplendently
finished in elaborate detail.
The artwork in the original shrine was created by Masuhiro Kano and when
completed appeared as in his design of the Hall of Offerings and the
Oratory of Tenmangu. (This design is new exhibited in the Gunma Prefectural
Museum. See illustration on Left.)
The architectural plans for the shrine were first drawn up in 1771 and
construction began in 1778. Work proceeded through 1792, requiring the
removal of the enshrined deities until September, 1799 when the structure
was completed and rededicated.
The construction chief for the shrine was Shuzen Eishin Machida. Monjiro
Yushin Sekiguchi sculpted the pillars and other sculptures. There are seven
wall carvings in the shrine - on the upper level 24 proverbs are depicted
in a relief, while on the lower level Tang Dynasty children can be seen
playing in the wall carvings.
The artwork found throughout the structure, even down to the most minute
details, demonstrate that no effort was spared in constructing a shrine of
great beauty and harmony. After completion, the shrine became known as "the
shrine standing on a rock" because of its unique construction over
Tenmangu represents the most refined architectural techniques of the era
and as such has been designated a Prefectural Treasure.
The gods Enshrined at Tenmangu
The shrine is dedicated to the worship of Sugawara no Michizane (845~903
A.D) and his ancestor, Tenpa Nichimei. Michizane was born during the Heian
Period into the Sugawara Family, whose members from generation to
generation had been appointed as scholars to the Imperial Court.
From a very early age, Michizane demonstrated natural abilities as a
scholar and when he was only 5 years old was already composing Japanese
poetry called "waka." By the age of 11, Michizane had mustered the skill of
composing classical Chinese poetry. Those around him were astonished by his
intellectual prowess. From early childhood Michizane had been encouraged to
pursue his studies and when he reached 18 years of age, he became a writer.
At the age of 33, Michizane was considered one of the foremost writers of
Because of his academic excellence and his honest political views, he won
the confidence of Emperor Uda and was promoted to the position of a high
ranking government official. At the age of 55 Michizane was appointed
Minister of the Right (udaujin). At that time he was the only high ranking
official appointed from the ranks of academics. However, as a result of a
plot against him by the powerful Fujiwara Family, he was exiled to Dazaifu
(kyushu). Two years later, at the age of 57, he passed on to the next life.
When after his death a number of misfortunes at Court were ascribed to his
angry spirit, Michizane was posthumously pardoned and promoted to the
highest of court ranks in order to placate his ghost. Shrine dedicated to
him were established in Kitano (kyoto) and Dazaifu. Deified as Tenman
Tenjin, Michizane is venerated as the patron saint of scholarship, and
became widely known as "Kanko." He is also regarded as an effective
protector against evil and disasters. Finally, since Michizane made the
long journey from Kyoto to Dazaifu without encountering difficulties, he
has also come to be widely revered as a protecting god of travel and
Unveiling the Shrine Deities
~ Extraordinary Shrine Observances ~
Ceremonies for unveiling the shrine deities are considered extraordinary
observances, and, according to the historical record have occurred only 13
times over the past 200 years (between 1762 and 1961).
Among these observances is a kind of performance-display called "ikiningyo"
or "living figures." Unique to textile towns, the "Zakuriya" were
who designed and operated those festival displays. The "zakuri" was a
wooden cogwheel used in weaving, which when attached to the figures
controlled their movements. In early days, this machine was operated with
power generated by water wheels found in the small canals running
throughout the city. Later, it was driven by electricity.
As for the actual displays, various associations and districts in the city
competed with each other to produce famous kabuki or other traditional
dramas. On some occasions, plans for as many as 16 different displays were
contrived and executed throughout the city, requiring the composition of a
"display guidemap" for visitors. The displays were moved around the city
and performances were held over long periods. These events constituted
major festivals in honor of the gods were greeted by bustling throngs of
on-lookers, lending an excited atmosphere to the city.
The Silk Market Design
From the early days of the Edo Period (1600~1868), the silk trading was
conducted on the grounds of Tenmangu Shrine. Products from neighboring
locales were gathered and distributed there making the shrine a center for
human communications as well.
During the middle of the Edo Period, techniques from Kyoto for weaving high
quality silk such as saya (gauze twill) and mon'ori (figured textiles) were
introduced in Kiryu. A silk market for distributing these materials was
The design of the silk market which can be found in the Oratory of Tenmangu
Shrine depicts a market where the goods are being actively bought and sold.
It was painted an a large "ema"(a wooden votive painting) in 1894, on the
occasion of the Tenmangu Extraordinary Festival Observance (Meiji 27).
This design is truly representative of commerce and industry during Japan's
early modern period and details many interesting aspects of distribution
economics characteristic of that time.
Kasuga Subordinate Shrine
(Designated a Kiryu City Cultural Treasure)
Kasuga Shrine is a subordinate shrine located behind Tenmangu Main Shrine.
Kasuga is a small shrine constructed in the Shinto "nagare" style. Although
the structure is small. recent research conducted by the government
Department of Building Investigations has confirmed that the shrine was
constructed sometime before1600, probably during or prior to the Momoyama
Period. This being the case, the Kasuga Shrine is the oldest existing
structure in the Kiryu area.
Such example of building style during the Period of Warring States
(1467-1568) / Momoyama Era are extremely rare. For this reason, the
uniqueness of the Medieval Kasuga Subordinate Shrine greatly enriches
Kiryu's cultural heritage. As a representative of this rich heritage,
Kasuga Shrine has been designated a City Cultural Treasure.
This pamphlet was translated from the Japanese by the Kiryu International
Exchange Association. (June,1994)