Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki, c. 1910.

1910sOutside TokyoReligious
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Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki, c. 1910.

“The Kunchi Festival in Nagasaki, held at the Suwa Shinto Shrine over a three-day period each autumn ‘was first celebrated in 1614 … [It] was originally a part of the [shogunate] policy to forge a Yamato spirit for Nagasaki, which up to 1614 had been Japan’s only Christian town. In other words, the Kunchi festival started out as anti-Christian festival’ [Source: Reinier Hesselink, The Dutch and the Kunchi Festival of Nagasaki in the Seventeenth Century].

“Containing elements of both Dutch and Chinese culture, the popular festival includes snake dances, Chinese dragons, and the parading of large wooden boats.'”

Kiku’s Prayer: A Novel, by Shusaku Endo, 2012

At the top of the steps, in the entry courtyard of Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki, c. 1910, including the bronze horse sculpture from which the temple receives its name.

“Suwa [‘Bronze Horse’] Shrine is the major Shinto shrine of Nagasaki, Japan, and home to the Nagasaki Kunchi (‘festival’). It is located in the northern part of the city, on the slopes of Mount Tamazono-san, and features a 277-step stone staircase leading up the mountain to the various buildings that comprise the shrine. The shrine is one of many Suwa shrines, all of which are dedicated to Suwa-no-Kami, a kami [god] of valor and duty.

“Long ascent,” Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki, c. 1910. The 277-step stone staircase leading to the shrine.

“The official date of construction for Suwa Shrine is 1614, the same year as Tokygawa Ieyasu’s Edict against Christianity. At that time, Nagasaki was home to the largest Christian population in Japan, and who had destroyed many of the former Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The Tokugawa Shogunate had taken power and reversed its formerly friendly policy towards Christianity, forcing Christians to reconvert to Buddhism and Shinto. It was thought that establishing a major point of Shinto worship in Nagasaki would give the local population a central point of worship and a sense of community.

“A temporary structure was built in 1614 but it was frequently attacked by resisting Christians until 1624 when Aoki Kensei came to Nagasaki. His religious zeal and skill at organizing, combined with the authority granted by the leading Yoshida Shinto council, led to the completion of the main structure of Suwa Shrine.

Holy Bronze horse, Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki, c. 1910.

“Suwa Shrine survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It is thought to have survived intact due to its strategic location in the central part of Mount Tamazono-san’s southern flank; in the aftermath of the bomb local residents were quick to note that while the famous Urakami Cathedral and surrounding Catholic neighborhoods were obliterated, the Shinto shrine still stood.

“This was considered to be significant by the survivors of the bombing, showing the power of the native Japanese kami as opposed to the imported Christian god.”


Bronze torii leading to the “long ascent”, Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki, c. 1910, inside the temple grounds.

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