Mining and ministrations in Manazuru

Manazuru is a small seaside community in Kanagawa Prefecture. Many travelers from Tokyo bound for Atami or the Izu Peninsula pass along its picturesque coastline, but neglect to stop. Until recently, I was guilty of the same neglect. But now I have had the chance to learn a bit more about the place.

Like many Japanese coastal communities, Manazuru has a fishing port and restaurants the serve excellent seafood.

But Manazuru is perhaps best known for its local stone, which has been quarried out for centuries. The stone, a very hard form of andesite, the result of lava flows from a Hakone volcano some 400,000 years ago, was originally quarried from Mt. Komatsu, a local mountain, and so was called Komatsu-ishi. There are now at least three places in Japan that call their local stone Komatsu-ishi–although each is a different type of stone–, so to avoid confusion, the stone from Manazuru is now styled as Hon-Komatsu Ishi. Over the centuries it has been used in a variety of ways and its use continues to evolve with the times.

I learned all of this on a visit to Takebayashi-san’s quarry, where he showed us the ongoing work and piles of both recently quarried stone and worked stone. These days, because of the stone’s density and resistance to erosion, it is especially popular for gravestones, but its most popular use historically was probably in the construction of Japan’s famous stone walls. Hon-Komatsu Ishi was especially prized by the Tokugawa builders of Edo Castle at the beginning of the seventeenth century. When fortifications were built in Tokyo Bay in the mid-nineteenth century as Japan was wrestled with how and whether to re-open itself to the world, blocks of Hon-Komatsu Ishi was used to form the gun emplacements. Those structures still stand today.

During my visit to the quarry, I got to have the experience of splitting a chunk of Hon-Komatsu Ishi. Takebayashi-san had prepared the stone in advance by drilling holes at suitable intervals. He then placed two thin strips of metal into each hole and positioned a metal rod between them. As I pounded on the rod with a heavy hammer the strips would act as a wedge, pressuring the stone to split. I had to divide my blows evenly on three rods for maximum effect.

I found myself pounding and pounding and thinking the stone would never split but then it gave a mighty crack! (sounded like ice cracking when dropped into a glass of water, actually–only a bit louder). A few more blows and, voila!, I had a 75 kg. block of Hon-Komatsu Ishi.

The quarry, the stone yard, and a subsequent visit to Takebayashi-san’s factory, where the stone is further cut and shaped, helped me realize that getting from stone buried in a mountain to stones for a staircase, or a gravestone, or one of the other popular twenty-first century uses, floor tiles, requires a lot of steps, a lot of work. Even the block of stone I had broken off would have to be ground down to a uniform shape before it could be used. If it were destined to become a floor tile, for example, it might have to be further cut and then polished to a high sheen.

My next Manazuru destination introduced another use for small pieces of stone that perhaps might otherwise go unused or unappreciated. Small squares of stone are worked into the shape of traditional Shinto amulets to receive a special blessing at the local shrine, Kibune Jinja.

Kibune Jinja is a fascinating place in its own right. Founded in 889, it claims to be the second oldest shrine in the Kanto region. The current head priest, Hirai-san, is the 31st generation in his family to care for the shrine and his son will follow in his footsteps. The shrine was founded to house ten wooden statues found just off Cape Manazuru by Hirai-san’s ancient ancestor, who had a vision in which Okuninushi, the god of nation-building, agriculture, medicine and protective magic, instructed him to rescue the statues and build a shrine for them.

The original shrine sat right on the shore, but after the tidal surge caused by the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, it was decided to move the shrine partway up the hill behind its original location. It is now located atop a staircase of 108 steps (in Japanese Buddhism this is regarded as the number of earthly temptations faced by humans, a curious symbolism to find employed at a Shinto shrine).

My companions and I were led into the honden, the primary sanctuary of the shrine, where we placed our stone amulets onto a wooden tray. Hirai junior commenced the ceremony with prayers to the gods and purification by waving a white pom-pom. He then ceremoniously placed the wooden tray of amulets on the altar. We each in turn presented our personal petition to the gods, symbolized by a branch of a sacred tree, together with bowing and hand clapping. The head priest, Hirai senior, then offered a further prayer, which commenced with a wail to rival that of an air raid siren. Once he had resumed his seat, Hirai junior offered one final purification, this time waiving a tower of bells resembling a marching band glockenspiel.

When the ceremony had finished, we each received our amulet, which Hirai-san explained had been imbued with the good fortune and protections for which we had petitioned the gods. Being stone, it was intended to last forever (compared to ordinary amulets, which are usually considered to last for one year). Hirai-san also provided some of the shrine history that I shared above, told us about the shrine’s annual festival in July, during which portable shrines are taken on boats into the harbor, and answered questions. I felt very privileged to meet him and experience this rite and this venerable shrine so up close.

My day in Manazuru provided opportunities to experience a very different side of Japan, off the beaten tourist path, but very rewarding.

©2022 and Vicki L. Beyer
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