For many years, the people living at the foot of the Kirishima Mountains have coexisted alongside volcanic activity. Evidence of this can be seen in the many shrines that surround the mountains, the sacred kagura dance performed by the locals, and the structures and remains made using rocks from huge past eruptions.
Lifestyles Built on Stone and Rock
The Kirishima region is home to numerous structures and remains that were made using a type of volcanic rock called ignimbrite. Ignimbrite is formed when pyroclastic flows from huge eruptions—the kind that would form calderas—are deposited and hardened on the land, before melting from their own heat and weight and solidifying again. People of old would skillfully use ignimbrite due to its moderate strength and the ease with which it could be worked using contemporary techniques.
In addition to stone bridges used as conduits and to transport wood, there are also remains that demonstrate former beliefs, such as Buddhist rock carvings and sculptures of deities who were believed to watch over agriculture. Traces of ignimbrite can also be seen in various other locations throughout the region, including in stone warehouses and stone walls surrounding local houses.
Volcanoes and Beliefs
The Kirishima Mountains have been the site of numerous eruptions throughout recorded history, and as a result there are many shrines in the area where worshippers pray for protection from fire and the safety of the nation. The main six shrines in the area surround the Kirishima Mountains and are collectively known as the Kirishima Rokusha Gongen. These are the Kirishima-jingu Shrine (Kirishima City), Tsumakirishima Shrine (Takaharu Town), Kirishimamine Shrine (Kobayashi City), Hinamori Shrine (Kobayashi City), Sano Shrine (Takaharu Town), and Kirishimahigashi Shrine (Takaharu Town), while some theories also include Aratake Shrine (Miyakonojo City) and Shiratori Shrine (Ebino City). There are records of these six shrines suffering huge damage as a result of repeated eruptions from the Kirishima Mountains.
In some cases, shrine buildings that were destroyed by fire were not rebuilt in the same place, and this is thought to be because locals foresaw dangers from future eruptions. History such as this tells us how people lived alongside these active volcanoes.
Kirishima-jingu Shrine was first thought to have been built around the 6th century on the Setoo hill, which lies between Mt. Takachiho-no-mine and Ohachi. It was moved numerous times due to the many eruptions of Ohachi and other volcanoes, and restored in its current location in 1484 by the Shimazu clan. The current shrine building was built by the head of the Satsuma clan, Shimazu Yoshitaka, in 1715, and sits atop a stone wall that was constructed on solidified lava on the slopes of Ohachi. When looking at the shrine from the front, the layered roofs make for an impressive sight, and the shrine building has been designated as both a national treasure and an important cultural property.
Like Kirishima-jingu Shrine, Kirishimamine Shrine was also thought to have first been built between Mt. Takachiho-no-mine and Ohachi on the Setoo hill. An eruption of Ohachi destroyed the shrine and it was moved, but another eruption, this time of Mt. Shinmoedake in 1716, burned the building down again, and it was rebuilt on the slopes of Mt. Hinamoridake. In 1874, it was merged with Hinamori Shrine—its fellow Kirishima Rokusha Gongen—and rebuilt within the shrine’s grounds where it still stands today. As a result, although there are six Kirishima Rokusha Gongen shrines, they are spread across five locations.
Kanme is a type of night-long kagura dance that was performed in large spaces in private residences in the former Satsuma domain. Two types of kagura dance, Sano Kagura and Haraigawa Kagura, have been passed down through the ages at the Sano Shrine and Kirishimahigashi Shrine in Takaharu Town, which lies to the southeast of the Kirishima Mountains, and are collectively known as Takaharu Kanme. Takaharu Kanme has been designated an important intangible cultural folk property, and is distinctive for its frequent use of swords and other weapons, and the fact that songs are not chanted during the dance.
Hidden Buddhist Caves
From the end of the Warring States period, the Jodo-Shinshu sect of Buddhism was banned in the southern Kyushu area, which included the Kirishima region. The ruling Shimazu clan saw the sect’s promotion of feudalism and equality as a threat, and Jodo-Shinshu followers faced strong oppression. There were many who maintained their beliefs, however, and these people would gather at night in secluded caves and other locations to recite their prayers. These caves were known as Kakure Nenbutsu-do, or hidden Buddhist caves, and many still remain today throughout southern Kyushu. Many of these caves were formed of pyroclastic flow deposits.
Nagakuino Kakure Nenbutsu-do
Tanabe Kakure Nenbutsu-do