Suwa clan

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Suwa clan
Japanese crest Suwa Kajinoha(Black background).svg
The emblem (mon) of the Suwa clan
Home provinceSuwa region (modern Chino, Okaya, Suwa and Shimosuwa), Shinano
Parent houseKanasashi clan?
FounderUnknown; see 'Ancestry'
Cadet branchesSuwa clan (諏方氏) (defunct)
Takatoo clan (高遠氏)
Hoshina clan (保科氏)
Chino clan (千野氏)

The Suwa clan (諏訪氏 Suwa-shi), also known as the Miwa clan (神氏 Miwa-shi; also read as Jin or Shin) was a Japanese clan hailing from the area encompassing Lake Suwa in Shinano Province (modern-day Nagano Prefecture). Originally a family of priests who served at the Suwa Grand Shrine,[1] by the Kamakura period it thrived as a prominent warrior clan with close ties to the shogunate.

Surviving the fall of both the Kamakura shogunate and the Southern Imperial Court which it supported, its feud with local rival clans, and frequent clashes with its neighbor in Kai, the Takeda clan, during the Sengoku period (which ended in the extinction of the main family), the clan split into two branches by the Edo period: one ruling the Suwa Domain of Shinano as daimyō, with the other continuing to serve as priests of Suwa Grand Shrine.


Suwa Daimyōjin as depicted in the Butsuzōzui (originally published 1690).

Although the Suwa clan, who were the high priests of one of the component shrines of Suwa Grand Shrine, traditionally regarded themselves to be the descendants of the shrine's deity, Suwa Daimyōjin (also known as Takeminakata),[2] the clan's actual historical origins are shrouded in mystery.

While the Kojiki portrays Takeminakata as a son of the god Ōkuninushi driven to exile in Suwa after his defeat at the hands of a messenger sent by the gods of heaven to claim the land held by his father in the name of the goddess Amaterasu,[3][4][5][6] other (often conflicting) myths regarding the god of Suwa Shrine portray him in a different light. In some stories, Suwa Daimyōjin is a conqueror who subdued a number of local deities, one of them being the god Moreya,[7] who is subsequently said to have become the ancestor of the Moriya (守矢氏) clan, one of the priestly families who served the Suwa lineage of high priests.[8][9] In another myth, the god is a being with no physical form who chose an eight-year-old boy to become his priest and living incarnation (see 'As ōhōri' section below).[10][11][12][13][14]

Although this boy, who is said to have been the founding ancestor of the clan, is traditionally claimed to be a semi-legendary priest from the Heian period named Arikazu (有員), one genealogical record of the Suwa clan discovered in 1884[15] portrays Arikazu as a descendant of an earlier priest named Kumako (神子 or 熊子).[16] Seemingly corroborating this information is a genealogy of the Aso (阿蘇) clan of Aso Shrine in Kyushu, in which Kumako (神子), also named Otoei (乙頴), is recorded as a son of the Yamato-appointed provincial governor (kuni no miyatsuko) of Shinano Province during the time of Emperor Yōmei (585-587), Mase-gimi (麻背君), a.k.a. Iotari (五百足).[17] Recent reappraisals of these two genealogies (particularly that concerning the Aso genealogy), however, have cast doubt on their authenticity and reliability as historical sources.[18][19][20][21][22] [23]

Apart from these candidates, the clan has also been claimed to descend from the Seiwa Genji via Minamoto no Mitsuyasu (one of the sons of Minamoto no Tsunemoto).[24][25]

The Suwa Ōhōri[edit]

Kamisha Maemiya, one of the two main shrines that comprise the Upper Shrine of Suwa. The Upper Shrine's high priest or Ōhōri resided in this area during the medieval period.

In antiquity, the Suwa clan produced the Upper Shrine (上社 Kamisha) of Suwa's high priest known as the Ōhōri (大祝 'great priest', old orthography: おほはふり Ohohafuri; also rendered as Ōhafuri), who was worshiped as the living avatar of the shrine's deity during his period in office.[26][27]

The Ōhōri, who traditionally assumed the position at a young age (ideally between the ages of eight to fifteen), was assisted by five priests headed by the Jinchōkan (神長官) of the Moriya clan, who oversaw the Upper Shrine's religious rituals, many of which are centered around the worship of agricultural and fertility god(s) called Mishaguji. The Jinchōkan was believed to have the prerogative to summon the Mishaguji onto individuals and objects whenever its presence was called for.[28][29]

Though officially the Upper Shrine's chief priest and as incarnate deity, an object of worship, the Suwa Ōhōri had little, if any, actual power over the shrine's affairs, which rested in the hands of the Moriya Jinchōkan, with his unique relationship to the Mishaguji and his knowledge of closely guarded secret traditions passed down via word of mouth only to the heir to the office.[30] In fact, it was due to the Jinchōkan summoning the Mishaguji onto the Ōhōri during the investiture ceremony that the latter became a living deity.[31][32]

Investiture ceremony[edit]

The full rite of investiture into the office of Ōhōri as practiced in the late medieval period involved the candidate first undergoing a twenty-two day period of strict ritual purification in the Maemiya (前宮 'old shrine'), one of the Upper Shrine's two component shrines. During the day of the ceremony itself, the Jinchōkan led the candidate by the hand before a sacred tree west of the Gōdono (神殿), the Ōhōri's residence during his term located west of the Maemiya, under which was a flat rock known as the kanameishi (要石 'keystone'). During the ceremony, this rock is surrounded a makeshift enclosure or hut and a mat of reeds was placed over it for the boy to sit on.[33]

Inside this enclosure, the Jinchōkan dressed the boy in full ritual attire: traditional makeup (oshiroi, ohaguro, beni and mayuzumi), a dull yellow-green sokutai, a hakama, and a crown (kanmuri).[34] The Jinchōkan then summoned the Mishaguji (who as a nature spirit was believed to manifest on rocks and trees[28]) to the kanameishi via secret incantations. Via the rock, the Mishaguji was then believed to enter the child's body, thereby turning him into a living god.[35][36][35]

The Uchi-no-mitama-den (内御玉殿)

After being consecrated, the Ōhōri visited the various shrines of the Upper Shrine complex. In another shrine in the Maemiya area, the Uchi-no-mitama-den (内御霊殿), wherein was kept the sacred treasures of the Upper Shrine (a bell, a mirror, a bit and a saddle) that were supposedly brought to the region by Suwa Daimyōjin himself,[37] the Ōhōri made a ritual declaration (申立 mōshitate) that he has become the god's new 'body' and will henceforth avoid impurity.[38]

As time went on the ritual became increasingly simplified and later, was supposedly even omitted altogether, with the ōhōri simply assuming the position without any ceremony.[39]


During his term, the incumbent Ōhōri was treated as the physical manifestation of Suwa Daimyōjin. In 1186, Minamoto no Yoritomo officially recognized the Ōhōri as the god's incarnation in a letter to his subordinates, declaring that the Ōhōri's orders are those of the god himself.[40]

The Ōhōri was expected to live a life of ritual purity and was also forbidden to step outside the boundaries of Suwa region under pain of divine punishment.[41][42]

During his term of office, the Ōhōri originally resided in a building near the Suwa Maemiya known as the Gōdono (神殿). Reflecting its being the residence of an incarnate deity, the Maemiya area and its vicinity was known during the Middle Ages as the Gōbara (神原), the 'god's field'.[43][42]

Should an incumbent Ōhōri die while in office, his corpse was immediately brought before the Uchi-no-mitama-den where he was ceremonially retired - the idea being that the Ōhōri's spirit was temporarily deposited in the shrine until a new candidate was chosen.[44] Originally, the deceased priest was buried wearing hunting attire (such as that supposedly worn by Suwa Daimyōjin) and with hair and beard kept unshaven.[45] However, in 1465, with the death of then Ōhōri Yorinaga (頼長), the local priesthood began to adopt the Buddhist custom of cremation.[45]

By the early 17th century, the Ōhōri's residence was moved from the Maemiya to a place in what is now Nakasu, Suwa City.


From the Heian period to the Sengoku period[edit]

In the meantime, other male members of the clan aside from the ōhōri - who cannot step outside the boundaries of the region, as well as come into contact with sources of impurity such as the flesh and blood of men or horses - began to pursue military careers.

One of the first recorded warriors from the clan was Tamenaka (為仲), a son of then ōhōri Tamenobu (為信). Tamenaka served under Minamoto no Yoshiie during the Zenkunen War (1051-1063) under the orders of his father, who could not participate himself due to his priestly status. He then also served again under Yoshiie in the later Gosannen War of the 1080s, this time despite opposition from his family due to him already inheriting the position of ōhōri from Tamenobu in the interim between the two wars. Tamenaka's eventual suicide out of shame after his subordinates had a violent quarrel with Minamoto no Yoshimitsu's men during a feast held by the latter was considered to be divine punishment for his violation of the ban.[46][47][48]

Due to the circumstances of his father's death, Tamenaka's son, Tamemori (為盛) did not inherit the office of ōhōri, it instead passing in succession to Tamenaka's three younger brothers, two of whom died within mere days of their investiture. It would be the youngest brother, Tamesada (為貞), who would turn out to successfully pass down the priesthood to his progeny.

By the Kamakura period, the clan - now renowned as being both a priestly and a warrior clan - rose to national prominence as vassals (gokenin) of the shogunate and later, flourished greatly under the patronage of the Hōjō clan. The clan's fortunes waned with the fall of the Kamakura shogunate and the defeat of the Southern Imperial Court (which the clan supported) during the Nanboku-chō period.

During the Muromachi period, the Suwa were involved both in a feud with the Kanasashi clan of the Shimosha which supported the Northern Court, and interclan strife between the head family (惣領家 sōryō-ke) and the ōhōri-ke (大祝家), a branch of the clan that had come to assume the priestly duties. With the defeat of the Kanasashi and the head family's reattainment of the position of ōhori, the clan became a regional power, clashing with the Takeda clan - originally their allies - during the Sengoku period. The clan again suffered a setback with Suwa Yorishige's defeat in the hands of Takeda Shingen (who was, ironically, a staunch devotee of Suwa-myōjin) in 1542 and with his suicide in 1544, the extinction of the main family; his cousin Yoritada (諏訪頼忠, 1536-1606), who succeeded Yorishige's younger brother Yoritaka (諏訪頼高, 1528-1542) as ōhōri, was spared. After the Takeda was destroyed by an alliance of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, Yoritada allied himself with the latter, who eventually reinstated Yoritada in his family domain in 1601.[24][25]

Edo period onwards[edit]

The graves of various Suwa ōhōri within the Moriya clan's estate grounds in Chino City, Nagano.

Yoritada's eldest son, Yorimizu (頼水, 1571-1641) became the first daimyō to rule Suwa Domain, with the office of ōhōri passing down to his fourth son, Yorihiro (頼広). With this, the clan effectively split into two branches: the daimyō line and the ōhōri line. To distinguish themselves from the daimyō line, the priestly line altered one of the Chinese characters of their surname (from 諏 to 諏).

All in all, ten generations served as daimyō of Suwa Domain until the abolition of the han system during the Meiji period.[49]

Meanwhile, the establishment of State Shinto abolished the tradition of hereditary succession among Shinto priesthood, including that of Suwa Grand Shrine. Local clans such as the Suwa lost control of the shrine's traditional priestly offices (which in turn became defunct) as government appointees began to manage the shrine, which passed under state control.

The last Suwa ōhōri, the fifteenth since Yorihiro, died in 2002 with no heirs.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bocking, Brian (2005). A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Routledge. p. 142. ISBN 978-1135797393.
  2. ^ Picken, Stuart D.B. Historical Dictionary of Shinto. Scarecrow Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0810871724.
  3. ^ Chamberlain, Basil (1882). A translation of the "Ko-ji-ki" or Records of Ancient Matters.
  4. ^ J. Hackin (1932). Asiatic Mythology: A Detailed Description and Explanation of the Mythologies of All the Great Nations of Asia. Asian Educational Services. p. 395. ISBN 978-81-206-0920-4.
  5. ^ Jean Herbert (18 October 2010). Shinto: At the Fountainhead of Japan. Routledge. p. 437. ISBN 978-1-136-90376-2.
  6. ^ Michael Ashkenazi (1 January 2003). Handbook of Japanese Mythology. ABC-CLIO. pp. 267–268. ISBN 978-1-57607-467-1.
  7. ^ 呉清恵 (November 2011). Cosmogonical Worldview of Jomon Pottery. 株式会社 三恵社. p. 157. ISBN 978-4-88361-924-5.
  8. ^ Moriya, Sanae (1991). Moriya Jinchō-ke no ohanashi (守矢神長家のお話し). In Jinchōkan Moriya Historical Museum (Ed.). Jinchōkan Moriya Shiryōkan no shiori (神長官守矢資料館のしおり) (Rev. ed.). pp. 2–3.
  9. ^ Jinchō Moriya-shi Keifu (神長守矢氏系譜), in Suwa Kyōikukai (諏訪教育会), ed. (1931). 諏訪史料叢書 巻28 (Suwa shiryō-sōsho, vol. 28). Suwa: Suwa Kyōikukai. (in Japanese)
  10. ^ Suwa Kyōikukai (1938). 諏訪史年表 (Suwa Shinenpyō). Nagano: Suwa Kyōikukai. p. 11.(in Japanese)
  11. ^ "大祝有員 (Ōhōri Arikazu)". Official website of Suwa City (in Japanese).
  12. ^ "諏方氏 (Suwa Clan)". Official website of Suwa City (in Japanese).
  13. ^ Yamada, Taka. Shinto Symbols (PDF). p. 8.
  14. ^ Ihara, Kesao (2008-03-31). "鎌倉期の諏訪神社関係史料にみる神道と仏道 : 中世御記文の時代的特質について (Shinto and Buddhism as Depicted in Historical Materials Related to Suwa Shrines of the Kamakura Period : Temporal Characteristics of Medieval Imperial Writings)". Bulletin of the National Museum of Japanese History. 139: 157–185. (in Japanese)
  15. ^ Ihara (2008). p. 261.
  16. ^ Ōhōri-bon Jinshi Keizu (大祝本 神氏系図), cited in Kanai, Tenbi (1982). Suwa-shinkō-shi (諏訪信仰史). Meicho Shuppan. pp. 107, 190.
  17. ^ Ihon Asoshi Keizu (異本阿蘇氏系図), cited in Kanai (1982). p. 109.
  18. ^ Ihara (2008). pp. 260-262.
  19. ^ Fukushima, Masaki (福島正樹). "信濃古代の通史叙述をめぐって (Shinano kodai no tsūshi jojutsu wo megutte)". 科野太郎の古代・中世史の部屋. Retrieved 2017-09-24.
  20. ^ Itō, Rintarō (伊藤麟太朗) (1994). "所謂『阿蘇氏系図』について (Iwayuru 'Aso-shi Keizu' ni tsuite)". Shinano (信濃). Shinano Shigakukai (信濃史学会). 46 (8): 696–697.
  21. ^ Murasaki, Machiko (村崎真智子) (1996). "異本阿蘇氏系図試論 (Ihon Aso-shi keizu shiron)". Hito, mono, kotoba no jinruigaku: Kokubu Naoichi Hakushi beiju kinen ronbunshū (ヒト・モノ・コトバの人類学. 国分直一博士米寿記念論文集). Keiyūsha (慶友社): 202–218.
  22. ^ Asoshina, Yasuo (阿蘇品 保夫) (1999). 阿蘇社と大宮司―中世の阿蘇 (Aso-sha to Daiguji: chusei no Aso). Ichinomiya-machi (一の宮町). ISBN 978-4877550462.
  23. ^ For a contrary viewpoint, cf. Hōga, Yoshio (宝賀寿男) (2006). "村崎真智子氏論考「異本阿蘇氏系図試論」等を読む".
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  25. ^ a b Papinot, Edmond (1910). Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan, Volume 2. p. 611.
  26. ^ Ihara, Kesao (2008-03-31). "鎌倉期の諏訪神社関係史料にみる神道と仏道 : 中世御記文の時代的特質について (Shinto and Buddhism as Depicted in Historical Materials Related to Suwa Shrines of the Kamakura Period : Temporal Characteristics of Medieval Imperial Writings)". Bulletin of the National Museum of Japanese History. 139: 157–185. (in Japanese)
  27. ^ The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 1: Ancient Japan. Cambridge University Press. p. 343. ISBN 978-0521223522.
  28. ^ a b Moriya, Sanae (1991). Moriya-jinchō-ke no ohanashi (守矢神長家のお話し). In Jinchōkan Moriya Historical Museum (Ed.). Jinchōkan Moriya Shiryōkan no shiori (神長官守矢資料館のしおり) (Rev. ed.). p. 4. (in Japanese)
  29. ^ Miyasaka, Mitsuaki (1987). "Kyodai naru kami no kuni. Suwa-shinkō no tokushitsu (強大なる神の国―諏訪信仰の特質)." In Miyasaka, Mitsuaki (1987). "Kyodai naru kami no kuni. Suwa-shinkō no tokushitsu (強大なる神の国―諏訪信仰の特質)." In Ueda; Gorai; Ōbayashi; Miyasaka, M.; Miyasaka, Y. 御柱祭と諏訪大社 (Onbashira-sai to Suwa-taisha). Nagano: Chikuma Shobō. pp. 25–26. ISBN 978-4480841810. (in Japanese)
  30. ^ Moriya (1991), p. 5.
  31. ^ "ミシャグジ (Mishaguji)". 日本の神様辞典 (Nihon no Kamisama Jiten). (in Japanese)
  32. ^ Miyasaka (1987). p. 29.
  33. ^ Suwa Shishi Hensan Iinkai, ed. (1995). p. 722.
  34. ^ Fujimori, Akira (1991). Ōhōri sokui no keshō-dōgu (大祝即位の化粧道具). In Jinchōkan Moriya Historical Museum (Ed.). Jinchōkan Moriya Shiryōkan no shiori (神長官守矢資料館のしおり) (Rev. ed.). p. 37. (in Japanese)
  35. ^ a b Miyasaka (1987). p. 28-29.
  36. ^ Miyasaka (1992). p. 53.
  37. ^ Suwa Shishi Hensan Iinkai, ed. (1995). 諏訪市史 上巻 原始・古代・中世 (Suwa Shishi, vol. 1). Suwa. p. 718.
  38. ^ Suwa Shishi Hensan Iinkai, ed. (1995). p. 696, 722-723.
  39. ^ "大祝即位式場". 八ヶ岳原人.
  40. ^ Suwa Shishi Hensan Iinkai, ed. (1995). p. 696.
  41. ^ "諏訪大明神 (Suwa-daimyōjin)". 日本の神様辞典 (Nihon no Kamisama Jiten). (in Japanese)
  42. ^ a b Suwa Shishi Hensan Iinkai, ed. (1995). p. 695.
  43. ^ Tanigawa, Kenichi, ed. (1987). Nihon no kamigami: Jinja to seichi, vol. 9: Mino, Hida, Shinano (日本の神々―神社と聖地〈9〉美濃・飛騨・信濃). Hakusuisha. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-4560025093.
  44. ^ Suwa Shishi Hensan Iinkai, ed. (1995). pp. 718-719.
  45. ^ a b Suwa Shishi Hensan Iinkai, ed. pp. 719.
  46. ^ Suwa Kyōikukai (1938). pp. 23-24.
  47. ^ "源氏御家人としての諏訪氏". 信州歴史散歩.
  48. ^ Miyachi, Naokazu (1931). 諏訪史 第二卷 前編 (Suwa-shi, vol. 2, part 1). Shinano kyōikukai Suwa-bukai. pp. 274–275. (in Japanese)
  49. ^ "高島藩 (Takashima-han)". Edo 300 Han HTML. (in Japanese)
  50. ^ "最後の大祝". 八ヶ岳原人. (in Japanese)