Name: Kikuchi Jinja
Enshrined Deity: Kikuchi Taketoki, Kikuchi Takeshige, Kikuchi Takemitsu
Address: 〒830-0037 Fukuoka-ken, Kurume-shi, Suwanomachi
~~ NOTE: This is part 1 in a 5 part series of my adventures around Kumamoto on January 22nd. ~~
Let's start with the history. Sorry if this post became a little long, I got really interested in the history of this time period while researching it for this post. If you're not interested in the history, feel free to skip to the pictures at the bottom. But I did my best to emphasize only the most important or interesting parts of the history. Anyway, here we go!
Under Emperor Meiji's order, a shrine was built on the site of Kikuchi Castle dedicated to Kikuchi Taketoki in 1870. Then, in 1923, Kikuchi Takeshige and Kikuchi Takemitsu were also enshrined in the same location. But who were these three Kikuchi clansmen, you might ask. Well lets start from the beginning.
Kikuchi Taketoki (1292 - 1333)
The Kikuchi clan was the ruling family of the Higo province from 1070 to 1554. They are supposedly descendants of the famous and ridiculously powerful Fujiwara family. Right in the middle of their 500 year reign, we have the rise of Kikuchi Taketoki. Taketoki became the clan leader in the early 1300's when his older brother and uncle killed each other while fighting over who would rule the clan. Oops? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Taketoki's claim to fame is that he agreed to help Emperor Go-Daigo attempt to overthrow the shogunate and reinstate imperial rule. In 1331, under Emperor Go-Daigo's orders, Taketoki marched his men to Dazaifu in Fukuoka prefecture where they attacked the Defense Commissioner of the West, the man essentially in charge of protecting the entire island of Kyushu. Unfortunately for Taketoki, he was betrayed by two of his allied clans and left to fight with only 70 of his own men. Instead of running away, he sent his two songs home and stayed and fought the enemy valiantly. Of course he was inevitably defeated and beheaded, with some gruesome tales soon to follow of his head being used for archery practice by the enemy.
This event lead to the exile of Emperor Go-Daigo, which surprisingly only lead to increased support for his cause in retaliation. And in 1333, Go-Daigo was successful in overthrowing the military shogunate and reinstating imperial rule. This event was known as the Kenmu Restoration and was an exercise in massive failure that lasted for only three years before the shogunate wrestled back power from the failing imperial lead government.
After growing tensions between the general Ashikaga Takauji and the imperial court during the Kenmu restoration, events finally came to a head in 1335 when Takauji declared a rebellion against the Emperor and gathered a vast army of sympathetic samurai to his side. Their goal: to restore the shogunate once again. Still being loyal to the Emperor, Kikuchi Taketoki's first son Kikuchi Takeshige fought along side the imperial forces. One famous story tells of a time when Takeshige's 1000 men encountered the younger brother of Ashikaga Takauji and his 3,000 troops on the Tokaido, and a battle broke out. Not afraid of the superior numbers, Takeshige ordered his men to tie their tanto (short swords) to the end of bamboo poles and use them as spears against the enemy. They valiantly defeated their enemy in this way, and the legend of the Kikuchi Senbon Yari (Kikuchi 1,000 Spears) was born.
Takeshige would fight in many more battles against the armies of Takauji in the East. They gained some victories but also suffered many defeats. In one battle, the Kikuchi clan was once again betrayed by the same family who had betrayed Takeshige's father four years earlier. But eventually, Emperor Go-Daigo surrendered to Takauji in 1336 and the Kenmu restoration came to its rather quick demise. As a result, Takeshige was subsequently arrested, but his life was spared and he fled back to Higo province.
Strangely enough, while he didn't die during any of those battles, he died only a few years later in a campaign against the North Korean forces.
In addition to his loyalty in battle, Takeshige was also famous for introducing a new constitution for the Kikuchi family that required all decisions (excluding emergencies) to be decided through a democratic process. He was also a well known proponent of Zen Buddhism. But our story must continue.
Kikuchi Takemitsu (1319 - 1373)
Kikuchi Takemitsu was the 9th son of Kikuchi Taketoki. He also fought along side his brother Takeshige against the shogunate forces for many years. When the Kanmu restoration failed in 1336, Emperor Go-Daigo moved his Imperial court to the south where until 1392 there were two courts in Japan: the Northern court of the Ashikage Shogunate, and the Southern Imperial court lead by Go-Daigo and his successors. The Emperor then immediately placed his seven year old son, Prince Kanenaga, in the position of Defense Commissioner of the West (remember that position from Taketoki's story). Backed by the powerful Kikuchi and Aso clans, his position was safe for the time being. But the battle between the imperial court and the shogunate forces would rage on for decades.
When Kikuchi Takeshige died in 1338, the second son Kikuchi Takehito became the new head of the clan. But he was weak and generally disliked, so eventually Takemitsu forced Takehito out of the position and took over the clan for himself.
Takemitsu would become the staunchest ally of Prince Kanenaga and his most important military protector as the years passed. But Takemitsu is perhaps most famous for his victory at the Battle of Oohobaru (The Battle of Chikugo River) in 1359.
In 1361, he also famously captured Dazaifu, thereby securing the Southern Court's hold on Kyushu for the time being. Unfortunately, ten years later in 1372, Daizaifu was taken back by the Northern Court and Takemitsu died the next year, leaving the clan to slowly decline from there onward.
In one last grand dramatic irony, the Kikuchi clan would eventually be crushed and replaced in 1554 by the very same clan who had betrayed both Kikuchi Taketoki and later his sons as well, the Ōtomo clan.
As I previously mentioned, Kikuchi Shrine was built in 1870 to house the spirit of Kikuchi Taketoki. Then two of his sons, Kikuchi Takeshige and Kikuchi Takemitsu were enshrined there as well 53 years later.
Kikuchi Shrine was built in the 7th century by the Yamato Dynasty. The shrine sits on what once was the old grounds of Kikuchi Castle, a very old style of castle made mostly of wood. The shrine is incredibly popular and is the number one shrine in the area for holidays like New Year's.
In the spring, the many cherry blossoms surrounding the shrine and park create a beautiful landscape.