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  • Japanese: 八幡 (Hachiman)

Hachiman, commonly described as a god of war, is a Shinto deity, the patron deity of the Minamoto clan, Murakami clan, and others, as well as of the Shô Dynasty of the Ryûkyû Kingdom. Hachiman Shrines are the most numerous category of Shinto shrines in Japan, with more than 40,000 Hachiman shrines dotted across the country, and worship of Hachiman has been described as "the most influential popular religion in Japanese history."[1]

Hachiman was first worshipped as one of the household deities of the Usa clan of Kyushu, along with a sun goddess called Hibigami. Adopted by the Minamoto shoguns as their chief patron deity, Hachiman later became established as one of the chief protectors of the Imperial family, the Japanese nation, and the cosmos. Usa Hachiman Shrine in Buzen province, one of the chief Hachiman shrines in Japan, was used as the Imperial court's branch court in Kyushu at times, and emperors and empresses made pilgrimages to Usa to pray for the protection of the Imperial family and the nation on countless occasions beginning in 720, up until the time of Emperor Kômei in 1864. The Nata family, lords of territories in the Kunisaki peninsula of Bungo province, hereditarily held the position of high priest at Usa Hachiman from 729 until the 17th century. The Usa shrine played a key role in the Dôkyô incident in the 8th century; Daibu Hachiman Shrine in Fukuoka was another of the chief Hachiman shrines in the region at that time.[2]

The four chief Hachiman Shrines in Japan today are Usa Hachiman, Hakozaki Shrine in Fukuoka, Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine in Yawata (near Kyoto), and Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine in Kamakura. The latter was established as a branch of Iwashimizu Hachiman in 1063, after Minamoto no Yoriyoshi prayed to Hachiman for victory against Abe no Sadatô; this shrine was then moved to its current location in Kamakura in 1180 by Minamoto no Yoritomo, who embraced Hachiman as the tutelary deity of the Kamakura shogunate and of the Minamoto clan.

During the Mongol Invasions in the 1270s-1280s, Hachiman shrines throughout Kyushu became major centers of prayers for the protection of the country, and after the successful repulsion of those invasions, Usa Hachiman's prestige as a protector of the nation increased. Hachiman was also widely credited with defeating the 1419 Korean invasion of Tsushima, as most at the time did not know that the Mongol Empire had already fallen and had no involvement in this later invasion.[3]

The Hachiman legend of course has seen considerable change and expansion over the centuries. At some point, Hachiman was retroactively associated with Emperor Ôjin, and thus as the son of Empress Jingû; various Hachiman-related texts relate that it was the as-yet-unborn Ôjin/Hachiman in Jingû's womb that aided her in succeeding in her mythical invasions of Korea. Hachiman is also sometimes associated with a golden hawk, with the Ama family which merged with the Usa family in ancient times and which worshipped a dragon king; with the Karajima family who brought shamanic practices with them from Korea, and with maritime activity. Hachiman was historically often also a blacksmith deity, and came to be associated with both war and agriculture. Some have suggested that Hachiman further grew out of a pair of dragon deities from Jeju and southern coastal Korea, known in Korean as Yeongdeung and Halmang.[2]

By the mid-16th century, many wakô and other pirate groups took Hachiman as their patron deity, and flew banners featuring a mitsudomoe design associated with the deity; this served both as a religious talisman and as a means of communicating with other vessels. The swirling symbol likely has its origins in ancient dragon worship, and reflects Hachiman's associations with dragons, wind, and water. Ships associated with the Seiseifu in Kyushu also adopted their own version of a Hachiman banner.[4] Meanwhile, in 1466, King Shô Toku of the Ryûkyû Kingdom similarly adopted Hachiman as a patron deity of the dynasty, and the mitsudomoe as the royal crest.[5] Azato Hachiman Shrine in Naha was built at that time, and later came to be recognized as one of the eight most significant Shinto shrines in Ryûkyû.[6]

A particularly famous and lifelike wooden sculpture of Hachiman in the guise of a Buddhist monk is held at the Tôdai-ji in Nara. Carved by the great Buddhist sculptor Kaikei, the seated sculpture, in usually good condition with its painting intact, is 34 1/2 inches tall, and dates to 1201.[7]


  • Haruko Nawata Ward, Women Religious Leaders in Japan's Christian Century, Ashgate (2009), 120.
  1. Ward, 120.; Gregory Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, University of Hawaii Press (2019), 42.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 43.
  3. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 44.
  4. Smits, Maritime Ryukyu, 42-44.
  5. "Shô Toku." Okinawa konpakuto jiten (沖縄コンパクト事典, "Okinawa Compact Dictionary"). Ryukyu Shimpo. 1 March 2003. Accessed 19 December 2009.
  6. Plaques on-site at Azato Hachiman Shrine, Naha, Okinawa.
  7. Mason, Penelope. History of Japanese Art. Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005, 191-192.