(C) Ken Okada

Mysterious Objects in Shinto Shrine Are Not Entirely From This World

Twitter user @kulanla, who was visiting Chikato Shrine in Nakanojo, Gunma Prefecture last weekend, came across something completely unexpected...

"I went to a Shinto shrine today and was intrigued by a mysterious object."

A reaction which was clearly shared by many online, since the tweet soon went viral, with nearly 41,000 likes and close to 27,000 retweets as of this writing.

However, as @kulanla revealed in a subsequent tweet, things got stranger still:

"You know that shrine with the mysterious object which I tweeted about yesterday? When I tried to throw a coin into the (offertory) box, it bounced off and didn't go in. Just as I was saying to myself: "No way," my phone suddenly rang. This was giving me the creeps, so I put in a 100 yen coin and paid my respects."

In addition to simply voicing fear, some of the more interesting reactions were:

---"This is definitely something from Cthulhu mythology!"

---"Looks like something that came out of a dream."

---"I'm not too sure what it is but it's cute!"

---"I bet it comes to life at night!"

So then, what is this mysterious object sitting on a bench in a small Shinto shrine in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture? And what about the other objects?

As it turns out, Chikato Shrine happens to be one of the 51 locations for the Nakanojo Biennale, a contemporary art festival, now in its sixth iteration, bringing together hundreds of artists, both local and international, to exhibit pictures, photos and sculptures in the areas around Nakanojo Station, as well as the hot springs town of Shima Onsen and Sawatari Onsen.

Unaware of the ongoing exhibition, our easily-irked Twitter user didn't realize that this was, in fact, an art installation by sculptor Nobuharu Asano.

Source: Nobuharu Asano

Source: (C) Ken Okada

Source: Nobuharu Asano

Source: Nobuharu Asano

Source: (C) Ken Okada

Source: (C) Ken Okada

In an interview with Grape Japan staff, the artist explained that the seated figure is a Trickster:

The installation is collectively entitled: "Festival of Nothingness." I use these Tricksters to represent a festival taking place in the World Beyond. Each piece has a separate name but they are collectively called Tricksters, in the mythological sense of the term. Most of the Tricksters have three-legs because they exist somewhere between humans (two-legged) and beasts (four-legged). They exist in the realm between gods and humans. They are able to bridge this world and the World Beyond. In Japan, although such beings existed among us in ancient times, they have now disappeared from the world of today. (They go by the name of "ghosts" or "spirits" (mononoke)). I would like to bring these beings back into existence, so I continue to create Tricksters in various forms.

But why did Asano choose a Shinto shrine as the location for his installation, and why this particular shrine?

Shinto shrines are special places for Japanese people, even today. They have a special power and can lead us from our unremarkable everyday world to a remarkable world. When I first set foot in Chikato Shrine, I felt a strong, mysterious power. Although they are normally present in the shrine grounds, by creating physical representations of Tricksters there, I hope to create an exhibit, if only for the limited period of the Nakanojo Biennale, that will allow us to visualize these presences which our eyes cannot see (...) Moreover, the members of the community were favorably disposed and have welcomed my installation, so I am truly grateful for that.

To learn more about Nobuharu Asano's works, please go to his website. You can see "Festival of Nothingness" as well as other works of art at the Nakanojo Biennale between now and October 9. Nakanojo is known as one of the most beautiful villages of Japan, so it is worth the trip if you are planning a visit to Gunma Prefecture.

Source: Nobuharu Asano

Note: All photographs in this article are used with the permission of Nobuharu Asano.

By - grape Japan editorial staff.