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Hachiman is one of the most beloved Japanese kami deities as well as a prime example of how Japanese culture has combined elements from the many different religions that are popular in the island nation. Believed to be the divine personification of the legendary Japanese Emperor Ōjin, Hachiman is a kami of war, archery, noble warriors and samurai.
Who is Hachiman?
Hachiman, also called Hachiman-jin or Yahata no kami, is a special deity as he combines elements from both Shintoism and Japanese Buddhism. His name translates to God of Eight Banners which is a reference to the legend of the birth of the divine Emperor Ōjin and the eight banners in the sky that signaled it.
Hachiman is commonly viewed as a Japanese god of war but he’s mostly worshipped as a patron kami of warriors and archery, and not of war itself. The archer kami was initially worshipped near-exclusively by warriors and samurai but his popularity eventually extended to all people in Japan and now he’s also viewed as the patron kami of agriculture and fishing as well.
Emperor Ōjin and the Samurai
As Hachiman is believed to be the ancient Emperor Ōjin, the archer kami was initially worshipped by the Minamoto samurai clan (Genji)– the samurai that descended from Emperor Ōjin himself.
What’s more, other members of the Minamoto clan have also ascended to the position of Japan’s shōgun over the years and adopted the name Hachiman as well. Minamoto no Yoshiie is the most famous example – he grew up in the Iwashimizu Shrine in Kyoto and then took the name Hachiman Taro Yoshiie as an adult. He went on to not only prove himself as a powerful warrior but also as a genius general and leader, eventually becoming a shogun and establishing the Kamakura shogunate, all under the name of Hachiman.
Because of samurai leaders like him, the kami Hachiman is associated with war-time archery and the samurai.
A Kami of All the People of Japan
Over the years, Hachiman became much more than a samurai’s kami. His popularity grew among all the people of Japan and he started being worshipped by farmers and fishermen alike. Today, there are over 25,000 shrines dedicated to Hachiman across Japan, the second-highest number of Shinto shrines behind the shrines of the kami Inari – the protector deity of rice cultivation.
The most likely reason for the spread of Hachiman’s popularity is the intrinsic respect Japanese people have for their royalty and leaders. The Minamoto clan was loved as defenders of Japan and therefore Hachiman became worshipped as the Imperial patron and protector of the entire country.
The fact that this kami incorporates themes and elements from both Shintoism and Buddhism also goes to show how loved he was by everyone in the island nation. In fact, Hachiman was even accepted as a Buddhist divinity in the Nara period (AD 710–794). He was called Hachiman Daibosatsu (Great Buddha-to-be) by the Buddhist and to this day they worship him as vehemently as the Shinto followers.
Hachiman and the Kamikaze
As a protector kami of all of Japan, Hachiman was often prayed to defend the country against its enemies. A couple of such occasions took place during attempted Mongol Chinese invasions in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333 CE) – the period when Hachiman’s popularity grew significantly.
The kami is said to have answered the prayers of his followers and sent a typhoon or a kamikaze – a “divine wind” in the sea between Japan and China, thwarting the invasion.
The two such kamikaze typhoons took place in 1274 and one in 1281. It should be said, however, that these two incidents are also often attributed to the gods of thunder and wind Raijin and Fujin.
Either way, this divine wind or kamikaze became so well-known as a “protective divine spell for Japan” that in World War II, Japanese fighter pilots screamed the word “Kamikaze!” while suicide-crashing their planes into enemy ships, in a final attempt to Japan from invasion.
Symbols and Symbolism of Hachiman
Hachiman’s primary symbolism is not so much war but the patronage of warriors, samurai, and archers. He’s a protector deity, a sort of warrior-saint to all people in Japan. Because of this, Hachiman was prayed to and worshipped by everyone who wanted and needed protection.
Hachiman himself is symbolized by the dove – his spirit animal and messenger bird. Doves were frequently used as messenger birds both during wartime and among the ruling elite as a whole so the connection is easy to see. In addition to this, Hachiman was also represented by the bow and arrow. While the sword is thec typical weapon of Japanese warriors, bows and arrows date back to gentleman-like Japanese warriors.
Importance of Hachiman in Modern Culture
While Hachiman himself, as a kami or an emperor, isn’t frequently featured in modern manga, anime, and video games, his name itself is often used for various characters such as Hachiman Hikigaya, the protagonist of the Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru anime series. Outside of art, there are many annual festivals and ceremonies dedicated to Hachiman that are observed to this day.
- What is Hachiman the god of? Hachiman is a god of war, warriors, archery and the samurai.
- What type of deity is Hachiman? Hachiman is a Shinto kami.
- What are Hachiman’s symbols? Hachiman’s symbols are doves and the bow and arrow.
Hachiman is one of the most popular and revered deities of Japanese mythology. His role in the saving of Japan made him much beloved and strengthened his roleas the divine protector of Japan, the Japanese people and of the Royal House of Japan.