Akama Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi. Its beautiful and colorful facade hides a dark history. The shrine is dedicated to Antoku, a child emperor who was killed during the monumental naval battle Dan-no-Ura that took place in the nearby Shimonoseki Strait in 1185.
Battle of Dan-no-ura
The Taira and Minamoto clans were fighting for control of Japan in what is known as the Gempei war. The Minamoto clan was victorious in the battle of Dan-no-ura and Antoku`s grandmother grabbed him and jumped into the water and drowned to avoid capture.
The Taira were also called the Heike and it is said that Heikegani (Heike crabs) that live in the Shimonoseki strait are the reincarnations of the Heike soldiers that died in the battle. The crabs were named for their shells that eerily resemble the face of an angry samurai.
Hoichi the Earless
This leads me to an iconic Japanese story known by those in Japan and abroad that is directly related to events of the battle of Dan-no-ura, Hoichi the Earless. It was made famous in the west by Lafcadio Hearn`s Kwaidan, a collection of Japanese ghost stories he collected and translated.
Hoichi was a skillful blind biwa(lute) player who was particularly adept at “The Tale of Heike”, it was about the Gempei war and the tragic downfall of the Heike. One night, a samurai demanded that Hoichi play “the Tale of Heike” for a mysterious rich lord whose request he complied with and received thunderous praise after his performance. The same thing happened the next night but this time the priest of the temple where Hoichi lived grew suspicious of his absence and followed him. Hoichi was found in the middle of a cemetery for it was the ghost of the Heike that he was performing for. To save Hoichi from the ghosts, the priest covered him in the Japanese characters of heart sultra. When the samurai ghost returned that night, Hoichi was invisible except for his ears that the priest forgot to paint. The ghost ripped off his ears in anger but Hoichi survived and became a famous musician. There is a shrine and statue to Hoichi At Akama shrine.