History of Miyake Island

Miyake Island is also known as the "Island of History." A large number old legends and myths still remain today about its long history, many of which are recorded in the Miyake Chronicles. This story gives an account of the island's history from its opening in the middle ages.

Origin of the Miyake Island name

Miyake Island is home to many legends and myths which feature various gods as the main characters, the majority of which are recorded in the "Miyake Chronicles." As the authors of the Miyake Chronicles are believed to be primarily priests and Shugendo practitioners, it's easy to understand why most of the legends were focused on the gods.

Legends and Myths

There are a few theories about where the island got its name. According to the "Three House Theory", the name Miyakejima (三宅島) is derived from the shape of the island, which looks like three houses in a row. The "Shikinai Shrine Theory" says that the name Miyakejima (宮家島) is comes from the fact that there are 12 Shikinai shrines located on the island. The "Burning Mountain Theory," as described in the "Nanpou Kaitoushi," offers the theory that the name Miyakejima (御焼島) is due to its frequent volcanic eruptions. In any case, there are many such theories, and as the island features a long history that can vary depending on what sources one reads, it would be unwise to rely on only a single account.

The Mibu family

In the early Heian era, the Mibu family, worshipers of the God of Mishima Daimyo, came to the island and took up the position of governor. They established the first Mibu Mitate government office, and from there passed on governance over the island as island chief and chief priest for over 1000 years.

Volcanic history

Miyake Island is famous for being the most active volcanic island in the Izu group. There are traces of a massive eruption occurring roughly 3000 years ago, and it is believed this eruption was the cause of the caldera currently at the top of the Mt. Oyama volcano. The first recorded eruption is listed in the Mibuke family record in 1085. Some theorize that the volcano erupted 13 times between 684 and 1874, but due to a lack of records from the Nara and early Heian periods, others believe the number could be even larger.

The shrines of Miyake Island

There are about 70 shrines on the island, counting only those registered with the shrine directory. Including those unregistered brings the number to over 100. The majority of the shrines on the island have some connection with the volcanoes and its eruptions, a sign that those living on the island long ago regularly asked the gods for protection from those eruptions. The island is also famous for a number of very prominent shrines, such as the Toga Shrine, which is the main building of the Mishima grand shrine from Mishima city, Shizuoka. The Oshaku Shrine, the Kisai Shrine, and the Ninomiya Shrine in where three wives of God of Mishima Daimyo are enshrined, are also located on the island.

The history as the "Island of Exiles"

Miyake Island, as well as other islands in the Ise chain, was used during the Edo period as an island prison to send criminals who had been exiled for their crimes. By the beginning of the Meiji period, the number of exiles is said to have exceeded 2300. Some of the more famous of those exiled include a leader of itinerant gamblers, Kojiro Koganei, a political philosopher, Shikibu Takenouchi, a man of Shintoism, Masakane Inoue, and a Kabuki actor, Shingoro Ikushima.
One famous incident involving the island happened during the middle of the Edo period, where the secret meetings of the famous Kabuki actor Shingoro Ikushima and Ejima, an inner palace maid, first came to light. This started a struggle for power inside the palace that spilled out into the capital as well, leading to the punishment and exile of over 1000 people. This grand scandal, famously known as the "Ejima-Ikushima Affair" provided the setting for the 2006 movie, O-oku.