Also known as Great Bodhisattva Hachiman.
One of Japan's main deities. The first known shrine to Hachiman was built in Usa, Buzen Province, on Japan's southernmost main island, Kyushu, sometime between the sixth and the eighth century. Later this god became famous for his oracles, one of which declared that Hachiman would protect the construction of the great image of Vairochana Buddha at Todai-ji temple in Nara in the mid-eighth century. For this the god was given the Buddhist title "Great Bodhisattva" in 781, making him the first Japanese deity to receive this title.
This event is seen as symbolic of the emerging syncretism of Buddhism and Japan's indigenous religion, Shinto, at the time. In the Heian period (794-1185), Hachiman was widely revered as the deified spirit of Emperor Ojin, and a derivative shrine called Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine was built in 860 in the suburbs of Kyoto, the capital. This shrine, along with Ise Shrine, came to be devoted to the imperial ancestors.
Later the Minamoto clan adopted Hachiman as its patron deity, and Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura shogunate, established a shrine to Hachiman at Tsurugaoka in Kamakura in the late twelfth century. With this, Hachiman came to be known as the deity of warriors or the god of war. As worship of Hachiman spread, he also came to be regarded as the guardian deity of many respective communities. Hachiman's incorporation as a protective deity of Buddhism signifies the transition of Buddhism from its early status in Japan as a foreign religion to a mainstay of Japan's spiritual culture.
Although often called the god of war, he is more correctly defined as the tutelary god of warriors. He is also the divine protector of Japan and the Japanese people, and the Imperial house, the Minamoto clan ("Genji") and most samurai worshipped him. The name means "God of Eight Banners", referring to the eight heavenly banners that signaled the birth of the divine Emperor Ōjin. His symbolic animal and messenger is the dove.
Since ancient times Hachiman was worshiped by peasants as the god of agriculture and by fishermen who hoped he would fill their nets with much fish. In Shinto, he became identified by legend as the Emperor Ōjin, son of Empress ppJingū[[, from the 3rd–4th century of the Common Era.
After the arrival of Buddhism in Japan, Hachiman became a syncretistic deity, fusing elements of the native kami worship with Buddhism (shinbutsu shūgō). In the Buddhist pantheon in 8th century AD, he became Hachiman Great Bodhisattva (八幡大菩薩 Hachiman Daibosatsu).
Because as Emperor Ōjin he was an ancestor of the Minamoto clan, Hachiman became the tutelary kami (氏神 ujigami) of the Minamoto samurai clan. Minamoto no Yoshiie, upon coming of age at Iwashimizu Shrine in Kyoto, took the name Hachiman Taro Yoshiie and through his military prowess and virtue as a leader, became regarded and respected as the ideal samurai through the ages. After Minamoto no Yoritomo became shogun and established the Kamakura shogunate, Hachiman's popularity grew and he became by extension the protector of the warrior class the shogun had brought to power. For this reason, the shintai of a Hachiman shrine is usually a stirrup or a bow.
Throughout the Japanese medieval period, the worship of Hachiman spread throughout Japan among not only samurai, but also the peasantry. So much so was his popularity that presently there are 25000 Shinto shrines in Japan dedicated to Hachiman, the second most numerous after shrines dedicated to Inari. Usa Shrine in Usa, Oita prefecture is head shrine of all of these shrines and together with Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū, Hakozaki-gū and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, are noted as the most important of all the shrines dedicated to him.
The crest of Hachiman is in the design of a mitsudomoe, a round whirlpool or vortex with three heads swirling right or left. Many samurai clans used this crest as their own, ironically including some that traced their ancestry back to the mortal enemy of the Minamoto, the Taira of the Emperor Kammu line (Kammu Heishi).