A mikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine. Shinto followers believe that it serves as the vehicle of a divine spirit in Japan at the time of a parade of deities. Often, the mikoshi resembles a miniature building, with pillars, walls, a roof, a veranda and a railing. Typical shapes are rectangles, hexagons, and octagons. The body, which stands on two or four poles (for carrying), is usually lavishly decorated, and the roof might hold a carving of a Phoenix.
During a matsuri, or Japanese festival, people bear a mikoshi on their shoulders by means of the two or four poles. They bring the mikoshi from the shrine, carry it around the neighborhoods that worship at the shrine, and in many cases leave it in a designated area, resting on blocks, for a time before returning it to the shrine. Some shrines have the custom of dipping the mikoshi in the water of a nearby lake, river or ocean. At certain festivals, the people who bear the mikoshi wave it wildly from side to side.
Usa Shrine is a Shinto shrine in the city of Usa in Oita Prefecture in Japan. Emperor Ojin, who was deified as Hachiman-jin (the tutelary god of warriors), is said to be enshrined in all the sites dedicated to him; and the first and earliest of these was at Usa in the early 8th century. The Usa Shrine has long been the recipient of Imperial patronage; and its prestige is considered second only to that of Ise Shrine.
The shrine was founded in Kyushu during the Nara period. Ancient records place the foundation of Usa Jingu in the Wadou era (708-714). It is today the center from which over 40,000 branch shrines have grown. Usa's Hachiman shrine first appears in the chronicles of Imperial history during the reign of Empress Shoutoku. The empress allegedly had an affair with a Buddhist monk named Doukyou. An oracle was said to have proclaimed that the monk should be made emperor; and the kami Hachiman at Usa Shrine was consulted for verification. The empress died before anything further could develop.
From 1871 through 1946, Usa Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines. Other similarly honored Hachiman shrines were Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu of Yawata in Kyoto Prefecture and Hakozaki-gu in Fukuoka Prefecture.
The earliest recorded use of a mikoshi was in the 8th century. In 749, the shrine's mikoshi was used to carry the spirit of Hachiman from Kyushu to Nara, where the deity was to guard construction of the great Daibutsu at Todai-ji.