Friday, September 26, 2014

Holy Rollin': SHRINE On, SHRINE On Nippon Moon

I can't believe it has been a year since our life-changing trip to Japan.  As I see no passport-worthy adventures on the immediate horizon, I will just have to honor the one-year trip-a-versary with some heretofore unexamined material; please bear with me as I moon over our magical days in the "Land of the Rising Sun."

Throughout all of the times I've been to Japan (once, including that excursion of last year), I've become aware that the most striking quality of the country is that it is a true study in contrasts.  Never have I been in a place where the ancient coexists so peacefully with the ultra-modern.  Citizens of Japan, as a general rule, dress and comport themselves in a manner highly-conservative, abstaining from ostentatious styles, conspicuous behaviors, and talk of a loose nature; yet the sight of a businessman looking at rather lurid comic books on the commuter train is not at all uncommon.  Aggravatingly-slim, our Japanese hosts and friends regularly ate this American-sized American well under the table.  From my perspective, the people are particularly non-religious, yet they are profoundly traditional when it comes to honoring ancestors and participating in sacramental rituals.  Lucky for them that, in a very literal sense, there is a shrine and/or temple on nearly every single block.  In short, one could not throw a stone in Japan without hitting a shrine or temple...and then seeing it ricochet off at least three more.  

Tiny & Mary temple time

It should be noted at this point that, as a guest in a foreign land, I do recommend quite against the practice of throwing stones at sacred structures.  It is decidedly bad form and if I'm going to be called an "Ugly American,"  I want it to be about my face!

Who you callin' ugly?!?!!

I'm unsure if it was acceptable but, after a primer from our Japanese sister, we really got into participating in the multi-step process of Japanese holy rollin' - there is a lot of clapping and bowing.

There is also plenty of incense lighting.

And bell clanging...

And the hanging of wish/dream/prayer paddles...

But the first step is a little wash wash.

Such fans of full-immersion tourism, we practically had to be restrained from jumping in and immersing ourselves in the cool, clear water of those incredible fountains (apparently another big touristy no-no).  The bamboo dippers are used for hand-washing (and maybe drinking??? - we saw a couple folks take a sip).  Whether in rough-hewn stone or in the form of imposing dragons, the fonts are a symbolic reminder of the old saying, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."  

The temples are timeless to an eye wholly-untrained in the history of Japanese architecture, but it seems that each new temple is even more spectacular than the last.

That roofline was indescribably beautiful. 

Even the sacred temple couldn't save us from
the-most-unflattering-camera-angle-in-the-world pose but
we wanted our faces in the picture with that ceiling and medallion.

We were lucky enough to see an afternoon service - chanting monks, incense, the whole works!

I'm partial to that imperial orangey-red!

Temple guards!

Just try rubbing the belly for good luck (his not mine)...that Buddha was more than eighty-feet-tall!

Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple) - Kyoto, Japan
The photo (taken by a kindly stranger) with our faces in it 
negates any of the breathtaking beauty of this gilded building.

For all of the loveliness and grandeur found on the beautiful grounds of these gorgeous temples, a more subtle and more personal beauty is found at the neighborhood shrines.

Okay, so maybe "subtle" isn't quite the right word.

The shrines offer convenient opportunities for daily communion.  Observers - and those far less observant - can pause during the day to express hopes and prayers (usually by jotting them down on a wooden plaque and hanging them on the edifice of the shrine).  Interestingly, many of the shrines are dedicated solely to a specific purpose, for example...

Remembering the dearly departed

Honoring historical figures (by imitating their statues)...

...or rubbing a bronze cow's nose???

Covered in baby bibs, this shrine was both heartbreaking and hopeful.
Presumably, perspective parents go to pray for the opportunity to have children.

This shrine was incredible; dreams/prayers/wishes were scribbled on tiny
scrolls of paper and tied to the branches of the trees - look out cherry blossoms!

The best shrine was found in an out-of-the-way neighborhood in Kyoto.  Of course it was our favorite because it was the most inexplicably weird and awesome - at least to our Western way of thinking.  I'm sure there is a valid and beautiful philosophy behind the shrine's purpose...but we couldn't couldn't come up with one.  Why on earth, we wondered, would there be a heavenly porcine shrine?  WHY?!?!!

The swine shrine - praying for pork?
Realizing that the Japanese are always working to prove their superior
wacky tacky cred, it seemed that the real question was, "Swine not?"

For as many temples and shrines as we visited during our tour of Japan, we never got bored with the experience.  We looked forward to the clapping, bowing, lighting, clanging, and washing opportunities to be had on nearly every street corner.  I can't wait to go back, heartily welcoming the chance to do some more Japanese-style holy rollin'.  "Shrine On, Nippon Moon!"

"Shine On, Harvest Moon" - Ruth Etting


Mr. Tiny