A week ago, I was wandering around my hometown of Shinjuku and I found myself heading toward the famous Shinto Shrine, Hanasono Jinjya.
Although, I am unsure what lead me down here again, I never get tired of this place. I was last there in November for the awesome Harvest festival. This place when it is set up for a festival, seems like Disney land on Crack, and that ain’t bad. It’s so much fun and the crowd that a location in Shinjuku next door to the most infamous red light district in East Asia attracts is, nothing but a good time.
That having been said, the crowd was much less dense and much more serious when I visited last week.
The Sakura were blooming and people were quiet, not to mention few and far between. It is bizarre to spend time in a place that gives such a clichéd sense of peace and relaxation yet is literally surrounded by towering modern structures dedicated to commerce and a lack of peace in the lives of those who inhabit them.
Hanasono Jinjya is a Shinto shrine. Shinto (“the way of the gods”) is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people and as old as Japan itself.
“Shinto gods” are called kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami. The kami of extraordinary people are even enshrined at some shrines. The Sun Goddess Amaterasu is considered Shinto’s most important kami.
In contrast to many monotheist religions, there are no absolutes in Shinto. There is no absolute right and wrong, and nobody is perfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. Consequently, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami.
For those of you who are living in or who previously have been guests here in Japan, the above description of Shinto is the first step toward a deeper understanding of the Japanese and the way’s with which they go about living life, that can at times, be difficult for foreign people to understand.
It is interesting and worth noting however, that the most notorious and fascinating class in Japanese history, the one still used as a rally point of national pride and identity for what is today a very weak, pale shadow of this former class of the unbelievable, THE SAMURAI, were not in fact Shinto Practitioners at all, but primarily Buddhist, of the school of Zen.
I do not intend for this post to be in the field of Nihon Jin ron(discourses on the national character of the Japanese) because that frankly is a boring, lose-lose argument/discussion and I’ve got things to do today.
I just wanted to establish some facts.
It seemed like a good day to make an offering, and ask for some assistance for the Spring and Summer. I mean, who doesn’t need some help, right?
First, you go and wash your hands in these fountain type deals, then you go up to the shrine. I threw in a 500 yen coin, rung the bell, did my two clap and then took a few moments to focus on what I want to get my hands on this year (guess what that is? Starts with an “M” and ends with a “Y” and no, it’s not a type of pizza, new german beer or a sex act.).
I then opened my eyes and looked around for maybe, a brief case full of money or a gym bag full of diamonds or a few kilos of Coke or whatever but no dice. I guess it is a more slow-moving process. I’m fine with that, I have patience.
As we turned to walk away I noticed the board below.
This large bulletin board of sorts with all these little wooden signs hung all over it. A closer inspection was needed. I took my time and I found these fascinating and I started flipping through the hundreds and hundreds hung there.
Apparently, at the new Year, many people visit this shrine in order to ask the Kami sama (god’s) for props or “Ketsu-mochi” (literally means “Butt holder”, its Yazzie(Yakuza) speak for someone having your back.) in the new year. Then, if they are so inclined, they can write a message about what it is they are after on these wooden cards and they can be hung here in the Shrine.
The front of the wooden cards have pictures on them.
Since this is the year of the Tiger, the Tiger picture was popular.
Conversely, the Cow picture is probably telling us when this person was born, in the year of the Cow. On the back, people can write their message.
Here we have a VERY popular hope for many women (and men) in their late 20’s to early 30’s.
I hope to get Married this year.
I don’t want to make mistakes at work.
I hope I can go to ARASHI’S concert this year!
Taishi: I’ll try hard at work! Yuko: I’ll be Healthy.
I am going to get a lot of money and I will be very successful at work. I want my family to be healthy too. Also, I want to have a harem of women, so, money is necessary. I need a lot of love.
Well said my friend…well said, and SO true.
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