EPIC member Holley Moran is spending a couple months in Japan this summer, and while she is there, she is enjoying learning about Japanese shrines. Here’s an update from her.
The most prevalent religious traditions in Japan are Shintoism and Buddhism. Shrines (神社, pronounced “jinja”) are from the Shinto tradition, while temples (お寺, pronounced “otera”) are Buddhist. While both of these traditions are celebrated together by most Japanese people, activities like visiting shrines or temples is just something you do, not necessarily because you believe in it. Since I’m studying abroad in Japan this summer, I had the opportunity to visit a few very old and famous temples and one huge shrine.
On July 1, my class took a field trip to Yamanashi Prefecture, where we visited Erinji Temple. It was established in 1330.
The garden at this temple is over 700 years old (a little bit older than the St. Paul’s garden). The temple also had a tea room and a bridge. We weren’t allowed to wear shoes inside.
Yamanashi is about a two-hour drive away from Tokyo, which places it in the countryside, away from all the noise and crowds of the city. It was very quiet there when we arrived. Our class got to participate in a Zen meditation class led by the monk.
The monk was very nice and spoke English to us, which was very helpful. He said his father and grandfather were also monks, but growing up he did not want to become a monk himself. He attended a Christian church for awhile until he decided he wanted to become a Zen monk after all.
The meditation itself was almost exactly like the contemplative prayer workshop EPIC did during winter quarter. We sat cross-legged on mats in a big room and had to stay silent and count in our heads while breathing evenly. The monk carried a big wooden stick with him and he said that if we lose concentration, we can make a hand signal to him and he would hit us with it. Sadly for me, I didn’t hear the part where he said to make a hand signal, so I thought he would hit me if I moved around too much. I didn’t really focus on the meditation very well because I was really hoping he would not notice me moving around and hit me with the big stick. The person sitting next to me got hit, and I got so nervous. My leg fell asleep, but I didn’t dare move it.
Afterwards, I bought some delicious grape and vanilla swirl ice cream at the shop outside the temple.
On July 16, a few classmates and I visited Senso-ji temple.
I didn’t know anything about this place beforehand, so I had no expectations going in. But I wish that I had googled it or something first because I was very overwhelmed. The road to the temple is about a 3/4 of a kilometer and is surrounded by little shops selling a whole lot of Japan-related stuff, including but not limited to kimonos, fans, chopsticks, rice bowls, Hello Kitty stuff, Godzilla toys, One Piece merchandise, hats, purses, shoes, food, and a bunch of other things I don’t have time to talk about.
There were so many people there, the road was completely packed. I got separated from my friends twice because we got lost in the crowd.
Guys like this are all around Asakusa town. My friend and I took a picture together.
The front courtyard of the temple is where you consult the oracle. To do that, you pick up a metal box that has a bunch of sticks in it. You turn it upside down and shake it a few times, and a stick will fall out of the hole at the top. The stick has a number written in kanji on it that corresponds to a bunch of post-office-like boxes on the wall. Inside the box are the papers that correspond to your fortune. This was the one that I drew:
I don’t believe in oracles, but this fortune really stuck out to me. Perhaps it was because of the line that says, “The patient, the sickness may last long, but is sure to get well. Let’s stop to hurt your heart and give trouble to your mind.” It reminded me of Psalm 30, particularly: “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” I’m not really sure why I kept it; maybe God wanted me to see this fortune. I don’t really know.
Anyway, this was the fortune my friend got.
It’s funny because we were three women gathered together, but I hope we weren’t talking too loudly. Later on my friend found a 100-yen coin on the ground, so maybe her fortune is not so bad after all.
Before you go inside the actual temple, you have to wash your hands and face at this fountain.
Inside is the well where you drop your 5-yen coin and make a wish. I didn’t have a 5-yen coin with me, but I did have a 10-yen coin. I joked to my friend that that means I get two wishes. I tossed my coin in, but I didn’t really make a wish.
Inside the temple is a section that reminded me a lot of the altar at St. Paul’s. It was a closed-off gate just like where the choir sings at our church, but here people were chanting and drums were banging. I don’t understand how people can be praying with the thousands of people walking around and taking pictures, but they didn’t seem bothered.
Throughout all of this, I was surprised that I didn’t see any staff of the temple or anything to lead the crowds. There were probably two thousand people there, but no security guards or anything. The crowd just seemed to know what to do.
July 18 was a Japanese national holiday 海の日 (umi no hi) which is Sea Day. We had the day off from school, so a friend and I went to Meiji Jingu to celebrate Sea Day.
The atmosphere of this place was completely the opposite of Sensoji. This temple is in the middle of a huge park which is protected by fences so the shrine can always be quiet. To get to the shrine itself, you have to walk along one of several dirt roads that are completely covered in forest. It was a very pretty and relaxing walk. This is the first time I’ve lived in a huge city, and all the noise is bothering me. It was very nice to walk along this path away from all the business. If it weren’t so far from my dorm, I would go every day and walk there.
Despite the fact that it was a holiday, there were hardly any people there. There were a group of Australian tourists and some Japanese tourists by themselves, but that was it. It was much quieter.
This sign is by the entrance explaining the history of this shrine. The shrine itself is a monument to both the political and spiritual history.
This is the well where you wash your hands before entering the gate.
There was also a sign explaining the rules which included no bicycles, no food, no selling things (a bit different from Sensoji’s vendors row).
You can buy a wooden tablet for 500 yen, write a prayer down, and hang it by this tree. There were a few hundred there that day all written in a variety of languages like Japanese, Vietnamese, English, French, Korean, and others.
A lot of married couples asked 神様 (“Kamisama”—God) to bless their marriage. This couple had a specific blessing in mind.
Here is where you make your wish. This time、I made sure to bring a 5-yen coin with me. To make your wish, you throw your coin in the well, bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow once more. Photography of the actual well was not allowed.
Outside the temple gate, you can buy charms for 800 yen. I bought the charms for traffic safety and successful job hunting.