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Friday, September 22, 2017

Today I am moving from Shirakawa to mitsue. A last hot bath in the Shirakawa-no-yu hot spring, a local breakfast and here we go on the most expensive autoroute of the world (didn't check, but sure it feels so). The final destination is Mitsue, but I will stop in Misugi, where I found the only free room in all the Uda valley for this day. I made some 3-4 hours space compressing the (already rich) program for the next day to allot for a visit at the Naigu of the Ise Jingu, or the most important of the two (almost) twin shrines in Ise. This is where the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-no-omikami is enshrined, and has been the place where almost all the emperors have been bestowed their crown.

null The highway is not very busy (obviously: a few trips on this road will deplete a yearly wage of an ordinary Japanese CEO), and the people drives very fast, usually above the double of the declared speed limit. I usually do as the Romans do when in Rome, but my instinct tells me not to abuse too much of the "daikichi" uranai and the safe trip mamori I bought at the Atsuta Jinja.

Once arrived in Ise, in the proximity of the Jingu, the problem is to find a free parking. In part, the shrine is busy and packed with tourists, especially Chinese and Korean, but most of the traffic, I learn afterwards, is because of nearby commercial center in open air, called Oharai Machi (the City of the purification).


Like Shirakawa-go, this bustling street and nearby blocks bustlig with small shops that have something to do with the shrine represents the true spirit of Japan as much as the shrine itself. So, while I get purified of some 50 pounds spent in useless stuff, I come to know that most of the traffic is due to the maneki neko festival.


The central area of the street, which includes a small square packed with micro stalls (a market in the market) is occupied by artists, artisans and simple shopkeepers selling stuff themed after the famous cat (neko) with the raised paw, which calls (maneki) the luck, and is used as a mamori, or more in general, as a cute and ethnic shelf filler.

For sure, this cat seems to enjoy its moment of glory, and lets every tourist to get near and pet him. Especially if they are Japanese girls yelling kawaiiiiii ("how cuuuuuute") since 10 meters away.


The Ise Jingu might occupy more land than the Atsusa Jingu, but they are very similar in their structure. I would dare to say that the Asuta Jingu main buildings are much more beautiful than those of the Ise Jingu; this is probably due to the fact that the honden asurroudingounding haiden are rebuilt every twenty year in the adjacalternatedlyt, alternately. Also, the site seems a bit less bustling to me.

However, the Kagura-miya, which serves as a ritual room/place where to offer sacred dances (kagura) to all the various kamis enshrined here i far more rich and beautiful than the kami shrines themselves.


While I am in the haiden of the main shrine, I assist to a cerimony I couldn't record, due to various constraint. A woman on her forties asks a Shintoist priest something, and signs on a book (probably she also writes down her wish). The pries lets her in a reserved area, and purifies her throwing salt around her. Then he guides her in the haiden, where she performs the usual Shintoist prayer (double bow, double clap, bow again) directly in front of the honden door, intstead of praying in front of the haiden door as a normal visitor.

Taking a photo of the honden, that can be seen from the haiden, is also strictly prohibited, but this other shrine is practically identical, just in a smaller scale:


Yes, the honden of the Great Goddess of the Sun is built out of bare wood, with a roof of straw exactly like those in Shirakawa; the only luxury she is afforded are golden terminals at both ends of the round horizontal pillars laying on top of the roof.

While at the haiden, I am fought about asking Amaterasu something else too, but I don't want to abuse of her patience (she's a good Kami, but when she gets angry it's a bad day for everyone). So, instead of asking for another desire to be fulfilled, I go and pray for the aratama of the goddess to be benevolent with me. What's the aratama? Simply put, it's the bad mood of a kami, but let's dig deeper into it.

The word aratama is the merging of the ancient Japanese words for "wild" and "soul". At a certain point in the cult of the kamis, probably after the first contacts with the Chinese culture but before the introduction of buddhism in the late 500, the taoist concept of dualism was applied to the kami, which we must remember, is not a "god" in modern term, but is the "spirit" of a thing, or "a thing in its essence".

To be even more precise, originally the kami was the power of changing or cause change. The kami of fire was the ability of the fire to heat and burn down things.

With some lexical confusion about "having" and "being" typical of eastern language, "having" this power of change becomes very akin to "being" this power of change. Moreover, exactly as nowadays there is the tendency of identify the people with their occupation (e.g. denki: electricity, denkiya: electric device shop, denkiya-san: the shopkeeper of the electric device shop), the same process was applied to the creatures that we call now kamis: they were not kamis, they had the kami, which was "power to change things".

Now, this power can act favorably or unfavorably. The same fire that heats and cooks burn down things, and if the things burned down are precious, as your own house, that's a problem. The fields grow, and ultimately all the life exists thanks to the heat of the sun, but if this power manifests in its violent aspect, it can create droughts and kill everything.

So, every kami had an aratama, or a destructive aspect that needed to be placated separately. Or, since any act of devotion required sacrifices and offers to the priests, that might have been a pretty simple, fast and effective way to double the number of kamis, and amount of relative offers, in one swing.

A method that works also with me, I reflect, as I throw 100 yen (about 0.65 pounds) in the bin of the aratama shrine.

But the important thing is that, now, I am friend with Amaterasu herself and with the destructive side of her power as well.


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