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Monday, September 25, 2017

Right after leaving the Hase temple, I head for the shrines of the Mount Miwa. Or better, for the Mount Miwa, which is itself a shrine, and for countless other shrines which derive their power from the sacred mountain. Even today, it is forbidden to enter it, but the priests of the Miwa Shrine complex can grant access to a specific path leading to a special shrine on the top.

The fact that the mount itself is a shrine is made clear by the most majestic tori-i in the world. It can easily be seen from kilometers away, as it's a 50mts tall structure, and it looks impressive even from Google Earth:

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Placed right in front of the center of the mount, at the right distance and in the right proportions to "enshrine" it, this monument declares the mount as a sacred entity itself. It is said that the mount is the shintai (true embodiment) of Oo-mono-no-nushi-no-mikoto, or "The Master of the Big Things", and it's the most important God and Kami (I already explained the difference) after Amaterasu-no-mikoto -- and probably there was a time in which it was even more important.

Indeed, the shrines on the mountain, taken one by one, are smaller in "ground size" than the Ise Jingu, but they are way richer and more elaborate, functionally more complex (in the sense that they always had more "room" for teaching and worshiping the Way of the Kamis), and taken together, they fill a larger area.



The haiden of the main shrine is a massive and rich building:

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I pay my respects to Oo-mono-no-nushi as well, and pray not for any specific desire, but just that he and me could be good friend. As I leave the prayer spot, I suspect he got my message, as he provides me with a pretty rare view: the enshrinement of two mikos, nowadays the "altar girl" of the Shinto religion. In the past, they were much more, but I am not descending into this details now. Let me just share a stolen image, which I took from behind and afar not to break the privacy of the sacred moment:

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Also, as it happens, I am visiting the shrine during the preparation of the annual matsuri, or sacred festival...

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which is actually the reason for the existence of the kura (magazine) in every non-microscopic shrine, that gets fully opened during the matsuris, becoming a sort of three-walled and roofed tatami, serving as a place where people drink and socialize, while coming and going to the haiden to add some prayer or worship, or to the kagura-den to assist the sacred dances of the mikos and the blessings of the priests.

In this shrine, the administrative area is also dedicated to a strange kami: nadeusagi, literally "bunny to be petted". This, and the abundance of technology in the reception room deserve a photo:

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Other smaller jungu units fills the area, and each of them comes with their jinjas in various shapes and forms, similar to the ones I have shown in other entries, but this one is peculiar: a shrine with three tori-i leading to it, which indicates that you must bow three times before advancing your pleads, and bow three times to leave the site:

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The description reads that this is the shrine where to forward pleads to the Miwa mount itself. Since I am there, I make friend with the mount as well, without forwarding any pleads on my own, as I don't have any particular desire to fulfill.

But the mount seems to get the message too, as wandering without any particular plan, I find a path leading upwards, on the grounds of another Jingu.

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I pass under a tori-i enshrining the path and read a sign that advises that this is a sacred path, and so, avoid throwing garbage, causing fires and destroying plants. Good, this are things I am not going to do, so I can start my climb.

After a few hundred meters I realize I shouldn't really be there, as everyone on the path has the same bell hanging from white band wrapped around their neck with the same characters. I suppose this is the "permission" the priests downstairs bestow on the people to climb the path, but... 1) I am already in, and 2) I made friend with a quite long list of kamis by now, so I ignore the problem, hail everyone with a silent konnichi-wa and continue my climbing.

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When I realize I am walking on a ridge of the Sacred mountain, with slopes on both side of the path, I feel a shiver. It's all exactly as I imagined it, when I wrote about my characters using the Taboo of mount Miwa to escape an angry mob -- without breaking any taboo themselves, as actually one of them is considered "a kami".

The woods look different from anything else I have seen in my trip, they look much more "European" than the other forests I have traversed. In Shirakawa I even pushed through a couple of mountain roads, and the forests were absolutely impassable, hostile, even aggressive, but this wood seems much more familiar to me:

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It is clear to me how this mountain could have seemed "different", and so, "sacred". It's shape is peculiar, as it's probably an incredibly ancient volcanic cone, and from the Nara plane it looks like a perfect geometric cone (it is not, it's rear, towards the Uda side, is connected to a longer ridge of mountains), and then, the vegetation is so different, so "friendly" with respect to the harshness of the Japanese forests, that it must have seemed a really peculiar occurrence. Or maybe, since the land of Uda is separated by this set of impassable mountains from the land of the Yamato, except for a very narrow valley that must have been easy to control, and by the Mount Miwa, the ancient Priestess-queen of the Yamato people declared this mountain sacred to prevent it's uselessness as a geographic barrier to be a problem. Indeed, to my eyes trained as a fungi-searcher since I was able to walk, this mountain seem a set of highways, and if left alone, Uda could have amassed an army unspotted, and counter-attack the Yamato invaders at any moment, flooding the Nara plain from a front as wide as the whole mountain feet.

I keep climbing; my aim is not to reach the top, I just want to see as much Mount Miwa as I can, after a so kind invite I've been given by the mount itself. Also, it's quite late, it's 3:15pm, and the sun goes down fast after 5pm in this season. I've been literally running up the mountain for about 15 minutes, and I am sort of dripping wet now.

In that moment, among a group of pilgrims getting down the mount, I meet a not so young lady not wearing the neck band with the bell. At firsts, I think she must be another one having entered the mountain on her own, but as I see she is getting down barefoot, and that her dress is more like a white robe than a visitor attire, I realize she must be someone special.

Indeed, she tells me it's a bit too late to climb the mountain, and I should have been stopped by the people at the shrine if I asked to get in -- which I didn't -- and that the path is closed by 4pm. I reply I just want to press on as much as I can, and by 4pm I plan to be already at home. She tells me it might be hard, but she wishes me good luck and she lets me go. I regret not having told her that actually I was friend with a set of local kamis, including Oo-mono-no-nushi, and with the mountain itself (other than being an expert mountaineer), but I regret even more not having asked her if she was herself a kami, because I had the impression of having met a very special person.

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I continue running upwards as fast as I can, but by 3:45 I meet up with the shrine guard that's closing the path. By then, I am in viewing range of the top of the mountain (even if the guard tells me the top is still far, but I think he wants just to make me to desist from pressing forward), but again, I am not running for the top: I am also pretty sure it's not a nice spot for photos, as there isn't any panoramic terrace on the mountain; the top itself is occupied by the forest which blocks the view in every direction.

I did and achieved exactly what I wanted, and I honored the invite the Mountain gave me, so I am now more than happy to go down. Actually, the weather is getting suspiciously menacing. There are dark spots deep down some valleys on the path, and facing those spots under the rain and in the dark wouldn't be nice, even for an expert. So I bow to the officer and start descending, at a "normal" pace, which is indeed faster than what a normal visitor might follow. The officer keeps at a distance of about 20 meters behind me, and the thing makes me a bit nervous. On one side, I want to get down as fast as I can, as the menace of rain is getting serious, but on the other side I want him to know he was talking with a pro.

Last but not least, descending a mountain requires almost as much energy as climbing it, unless you can use gravity at your advantage. This means stopping the "controlled fall" the less possible. Or, more or less, running down. I always had the ability to step on the safest stone or terrain spot since I remember myself walking, so when I really want to use gravity to get down a mountain, I can be very fast; and I am too tired to get down slowly and using my left energies to slow down my pace.

So, I press on, and my friend starts losing terrain. When we meet with the second-last pilgrims, two girls about 30 years old, he's 60-70mts behind, but I am still surprised: even that means he's darn good. However, he's forced to stay with the girls (I understand he must be the one ensuring everyone is out), so he calls me and asks me to give a voice to the mamori stall downhill. I get the reason behind that: the path is difficult, more than a "simple" trekking path; even for me it's not exactly a cakewalk, and for an elderly person or for someone that doesn't know about mountain trails, and wants just to pay its homage to the shrine on top, the path might be very dangerous. Of course, the shrine administration wants to know that everyone that got in got also out safe and sound, and the news about me being on the mountain was already circulating (the guy was talking at the phone when he met me). In this view, the required registration makes perfect sense.

I am down in ten minutes at about 3:55pm, passing other three or four pilgrims groups getting down the mountain, and tell the priests selling mamoris that I am well and fine, and to tell their "colleague" I got out all in one piece. They smile at the word "colleague" and bid me goodbye. Also, seeing me dripping wet, they suggest me to buy their divine water:

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-What is this?- I ask.
-It's the water of our gods!-
-Ah, fine...- (I take one bottle and crack some of the seals in the plastic cap) -... I can drink it, right?-
He smiles: -Yeah yeah. It's just... no, I mean, it's water you can drink.-
-Cool. In this case, cheers to the gods!- and I swallow it in one gulp.

My visit is almost over, but first, I find a spot that's really meant to be panoramic.

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The view on the southern Yamato, comprising two (minor) sacred mountains is quite pretty. This spot is near a shrine I cannot miss: the shrine of Kue-hiko-no-mikoto, or the "Prince of Long Deeds", protector of intelligence and business acumen. This time, I extend a plead (which I cannot reveal) instead of just asking for friendship.

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And with this, my visit is complete, and I have also a tangible sign of my friendship with the God of the Great Things: his generic mimamori (I am looking upon you), in the shape of a serpent. This is the shape he is said to have assumed when... having some fun nights in the world of the humans:

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So, during this day I realized many of my dreams, and made friend with many gods. Nice score, for one day.

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