Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, January 04, 2007

2006-7: A Christmas Chronology, pt. IV

January 2-3
So here I am taking a big risk by putting up a new post before anyone commented on the last one! Oh, well...I seem to be killing off my audience anyway, so I might as well get to the point.

My family never does its hatsunode (first prayers for the new year) on the 1st because Kashima Shrine (not to mention every other major shrine or temple in the country) tends to look like this. We usually wait till the 2nd so that the crowds can thin out a bit.

Unfortunately, we never made it on the 2nd. We'd planned to go, and the in-laws had set their own schedules so they could go with us, but my wife suddenly decided to spend all day having our kids work on drills and school-related stuff. She was being particularly strict, and both kids were in tears for a while. Meanwhile, I worked on putting together the latest homegrown album I've just finished. Then we did a bit more cleaning, adding even more to the wall of garbage bags.

We went to Kashima Shrine on the 3rd, instead. As always, I avoided the crowds and parking fees by going to the shrine's back door. The little parking lot down there quite often has spaces available, and even if it doesn't there are lots of little back roads and empty lots nearby that provide convenient (and free) parking. Getting up to the shrine itself from there requires a bit of a climb up a steep hill, but I'd rather deal with that than the mess at the main entrance.

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-1

Since we came in through the back door, we came to the inner shrine first. As you can see, there was quite a line of people waiting to pray, but nothing like what it no doubt was on the 1st. The inner shrine is smaller, simpler, and less famous than the outer one. It is also older and more sacred.

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-2

On our way down the avenue leading to the outer shrine. Naturally, most of the traffic is heading in the opposite direction. The lane is lined with giant trees, mostly sugi (Japanese cedar) and hinoki (Japanese cypress), and there is forest all around. The air in there is really clean and fragrant even with all that mass of humanity.

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-4

Here you can see the crowd of worshippers lined up in front of the outer shrine. There is a huge, double offering box set up so that a whole bunch of people can pray at the same time. The line is still backed up, but at least the square isn't totally jammed full. You can also see the famous, red mon, or Chinese gate, which is actually unusual for a Shinto shrine. It is actually an example of Buddhist architecture and a relic of the time when Kashima Shrine served as a Zen monastery. (Can you see my daughter in the picture?)

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-5

The next item on the agenda is to burn last year's talismans and buy new ones. I'm dead serious. Not far from the outer shrine is a large, sunken fire pit into which people toss their charms and daruma from the previous year so that their spirits can be released and renewed. Then they purchase replacements. The daruma, which are actually Buddhist, have to be obtained at tent stalls just outside the shrine. Charms and talismans, however, are bought at this building, which is opposite the outer shrine. The employees are acolytes of the shrine, all of them local teenagers. (Some of them are my students. One of the ones in the picture is my wife's former student who apparently moved.) Yes, it's quite a money-making racket, but it's harmless and it helps support the shrine. Besides, it's tradition! (I won't tell you how much I spent there. Actually, it was a bit less than last year.)

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-6

Next on the agenda is spending even more money...this time on omikuji, or fortunes for the new year. Just for fun, everyone in my family bought one (100 yen each...about $0.80). Guess what? We all got the same result! I wonder what the odds are for that; there are many possibilities!

I tried to get a good picture of the colorful inner sanctum of the outer shrine, its design a hallmark of the era in which it was built. However, not only was the scenic path blocked off, but when I set up for a shot a strong breeze kicked up all of a sudden, lifting up a curtain which then blocked my view. I took the shots anyway when the wind subsided for a bit, dropping the curtain briefly, but they're not worth posting here.

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-9Kashima Hatsunode 2007-10

Next we made our way back down the hill to the rear entrance. (If you look at the first pic, you can see my wife and daughter walking up ahead of the other people.)

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-11Kashima Hatsunode 2007-12

The rear area of the shrine is a little park whose main feature is Miterashi-no-Ike (御手洗池 - lit. "Hand-Washing Pond"), a pond fed by a natural spring (in the background of the first pic above) whose waters are believed to be both healthy and filled with spiritual energy. Many people bottle the water and take it home. The pond itself is crystal clear, and the way it refracts water makes it hard to guage its depth. It is said that, if people of different sizes bathe in it, they all appear to be the same height. I don't know about that, but I do know it looks a lot shallower than it really is! The carp that swim in it seem happy, too.

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-13

Kashima Hatsunode 2007-AKashima Hatsunode 2007-C

The runoff from Miterashi-no-Ike forms to shallower, decorative ponds in a beautiful garden. There was an old man sitting in the shelter playing traditional tunes on an old-style flute. It definitely added to the atmosphere. Very Japanese...and what more would you want at an ancient and historically famous Shinto shrine during the New Year celebrations?

The Moodies at Kashima Jingu 2007

As we were leaving, we suddenly ran into a whole bunch of people we knew. First there was two members of the Kashima Philharmonic supporters' club followed by a whole mass of 11th grade students from Ye Olde AcademyTM followed by one of the instructors from my kids' traditional Japanese dance troupe. One of them inevitably offered to take a picture of us, so here it is. I end my Christmas/New Year Chronology by blowing my anonymity and showing you all the sad truth.

Happy New Year, everybody! May 2007 treat us all well!


  • I knew it! Clark Kent!!!

    By Blogger YD, at 12:03 AM  

  • Those aren't your kids. I remember them. from a visit several years ago. One is a baby and the other is very young. You hired these people to stand next to you and the wiffee.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 8:16 AM  

  • cute picture!! i love it. amazingly, your son looks a LOT like you and your daughter looks more asian. isn't it weird how that happens?!! it's nice to put a face w/ the writing...

    what religion is your wife? are you the same? i think the shrine is beautiful. it looks so holy, altho i disagree w/ all the cash for the various things - but, like you say, it is a tradition.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:28 PM  

  • YD

    Someone kidnapped my family and replaced them with exact duplicates long ago.

    Like many if not most Japanese, my wife is a Shinto/Buddhist with agnostic tendencies. As for me, I'm an open-minded believer in God (and I can go on and on for hours trying to explain my belief system and why I feel that way).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:21 PM  

  • Great pics, especially the family one! I guess the kami didn't want you taking pics around the haiden.

    Much less crowded than on the 1st, though the line at the inner shrine looks almost the same.

    All the same omikuji? I keep telling K its a scam, but she keeps trying to get better ones. Sigh.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:10 PM  

  • Pandabonium
    Yeah, it was really weird. There was no wind at all that day, but when I raised my camera to photograph the haiden a breeze kicked up from nowhere and just happened to make the curtain billow up in front of me! I have taken pictures of it in the past, from closer up, no less, but something was apparently up this time. (Maybe Amaterasu-no-Omigami was changing.)

    Usually we get different omikuji. This time we all drew the same one. The details inside weren't all exactly the same, however. My wife's was just a little different (for the worse). That was strange, too.

    Frankly, I think you're very brave for making the visit on the 1st. We tried that at Kashima Jingu and Katori Jingu once each. ONCE EACH.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:11 PM  

  • I'm not gonna be very original on that one but yeah definitely this family portrait is really nice =)

    I've never been to any shrine before but just by looking at the pics,do u know what that remind me of?Anime and mangas I used to watch =P I used to be a fan!Hihiii

    Ok ok now I sound so childish,uh? *wink*

    By Anonymous Angele, at 2:33 AM  

  • Wow!!!

    Love this post!

    I like the pictures in here and also your family pic! First time to see the whole family (too bad, 1 of the family member is missing in the pic, your cat! hehehe).

    So, this time, I got the chance to see your wife pic who was your student (I still remember the romantic story of how you met your wife).


    By Blogger Selba, at 3:49 AM  

  • Angele
    Welcome back!
    Thanks for the comment! No originality necessary!
    Actually, in Japan manga and anime are as much for adults as children. Ride any train in Tokyo and half the people you see are reading manga.

    I'm glad you like it! I'm impressed that you remember the story about how I met my wife!
    It's not a bad family picture, relatively speaking. My wife doesn't look angry and I don't look possessed (at least not as much as I usually do). (My glasses are on crooked, though, and that makes my eyes look a lot more assymetrical than they should.)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:24 PM  

  • hehehe... i think all of us remembered it moody! ;-P what is more romantic than a student-turned-wife-love-story?

    la la la... scurrying away to hide in my piles of books and notes before Clark zaps me with his eye laser beam.

    By Blogger YD, at 9:58 PM  

  • I got a chance to see Kashima Shrine a couple of years ago.

    It was my favorite one!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:59 PM  

  • YD
    Oh, I wouldn't dream of zapping you with my eye laser, and you know it!

    Hiring people to tickle you with feather dusters while you sleep, however, is another story...

    Welcome! Glad to see you here! Your new blog is getting off to a very promising start!

    Hmm...was I in the neighborhood when you were in Kashima? (Actually, my workplace for the past ten years is right next to Kashima Shrine, so it's fairly likely!)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:57 PM  

  • Hehe, i was going to say just what Tooners did, that your son looks like you and your daughter resembles your wife.

    I don't know much about japanese superstitions, but I had an idea about the curtain billowing out on purpose too.

    I'm a latecomer, so where is the blog about how you met your wife?

    By Blogger Olivia, at 3:18 PM  

  • Olivia
    Welcome back!

    Actually, my son looks even more like my father did at that age. Poor guy. My father started balding at age 16. My wife doesn't think our daughter looks like her, but if you look at pictures of my wife at that age the resemblance is unmistakable (except the shape of the eyes. That's definitely me).

    I didn't really make a blog post about how I met my wife. I've just talked about it with various people in various ways.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:33 PM  

  • I hear that it will be snowing in Japan. (On the news) Got your studs on??

    Merry Christmas, happy new year, and et all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:55 AM  

  • It snowed really hard just a little bit further up into the mountains. We just got rained on...hard...again...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:12 PM  

  • Is your wife wearing MUKLUKS?!

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:23 PM  

  • Those are wool-lined Australian sheepskin boots. Her grade staff went on a ski trip during winter vacation, so she bought those boots for it. Unfortunately, there was no snow up there, only rain, so they wound up playing cards in the hotel building. Still, she really likes those boots, so she has been wearing them all over.

    Notice that my daughter has similar boots, which were her Christmas present from her mother.

    The jacket my wife is wearing was one of her Christmas presents from me. It's her favorite European brand name.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:01 AM  

  • They remind me of MUKLUKS! I'll bet they are very comfy. Her coat looks nice and warm too. She is dressed as warmly as an ESKIMO.

    You look like you were waiting for the bus while listening to an old man playing traditional tunes on an old-style flute in a GAZEBO!

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 2:10 PM  

  • And eating MACADAMIA nuts while wondering if there are any BELUGAs in the pond? daughter's boots look more like GALOSHES...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:39 PM  

  • It took a while for the pics to come up on my computer but they are excellent pictures and that's a good story.
    Those ugg boots - wow! There has been a to-do about copyright/ patent or whatever about them. They were first made here, then made elsewhere and an argument developed.
    It's hot here - about 35c which is about 100f so you all look over-dressed!
    Hey, do you really part your hair in the middle?

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 6:23 AM  

  • Hey, do you really part your hair in the middle?

    Yep. My hair is very thin and extremely hard to train. It took me a long time to get it to part down the middle back in my school days, so I was reluctant to change it.

    A few years ago I finally caved in to the pressure and started parting it to one side, but it just wouldn't cooperate. After a year it started acting like it was trying to part itself the other way, and it just looked ridiculous. I finally got fed up with it (and also caved to the wife, who prefers the center part) and had it returned back to the way it was. there a problem with it?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:25 AM  

  • Hey Steve! Nice to see you are doing well. Can find you every nudge, eh? (wink!) So, have some fine? You know, the fine edge! (smile!)

    By Anonymous Bolo, at 8:03 AM  

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