Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-11

Recommend Reading: Geku

Two of my friends have also written about our visit to the 外宮 (Geku), each with a different focus, and I recommend you read their posts. You can find excerpts below, and both have more interesting things on their blogs. 😉

Puckchan writes about the shrine’s history, customs surrounding it, art and so on.

“Pilgrims and visitors reached the Ise Jingu by land and not by sea, which also means that they were passing the four rivers in order to reach the Naiku or three in order to reach the Geku. The outer two were considered to be the outer border of the Shrine, the Kongo river being the distant border and the Hare river being the near border. The third river, Miya river, was used as a place of purification before visiting the Shrine.

The Saio travelled to the Shrine 3 times per year and stopped first at the Rikyu-in, going from there to Geku and then to Naiku.”

— From “Geku and rain” by Puckchan

Lars has more photos, and something that should be interesting for anyone who’s interested in ancient Japanese swords.

“An interesting thing among the holy treasures of Amaterasu-Omikami was her sword that is quite different from any Japanese sword I have seen before. It combines aspects of the Katana or Tachi with the older form of Tsurugi.”

— From “Geku -– second main shrine of Ise” by Lars


Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-11

Ship Trouble

This we afternoon we got lost at sea, or more precisely stuck in the middle of a harbor. We went to 大湊 (Ōminato), a harbor and shipbuilding area. I’ll get back to the chronological order soon, but the trouble has to get out immediately. Bad news is good news, as newspaper people say.

So here’s what happened: We boarded a nice little wooden ship to take us to an island in front of the harbor, were further spots to visit would be. The ship was just big enough to carry our group and the two crew members, and they had decorated it with flags of all the exchange students’ nations. After getting well away from the landing place, the motor stuttered and stopped. The crew managed to restart it, but a short time later the same thing happened again, and this time their efforts were in vain.

People in lifevests looking out of a boat as another with the label "RESCUE" approaches

So, what to do? We weren’t far from land, so a phone call was enough to get a rescue operation going. In the meantime, we had to push the ship away from some pillars marking shallow water (the ground looked close enough to walk there). Soon enough, we could see another boat approaching, and after some work ours was safely moored to it. In the end they tugged us to the place we were scheduled to go, just a bit later. It was quite a memorable experience. 🙂

Thanks to this trouble I ended up spending the time at which the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred three years ago (14:46) at sea. And while that is not necessarily where I would choose to remember an earthquake that caused a devastating tsunami, the disruption of the busy sightseeing schedule was welcome: I could just turn my face to the sea, ignore everything around me, and take a moment to remember and silently pray for Tohoku.

Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-10

Nara Express Tour

Saturday morning (March 8) we took a train from Ise to 奈良 (Nara). Nara is a very old city and was the capital of Japan during the aptly named Nara period in the 8th century, although technically there was a short intermission.

Octogonal hall with rolling roof, metal lantern in the foreground

南円堂 (Nanen-dō) of 興福寺 (Kōfuku-ji temple) in Nara

Our first destination, just a few minutes walk from the Kintetsu Nara Station, was 興福寺 (Kōfuku-ji temple), which has several old buildings. The thing about these old buildings is that (at least) most of them burnt down at some point or another and were reconstructed — some centuries ago, but two halls are being reconstructed right now, with completion scheduled for 2018. After hearing similar stories about other temples later during the day, it kind of seemed like most of old Nara burned down at some point or another and was reconstructed. Those red boxes in front of the 東金堂 (Tōkon-dō, East Golden Hall) are there for a reason… 😉

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Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-07

Kawasaki: An Old Trading Area

Yesterday (March 6) after lunch, we went to 河崎 (Kawasaki), a part of Ise along 勢田川 (Setagawa River) that used to be an important area for trading, especially in fish, rice and sake. For reasons unknown to me, the university had arranged for taxis to take us there, although from the map I’d guess it wouldn’t have taken more than 15 to 20 minutes to walk.

River with cement embankments, a boat resting on an embankment in the foreground, houses can be seen on the other side, and a path on the side the photo was taken from

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Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-06

Edo Era Stamp Book

This morning (March 6), Okada-sensei brought an interesting document into class: A stamp book from the Edo era for pilgrims on the way to Ise Jingu.

Old paper with Japanese writing (black) and stamps (red)

If you’ve been around sightseeing spots in Japan, you’ve probably noticed that many have stamps you can use if you want. The idea is that you can collect stamps to remember all the locations you’ve been to. Some people carry small empty books around and stamp them, and in some cases booklets for a number of sites that are somehow connected are available with specific places for each stamp. The stamp book shown here could be seen as a predecessor of that. However, it is not a mere memento.

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Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-06

Geku, the “Outer Shrine” of Ise Jingu

Today (March 5) we went to 外宮 (Geku, “Outer Shrine”), the second major shrine of Ise Jingu. Geku is dedicated to 豊受大御神 (Toyouke-no-omikami), the goddess responsible for preparing food for Amaterasu-omikami, and of agriculture and food in general. All English sources I’ve seen until now emphasize the general part, but the Japanese around here usually mention the “food for Amaterasu-omikami” first. A dual-language brochure on Ise Jingu which we got on the first day actually switches the emphasis between Japanese and English text. 😉

A torii between a gravel place and forest

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Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-04

The Married Rocks of Futami

The last sightseeing spot in Futami we went to yesterday (March 3) were the 夫婦岩 (Meotoiwa), or “Married Rocks”. These two rocks are the most famous part of 二見興玉神社 (Futami Okitama-jinja) shrine.

Two Rocks in the sea, connected by thick cords, and a small torii on the bigger (left) one

While the teachers and leaflets here say that the big stone is the husband and the small one the wife, a Japanese couple I visited the place with a few years ago had a (playful, not serious) fight over the attributions. :mrgreen: Either way, the rocks are certainly popular with couples, and I saw many taking pictures together in front of them.

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Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-04

Salt Making Shrine

Yesterday, March 3, we went to 二見 (Futami) in the afternoon. Futami is a part of Ise directly on the seashore, and our first stop there was a place that directly depends on sea water: 御塩殿神社 (Mishiodono-jinja), which literally translates to “Shrine of the hall of the honored salt”. This shrine is responsible for making salt for sacrifices of food at Ise Jingu. The process starts in a special field near the shrine.

A torii in front of a field surrounded by a ditch

Every summer, half-circles of earth are created connected to the boards you can see in the photo above, and water from a ditch connected to the mouth of the Isuzugawa river poured into them. This part of the river is already affected by the tide, so at high tide sea water can flow into the ditch. The water then seeps out and dries under the summer sun, and the remaining salt is gathered back into the circles, creating an increasingly concentrated saline solution.

Two low buildings with thatched roofs and a torii, surrounded by a hedge

This solution is then carried to the main shrine, and boiled in the building on the left on the photo above, removing the water and leaving salt behind. All these steps are performed by people wearing traditional white garments using traditional tools, and framed by Shinto ceremonies. This salt making ceremony takes multiple days and is performed once a year.

Torii in front of a thatched roof building surrounded by a wooden fence

Twice a year, in March and October, the salt gathered in summer is “packaged” in an equally traditional way: It is filled into pottery with a shape I can best describe as roughly triangular “bags”, and then baked. Each time, 100 such bags are prepared. Ise Jingu has facilities for producing other kinds of food as well, and all the food used in ceremonies comes from its own lands.

Waves rolling onto a shore fortified with concrete, some pine branches in the foreground

From the shrine, we took a walk along the shore to our next destination, which was a Hina-matsuri doll exhibit I’ve already mentioned.

Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-03

Hina-matsuri in Ise

Today, March 3, is the day of ひな祭り (Hina-matsuri, doll festival) in Japan. Families with daughters traditionally display dolls depicting a Heian era imperial court. In traditional belief, doing so is considered a prayer for the daughter’s general safety, health, and a good marriage. During the visit at the Itsukinomiya Hall for Historical Experience on Saturday we could see doll display from various eras:

Two Hina-matsuri doll displays from the Edo era, one with three, the other with 5 rows

From the Edo era (before 1867)…

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Posted by: Airtower | 2014-03-03

Lunch Chants

After dinner (about two hours ago) I was talking with a prospective Shinto priestess, and she explained something that I had been wondering about: their chants at lunch.

On most days, we have lunch in the Kogakkan University cafeteria. At the time we usually we arrive, the staff is setting tables in a certain part of the room — all with identical dishes, while everyone else (including us) goes to the counter to order their food. A little after, students and teachers from the Shinto School arrive in their traditional white garments, and sit down at the prepared tables. Before eating, they do some kind of chant, and after eating another, although I rarely heard the latter one, because with the timing of our classes we usually leave before they’re done. I had guessed that these chants are some kind of Shinto equivalent of saying grace, but that was about it. This evening, however, I got an explanation.

Both chants are indeed expressions of thanks for the food. The one before eating is to Amaterasu-omikami, the sun goddess worshiped at Naiku. The chant after eating is to Toyouke-no-omikami, the goddess responsible for preparing food for Amaterasu-omikami and of agriculture and food in general. All English sources I’ve seen until now emphasize the general part, but the Japanese around here usually mention the “food for Amaterasu-omikami” first. Either way, Toyouke-no-omikami is worshiped at the Geku (the second major shrine of Ise Jingu), which we’re scheduled to visit the day after tomorrow.

The prospective priestess I talked to also mentioned something about their table customs that I hadn’t noticed: They don’t talk while eating. If I understood her explanation correctly, the purpose of that is to not distract each other from the food, out of respect for the deities who gave it.

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