Friday, September 11, 2009

Akira in Miwa

Akira stayed the night on his way to Tokyo and Akainu died without even a whimper from the Osaka indie music scene. Ingrates. While he was here and in a flurry of Japonifilia we trekked south to Omiwa Shrine, entertained en-route by a 10 year-old-ish train otaku-nymph engrossed in snapping picts of passing trains and stations and then commenting on his shots quietly to himself. We imagined him all grownup later on the way home as we watched a man, T-shirt belted into jeans and carrying a small suitcase/backpack by the attached grip with the telescoping roller handle extended up beneath his armpit, walk up and down the platform in front of where we sat and Akira dragged out a slow burn off an American Spirit.

Omiwa Shrine, literally “the big God God enterprise”, it turns out, is well worth the outing. Japan's oldest after some manner of reckoning, the shrine is famous for what it lacks, a main worship hall, boasting instead a singularly unique (as if there were other uniques) triple torii, or gate, at the foot of the small mountain rising holy behind the shrine site. The gate is designated as a national cultural treasure and is not only a glorious wonder to behold, but is also entirely invisible. Akira and I traipsed with no success all over the site searching for the gate clearly photographed in the brochures one of the shrine-maidens forced on us so Akira would stop asking her arcane questions about the protective charms for sale in a cryptic effort to flirt with her.

Unable to locate the gate, we finally marched into the obviously official administrative reception hall, presumably where gads of yen are gifted wish-laden to the gods of the shrine, namely, if you must insist, Ohmononushi-no-ohkami (aka Yamato-no-ohmononushi-kushimikatama-no-mikoto, the hefty deity of the progress and development of Japan wholly!), Sukunahikona-no-kami (the Drug, Herb and Sake God—he's well worshiped by young and old), and Ohnamuchi-no-kami (who is, as far as I can make out, the God of “Also Appearing at this Shrine”). Clad only in the slippers we took off in the entryway of the building, we marched straight up to the nearest priest piously plugging away at some Excel spreadsheet behind an imposing desk and demanded to know where the famed yet seemingly non-existent gate stood in shamanistic glory.

The venerable priest looked up from his screen and perused us in a somewhat cockeyed manner, but that was because his right eye was in fact cocked alarmingly to an even more extreme right. He crookedly informed us that the gate was completely hidden behind the ceremonial pavilion in the middle of open area at the top of the stairs between the mountain and the gravel road through the forest we'd walked to get to the shrine site, beaming that we were the first people to ask about the gate in several months! Mental. Like going to d'Orsay and missing Sunflowers. He then asked us to follow him up into and through the ceremonial hall overflowing with mystic opulence, telling us that it's a holy place where only initiates can can tread but that we're okay with him since he's know all the other high priests since thay were kids, so we walked through the solemn vestibule at peace in the knowledge that the gods would accept us since our holy guide had once played truth-or-dare with the rest of the shrine elders.

Eventually we passed through the hall and walked along an ancient hallway-like terrace with a mahogany (since that sounds good) floor worn lacquer smooth by centuries of shuffling tabi to where we could peer around the back of the building and see the fabled torii towering about eight feet high in sacred majesty. Actually, it was quite stunning in a manner typically Japanese in understatement: the unpainted gate drew our eyes past it's modest, though rather fey, eaves to the mountain beyond thick with towering cypress that truly did bespeak a divinity echoing with the faith of countless believers. Terribly sublime.

The old priest joked with us as he saw us out and we thanked him awkwardly for the generous tour. Properly awestruck, somehow on the way back to the station the late summer sun didn't seem as hot nor did the cicadas sound as shrill as they'd been the day before.

Ah, my corniness offends even my own sensibilities.


adam said...

That's awesome. Wish I was there.

Loren said...

No kidding.