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-
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.