15 July 2014 (Part 1) Atsuta Shrine
This morning I set out early from Nagoya to visit Atsuta Shrine, an important Shinto shrine, rarely visited by tourists. Unlike almost everywhere else in Japan I went, there we no signs in English. In a trip that had already been amazing, it was the best yet.
Today is a day for taking the train to wrong places and getting lost. This is mildly troubling given how far I need to travel, and how many changes I will need to make.
But if I hadn’t made those errors in the morning, the first taking me north towards Gifu and the second taking me the wrong direction out of Arata station, then I wouldn’t have met Shoji and Hishihiyaki, who have both been the highlight of my day so far.
I met Shoji on a bridge. A former school principal and Japanese teacher in Melbourne, he was quite happy to give me directions and have his photo taken. He was on his way to the tax office.
Hishihiyaki, who wouldn’t let me take his picture, approached me when I was taking photographs of the ‘wishes’ people make at Shinto shrines. He asked me if I knew what they meant.
I said I couldn’t read Japanese (not entirely true). He explained that rich people used to give houses or horses to the gods, but poorer people couldn’t, so that is why the wooden blocks people write on are in the shape of a house.
Hishihiyaki then said “It will be my honour to introduce you to three gods of Japan.” How could I refuse?
We brushed over Amaterasu, the sun god, and went and introduced ourselves to the a dragon god, who was also the god of clouds and tornadoes. Then we met the god of rice fields.
My favourite was the water god, Shimizu. It lives on a mossy triangular rock in a pool of water at the bottom of a flight of stairs. We stood on large stones by the pool of water and took the bronze cup on a stem and filled it with water. We bowed and threw water on the rock three times to “wake the god up.” We then clapped twice and bowed twice, to say “how are you, god?” and then “goodbye god, see you later.”
Women apparently take some of the water and touch it to their cheek three times, to purify their skin and make them younger. I did it myself – if there is a water, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be sexist, and I’m not getting any younger.
We then went and met the god of the trees. There were three trees in the house of the tree god, two evergreen and one deciduous. Hishihiyaki also told me the little bits of white paper nailed at the top of shrines around the place represent lightning, which brings fire and change.
Hishihiyaki was born in 1946. One of the first things he remembers seeing is Nagoya being flat all the way to the ocean. He grew up hating Americans and for a long time refused to learn English. He learned German and became an engineer. He visited Germany where one of his friends convinced him to learn to speak English.
He worked for a company that made spark plugs He travelled the world, including to Melbourne.
Hishihiyaki only has one god and master he says, his wife, who makes him walk 7,500 steps a day, measured on a pedometer, before he’s allowed to have a beer.