Showing posts with label Yato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yato. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Togawa Omoto Shrine


One of the first walks I did to explore the area I now live in was along the Yato river. After passing the dam and walking along the bank of the reservoir, after it once again became a small river I came to the small mountain settlement of Togawa. Maybe 20 households at the most, large farmhouses and a few rice paddies, at the end of the village set in a dense grove of trees was the local shrine, the Togawa Omoto Shrine.


Omoto is the original, local land kami. Up in Izumo he is known as Kojin, and like there it is a very popular kami here in Iwami. Omoto (and Kojin) is represented by a rope snake, usually found wrapped around a sacred tree. To my mind, this is the heart of the ancient form of Japanese religion, before the advent of modern State Shinto with its emphasis on the Imperial family, and national rituals. When I go for walks I am hoping to find these kinds of shrines.


The feeling at these kinds of shrines is one of silence and the sacred. The surrounding woods are dense and dark, with shafts of sunlight penetrating to illuminate the natural, aged materials of the shrine.

2 days ago I drove the 10k up into the mountains to visit the shrine again to check on some information for this blog. I was very surprised to find that the shrine had been completely rebuilt. Building a shrine is no cheap project (unlikel so much contemporary housing in Japan). A lot of native materials and labor go into the making. My first question was, where did the money come from? There is no "direct" financial support for religion in Japan. How could such a small community get the money? Just above the village, the small local road punches its way 800m through the mountain in a brand new tunnel. I suspect that the construction of the tunnel and the road widening infringed on village property slightly, and so compensation money was made available. The amounts of money that are spent on mostly unnecessary construction of roads and tunnels in Japan is truly staggering.


While it was good to see a shrine being rebuilt or refurbished, good that the life of the spirit still plays an important part in the community, it was sad to see that the grove of trees had been cut down. The shrine is now open, and light, but something powerful has been lost.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Omoto Shrine, Yato.


This wonderfully weathered torii stands in front of the Omoto Shrine in Yato. It's a small settlement on the banks of the Yato River, not big enough for a shop, but it has 2 shrines.
The Omoto shrine is dedicated to Omotojin who is the original, local, land kami. Up in Izumo he is called Kojin, and he was the main kami of worship for every community in the old days.


Prior to 1945 there was just a hokora (wayside shrine) here set in a grove of trees. The trees were cut down and sold and the money used to build the present shrine. Every 6 years until 1966, Omoto Kagura was performed here. My friends recently deceased grandfather danced here and 5 times became possesed by Omotojin, the most times for one person in living memory. Shamanic kagura was widespread in Japan until the Meiji era. This area of Iwami is the only place in Japan where it is still practised.


In front of the shrine stands a giant Mukonoki tree with a width of 1.5 metres. Aphananthe Aspera has no name in English. The leaves of the tree were used as sandpaper.


A few hundred meters away, the steps lead up to the Hachiman Shrine.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A walk along the Yato River


The Yato River starts at about 900metres up in the mountains of the Mizuho Highlands, right where there is a small ski area. It then travels 30K until it reaches the Gonokawa River and enters it on the opposite bank to my village. One of the first walks I took when I moved to this area was along the Yato, hoping to reach the source in one day. Walking upriver I passed through Kawado, Oda, and Ichiyama. After Ichiyama the river does a couple of S-bends, and on the outside curves it is deep and still (above photo).


Next comes the small village of Yato, and a short distance after that Yato Dam. At 44metres in height, its not a huge dam. Built in 1958 its main purpose was to stop flooding downstream. It also supplies drinking water to the villages downstream and generates some hydroelectric power. Behind the dam the artificial lake stretches like 2 narrow, windy, crooked fingers. It's called Sakurai Lake as the Yato river valley has been known as Sakarai-go since the 8th Century. It's a great place to walk as the road has no traffic and the banks of the lake are uninhabited. In the winter thousands of ducks come from Siberia and settle on the lake.


As I got closer to where the "lake" ends and it becomes a river again the light of the low winter sun came streaming across and through the forest illuminating a scene of glorious fall colors. After passing through a small, sleepy village I reached a main road, and in a few kilometres it and the river turned 90 degrees and went along a long straight valley. High up in the mountains running parallel to the river runs the Hamada Expressway whose concrete purpose seems to be to bring hordes of tourists from the urban conglomeration around Hiroshima to the fine, sandy beaches of Shimane in the summer.


In the town of Ichiki stands a curiosity. A small temple lies literally underneath the expressway, and on one of the massive concrete towers that support the expressway is a relief of a giant cedar tree. Before the expressway was built there stood a giant cedar tree in the grounds of the temple. Often at shrines, and sometimes at temples one can still find these ancient giant trees, many more than 1,000 years old. This particular beauty stood directly in the path of the intended expressway, so was chopped down and memorialized in concrete. Somehow poignant and ironic.


I only made it a few more kilometres before the river turned up the mountain and became much steeper. The day was getting late, and my tired legs did not relish a steep climb, so I ended short of my hoped for destination.
One sight I saw a lot on this and most other walks I make around the countryside is abandoned houses. One often reads that Japan is a small, overcrowded country, and thats why most people live in very small concrete boxes, but that is a bit of a lie. The cities are very crowded, and most Japanese live in cities now, but the countryside is filled with thousands and thousands of big, empty houses. Problem is no-one wants to live in the countryside. Whereas in Europe and the U.S. many people want to escape the cities and live in the countryside, but can't afford to, the Japanese countryside continues to depopulate. People seem to WANT to live in the cities.