Yesterday, we had a short one day stop over in Japan en route to Bangkok. We were supposed to have a day and a half, but leaving ones passport in a hire car put paid to that unfortunately and rescheduling gave us less time to explore.
Traveling from the USA to Bangkok, our fare was booked as a one world round the world fare and this leg was with JAL Japan airlines. So we took the opportunity to visit a very special person we hadn’t seen for 23 year.
Short but sweet. everything eventually fell into place. As I mentioned we stayed at the Hilton Narita. A large hotel born of the Hilton standard of excellence.
They offered a shuttle to and from the airport and also shuttles to local train and bus stations and we took advantage of that. It’s a great service.
Our shuttle took us to the bus station in the city of Narita where we met Rimi our host student of several decades back. Then a short walk to a quaint road in Narita.
The road sloped gently down to the Temple and the streets were lined with small shops of every persuasion tempting locals and the occasional tourist to buy. It was lovely, I hung back from our little group to take everything in, savouring the atmosphere and taking note of all I saw.
Fish, (mainly eel) seemed to be the delicacy of the region. This was fish cakes being grilled by hot coals in one of the shops. It looked amazing, but I’m not too sure of how it would taste. My palate is more for strong spicy food and sometimes I find the Japanese cuisine a little lacking in that department.
There was a row of these wonderful stone statues at a small shrine on the way down the road. You need to access it by a few steep steps and these are just two of about 12 carved monks each decorated with red silk hats.
The gates were guarded by two Huge dogs also decorated in fabric and bells.
There was so much to see, the woman cleaning eels and the water running through a series of wooden barrels. Live eels in a bag wait their fate. Once killed, cleaned and filleted they are place on a line of threaded skewers and grilled over hot coals.
We walked on further down the street, it was’t really busy, the cars had been blocked for the day and people wandered casually down the street, families, children and young people.
Shrine and temple differences
Doesn’t seem like a hard question at first sight, but even many Japanese people aren’t aware of the answer.
There are two easy ways to tell them apart. Firstly, shrines have a simple gate, called a torii, that separates the human world and sacred ground, while the gates of a temple, called a sanmon, look more like a large house rather than a gate. Secondly, temples almost always have Buddhist images and statues, while shrines do not.
Thus, to sum up the differences in a single sentence, gods reside in shrines, while Buddhas reside in temples.
Visiting a shrine
Bow slightly before entering the torii gates, and keep in mind to walk on the side of the path to the shrine rather than in the middle. The middle of the path and the torii are for the gods, not for humans.On the way to the shrine, you will see a small pavilion with a basin filled with water; this (called the chozuya) is where you purify yourself before approaching the main shrine. Fill the ladle with water and pour some water on your left hand, then right hand. Next, clean your mouth by holding the ladle in your right hand again and pouring some water into your left hand and rinse lightly – don’t wash your mouth directly from the ladle! Finally, hold the ladle vertically, allowing for the remaining water to trickle down the handle and cleaning it.
When you reach the shrine you are now finally ready to pay your respects. This process can be divided into several steps.
- Bow slightly.
- Gently toss a coin into the box in front of you. The amount of money does not matter; just because you used a 500 yen coin, it does not mean that there is a higher chance of your wishes coming true. Many Japanese people believe that using a 5-yen coin increases their chances of finding a significant other, since go-en is homophonous to the Japanese word meaning “relationship.” However, this is nothing more than an urban legend; gods existed before the yen currency did.
- Ring the bell (if there is one) 2 or 3 times to signal to the gods that you have arrived.
- Deeply bow twice (until you reach a 90 degree angle).
- Clap twice, with your left hand slightly in front.
- Pay your respects, remembering to thank the gods as well.
- Deeply bow once.
- The same rules apply as those of visiting a shrine – bow slightly before entering, walk to the sides, and purify yourself at the chozuya; however, the manner in which you pay respect varies.
- Burn incense (usually provided at the temple); the scent of incense is food for the Buddha. Lighting your own incense stick off the burning sticks of others is a no-no, since it means taking on their sins.
I’m sure as a foreigner, we would be forgiven if we missed some of the subtleties.
There was contrast in deities. The one below, on a stall just inside the gates captured the imagination of the younger people visiting. Leaving the traditional to the adults.
In my own culture, I light a candle for a friend who is ill and for our daughter who passed away over 25 years ago. There are candles for her all over the world and I don’t think the different God mind spreading their blessings.
Japanese people often draw lots called omikuji that predict whether they will enjoy good or bad fortune in the year ahead. People wishing to know their fate generally pay a fee of around ¥100–¥200. One common method is to select a thin numbered stick from a container and then take a paper fortune from a drawer bearing the corresponding number. A standard paper fortune will feature a result ranging from daikyō (great bad luck) and kyō(bad luck) to kichi (good luck) and daikichi (great good luck). It will also offer predictions in such areas as health, study, and love and relationships. Traditionally, a good fortune should be taken home. Bad fortunes were once tied to trees in the hope that they would not come true; many shrines and temples now set aside a designated fence-like area for attaching fortunes, though, to avoid damage to the trees.
The following images are the textures and gracious images I saw at the temple.
Shichi-go-san, meaning “seven, five, three”, is a special festival during which children aged seven, five and three go to the temple or shrine dressed in traditional clothing. They are given candies in the shape of long sticks, symbolizing a long life, wrapped in a bag decorated with cranes and turtles, two animals known for their exceptional longevity.
The yellow Gingko leaf falls gently to the ground creating a sea of yellow.
The Ginkgo is thought to protect against fire and therefore it is still planted near temples. During the great fire after the earthquake in Tokyo in 1923, many Ginkgo trees survived while other trees died. A temple was saved because of the many Ginkgos that surrounded it. The bark and the sap are thought to secrete a sap that acts as a fire retardant.