Tuesday, June 24, 2008
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.