Sunday, February 28, 2010
Shimenawa, the sacred ropes that mark sacred space, can often be found wrapped around trees.
Sometimes the tree features in an old story or myth, but most often they are simply very old.
Shrines are one of the few places where these ancient trees can still be found in Japan.
One way I look for shrines is to look for an unusually large clump of trees in the landscape, and often that is where the shrine is.
One historian has suggested that when Japan first began building its capital cities in the Nara area the cutting down of the forests led to all kind of environmental problems so shrines were placed where the rivers came out of the mountains and therefore were protected.
There used to a lot more of these sacred groves of ancient trees but the government cut them down when they closed half the shrines in the country. They were local "folk" shrines, not "national" shrines with connections to the imperial rulers, and so were irrelevant to the new state shinto they created.