Tuesday, February 03, 2009

At The Shrine ~ 初詣 p.2

We were at Kushihiki Hachiman Shrine in Hachinohe. It is both the most famous and the oldest shrine in Hachinohe. The Meiji Emperor is supposed to have stayed there when traveling in Aomori. More about the shrine later.

Anyway when we finished caring for the horses it was time to go in the shrine for the ceremony. Most people, when going on hatsumode or most other times, pray at the alter outside. They throw a few coins in the offering box and then ring the large bells hanging from the rafters. They bow, clap twice, pray, clap again, and finally bow again. There are different degrees in formality in how many times you bow and clap. I haven’t figured it out completely yet. However, we weren’t bound for the plebian outside but rather for the inner part of the temple. We were dressed in our formal jackets and breeches, though we obviously had to take off our riding boots to enter the shrine. The owner of the riding club and five of the riders (including me) entering the waiting room to the side of the shrine. It was a tatami room, heated by and electric brazier in the center. The owner of the riding club (who we all call sensei) went to one of the attendants to giving the offering of money and sake while the rest of us waited. Honestly, it wasn’t a very interesting room, traditional, with little ornamentation, a few picture on the walls. We waited in the crowded room for the priest to be ready. Eventually he came in to the room. He was wearing a long overcoat of blue brocade, with hakama pants and the hard brown hat that has a bump in the back. He was carrying a long wooden fan, and invited us into the back of the shrine. We walked into the main space of the shrine, which was behind the offering box and bells. There were rows of low seats, where you could sit with your legs tucked under you.

The room was very interesting, it was actually a combination of four different rooms with large sliding doors to separate the rooms, but the only doors closed were the ones behind us leading out to the front of the shrine and the offering box and bells. We could hear the rattle of coins and the ringing of the bells as people came to the shrine to pray. Directly in front of us was an empty table and beyond that another room. The room was dominated by the offering tables with mochi (rice beat into a past used for celebration) and sake. Beyond that was another set of sliding doors that led outside to the heart of the shrine. Faintly I could see the symbol of the deity, a large silverish mirror set into rock. To our right was a small room that contained a huge drum, and to our left was a small room that we had come through to enter the inner shrine, with a table.

We sat at the low chairs with our lower legs tucked under us. It was cold in the inner shrine, the back door to the shrine being left open so that we could see the mirror that represented the deity. (This part is a little fuzzy because it’s taken me so long to write this post.) The ceremony started as an assistant priest (second in charge?) banged the big drum to our right and the head priest asked us to bow and he began to pray. I don’t know exactly what he said, even a lot of Japanese have told me that they can’t completely understand what the priest says. He almost sings the chants in an odd kind of tonal singing that sounds similar to the singing of the narrators in Bunraku and other traditional Japanese theater. I was told that he was praying for the good health, fortune etc. of those people gathered there. Anyway, we spend the better part of a half and hour bent in half bowing. Finally when the priest was done praying and blessing the offerings we could sit up. The next part of the ceremony was when representatives from each group would get up to make an offering (?) or prayer (?) for the group. The priest in charge instructed them what to do. The assistant priest gave them an evergreen branch tied with the ceremonial rice paper (shaped like a bolt of lightning in Western terms) and the representatives took it placed in on the offering table and bowed twice, clapped twice, prayed, then bowed twice again. (There might have been a second round of clapping in there I can’t exactly remember.) Then the sat down again. After everyone had finished the ritual, the priest ended the ceremony and we all went to take a sip of the blessed sake (that stuff was amazingly strong!!!) and left the shrine.

After we get outside we returned to the horses and we waited for the priest who came outside to bless the horses. We got them all lined up and bowed again. The priest waved his ___ (it’s a long thin wand with many strands of the ceremonial rice paper tied to the end) over the horses and prayed for the good health of the horses in the coming year. Then we took pictures (which I will post as soon as I have a copy) and finally it was time for lunch. (Yum!)

Coming back was like going, same route etc. I rode Michael so I wasn’t worried about the Yakiimo man but Western (who was ahead of us) freaked out again. So it was through the crowds, over the bridge, down the stairs, across the rice paddies, and back up the mountain for us. It was a long day but it was tons of fun!! This trip was a trip of many firsts and it was the best experience I’ve had in Japan so far this time! I hope that I can do it again next year!!

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