Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Iwa Jinja

From the side entrance..

Yesterday, I walked to Iwa Jinja (伊和神社). I was on my way down the driveway toward the grocery store where it is my custom to buy lunch every day, when the notion took me and I started on down that way. It isn’t really all that far away from work. I said polite hellos to the people I passed on my way. One dude smiled and said, “It’s hot, isn’t it!” to which I replied, “It’s hot.” But I thought, it’s not all that hot.

By the time I reached the shrine and visited the important rock and the koi pond and threw my coins and clattered the bell, I was pretty hungry. I crossed the street to the road-station (michinoeki) where there’s a little restaurant. But there was a wait list, and I felt kind of awkward eating alone if someone was going to be waiting for my table. It’s one thing to sit down in a little half-empty cafe and quietly feed yourself, but in a hopping lunch crowd and in a place where every table looks like it’s for four people or more… ehh. I grabbed a bottle of tea out of a vending machine and decided to walk back up to my grocery store and just eat at work like always.

On the walk back, I discovered that it really is all that far from work. When a different dude was like “It’s hot, isn’t it!” I wished I knew how to say yes sir, fucking hot! in Japanese.

I like Iwa Jinja. It’s a pretty shrine, and a large one. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the main shrine of Ichinomiya and perhaps the reason for the name of the town. When you cross the town border, the sign uses the shrine as its icon. So it’s an important shrine in this area, but I also like it on some personal levels.

Shrines appeal to me based on the idea of a created sacred space. You might recall (or I might have kept that crap to myself) the way I tend to seek out a “favorite tree” or rock or just.. little place to go and collect myself when I’m wanting a reflective moment or having a total existential crisis. I have favorite trees in Rome, Italy (in Villa Pamphili), in Lawrence and Kansas City. Wherever I live, I hunt down a personal natural space. Shrines are just that, except better signed, and with more amenities. Oh, and pretty old, usually.

At a shrine, the idea is you throw your coin into the box, ring the bell, pray for whatever it is you are seeking, and go on. There’s more, of course. You can usually buy omikuji, the little slips of paper with your fortune written on them, and you can hang up wooden petitions to the gods for the stuff you are seeking. I personally have never done much, although I did get a fortune-slip in Kyoto once (at Fushimi Inari shrine) and I still have it, since it was the double-plus-good fortune.

I once biked to Iwa from my house (yeah, that took a while..) on a sort of pilgrimage. Certain shrines in my area have come to mean different things to me. There’s a shrine up high in a mountainside that overlooks this river I like.. I go there to seek “perspective.” At Iwa, I seek peace. Peace of mind, I guess. Which is maybe kind of a Buddhist thing to go after (shrine = Shinto, temples are for Buddhists), but hey.

The other thing that I learned more recently about Iwa has to do with the kanji. Erik pointed out that the first of them, the “i” (伊) is given the meaning “Italy” in the kanji study method I am using. That sort of seemed cool, especially since I assumed the second, “wa” (和) to mean “Japan.” (like in washoku, or Japanese-food) So this massive shrine, the principal one in the area, Iwa shrine, is Italy-Japan shrine?

I don’t assume that the shrine has anything to do with Italy in any actuality. It’s just a name, just a vague word connection. But I do like it.

The important rock area, which until this pilgrimage day was unknown to me!

The important rocks.

Sky over Iwa.

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