Sunday, November 8, 2009

Shinto Ceremony and Four Seasons Park

This past week was better than last week. Mostly. I was sick Monday and Tuesday. Monday my pastor and his wife took me to the doctor and apparently, somehow it got back to the school. Wednesday my supervisor sat down and had a “talk” with me, saying I need to be more responsible and learn to take care of myself. “You rely on other people too much,” she said. “I gave you information about finding an English doctor two weeks ago, but you did not look at it.”

I explained to her, in very humble Japanese, that I had indeed looked at the information but was unable to find an English-speaking doctor anywhere near my apartment. The local doctor insisted on having someone translate for me, which was why I called my pastor. I apologized for inconveniencing the school (though I couldn`t see how I could have possibly done that) and promised to do better in the future. She seemed satisfied, which is all that matters. “Saving face” and avoiding conflict is far more important in Japan than actually solving problems. It can be very irritating at times.

I felt pretty crummy for the rest of the week, so I canceled my adult class and my church class on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I went to school, went home, and slept. Friday I was invited to go to a “girly night” by my Irish friend Neve, but I decided it would be better not to go. At least I was able to skype a few of my friends for some human interaction. That`s always nice. I also started on the Japanese correspondence course. It`s so hard! I`m taking the intermediate because after two semesters of Japanese I was too proud to take basic, even though that`s what everyone suggested. I`m in way over my head! They say it gets better. We`ll just have to wait and see.

Saturday morning had such unusually gorgeous/warm weather for November that I decided to go for a short walk. I found a much quicker route to the local shrine, and happened to stumble upon a blessing ceremony for several girls and a little boy. Every November, Japanese people take their three and five-year-old boys and three and seven-year-old girls to the local Shinto shrine for the priest to bless. I felt a little funny about taking pictures and video of this rather private event, so I asked permission first and tried to stay hidden and unobtrusive. Here is what the shrine courtyard looks like:

And here are the little girls lining up for the ceremony:

This is a family sitting before the priest, getting a quick explanation of what to do:

This is a video of the priest chanting before the alter:

The priest beating a drum and singing:

Two families praying before the alter:

And the priest blessing the children. Notice the bell staff in his hand that he waves over the children. This is a common instrument in the Shinto religion, often held by actors portraying various gods or by musicians singing to gods. I assume it`s similar to the Jewish custom of sprinkling animal blood (or water symbolizing blood) over people as a form of purification and blessing.

Of course I asked my classic questions: Why are you doing this, who are you praying to? The answer was as expected. “We`re blessing our children. We aren`t praying to anyone.”

“Then who is doing the blessing? Why are you praying and bowing with your face to the ground before the alter?”

“It`s just something we…do.”

I wonder if the priest actually believes in what he`s doing. I didn`t get a chance to ask him. It`s hard for me to think that anyone could really believe in the Shinto gods anymore, of sun and fire and water and all that. And the thing is they don`t, so why do they continue this stuff? I can see why they want to bless their children, but why all the meaningless religious trappings? Why not just make it a secular ceremony? It really peeves me when people don`t understand or even want to understand why they do what they do or believe what they believe. We do the same thing in the U.S., even Christians, and that irks me even more.

Saturday in the late afternoon I went to a writers` meeting in Osaka. They hadn`t gotten a chance to read my story yet, which was OK. Hopefully at the Japanese Exchange Teaching Mid-Year conference they`ll be able to drum up some more interest and I`ll get even more critiques! I got to read another member`s story, and it was pretty good.

Sunday I went to church, then because it was such nice weather and I doubted I would have another chance (I have a conference scheduled when the other JETs plan to go), I decided to go to Akame waterfalls with some foreign friends. Unfortunately only Karen could come, and the person with the car bailed on us, so Karen and I went to Four Seasons Park instead. It was really beautiful! Here`s some pics:

The changing leaves were gorgeous! There were still some flowering trees and bushes too. Most of the hiking trails were closed, but we still had a good time. And best of all, it was completely free! Even the train fare there and back. We were in a hurry to catch the train there, so we figured we could purchase the ticket when we arrived. But there was no one at the ticket gate! We looked and called, but no one came, so we just went through and into the park. Then on the way back, I found a \260 train ticket lying on the ground. I used it and got through for free! Wow, talk about lucky! Or was it providence? Hmm…

I also took a picture of my bicycle, since so many people have asked what it looks like:

Next weekend I have a big writers` conference in Yokohama near Tokyo, and the weekend after that a Christian retreat in the same area. Life is swingin`!

Prayer requests for this week: Several classes have been shut down because of the flu. It`s interfering with everything. Even club activities like English Speaking Society (the club I`m in charge of) are on temporary hold. Please continue to pray for health for the students and teachers. And I have a slightly selfish request. Next week at the writers` conference, I`m going to be speaking with a major New York publisher from Little Brown Books about Dargon the Human Slayer. Pray that I make a good impression, and that, if it`s God`s wills, she publishes the book!

Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,
L.J. Popp


Rich said...


Hey, Laura, I just signed up for this flying umbrella. Where's the streering wheel?

Oh, bbw, you get my very first comment.

I should fill you in more, and catch up with you more as well, but this is not the place for that.

Rich said...

Now that I've read your blog for today, I can comment.

I have never been too clear on the main ideas of Shintoism. (Or would you say of Shinto, leaving off the -ism?) It's a gap I'm aware of. You see, years ago I took a class on Eastern religions, and we covered Brahmanism, Confusianism, and even Taoism pretty well. But the class was behind schedule, and we skipped the chapter on Shintoism. In fact, there were so many things were barely touched on. I've been wanting to learn more about the minority religion of Zoroastrianism of the Parsees (Parsi).

I guess bells tinkle, and so does sprinkled water.

It seems funny to me that your pictures of the park don't stike me as anything obviously foreign. You photos would seem out of place from somewhere in America.

Charlie said...

Hey Laura, I am curious why you never mentioned the writers conference or the writers club in Osaka before. I figured you'd be all over that.

Well, good luck. And here I was led to believe that you couldn't get your books published here in Japan?