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Shinto in Yokosuka:The deities as neighbors, dwelling in the concrete jungle


In 2015, I first landed in Japan and stayed in Sanda, Hyogo prefecture for a few days before heading to live in Konko, Okayama prefecture. Both places I were in at first were forest heavy and either a small city or completely rural town. Locations where shrines were, as I expected, enjoyed large trees and beautiful natural features around them.

When I later visited Tokyo in September the same year – from the famous Meiji Jingu and Hanazono Jinja, to even small neighborhood shrines, natural beauty remains intact amidst the bustling city, one of the largest in the world. Even in Toronto, my home Konkokyo shrine also enjoys large land, beautiful tree and bushes in front and along the sides, wildflowers, and once had a line of 8 trees across the land (which unfortunately had succumbed to illness from an invasive beetle species, and ordered by the city to be cut down), but, even so, I was used to sacred spots being an oasis of natural beauty, largely and especially in rural areas, but even in an otherwise concrete bustling city like Tokyo and Toronto.

So you may imagine my surprise when, upon moving to Yokosuka and coming to the shrine I now live at here, what around it was not a special area with many trees and nature, but houses! I was shocked.

Of course, we are lucky to have a large garden on the side of our shrine, with a mandarin tree, a persimmon tree, 2 large sakaki trees, a small baby sakaki, Japanese maple, and also growing cucumbers, and more. Our border of the shrine also has aloe plants and other bush and earth - our garden and the natural features are definitely special spots for Kamisama, and in some sense we also have a sort of mini-oasis - but to the extent the shrine is so tight nestled between the neighborhood houses, I was really surprised.


Our humble shrine coming up the neighborhood road - it extends farther back and there is a garden farther down, but the road is quite narrow


The trees of our garden


Our two large sakaki trees - our shrine is 120 years old, and the trees have been here for most of our shrine's life, providing the branches to be offered as tamagushi. (Read more about tamagushi  here)

To be honest, I was a little disappointed and confused. I always expected shrines to be around nature, and while our garden was a sanctuary and blessing, I wasn't very satisfied at first to be honest! 

Over time, living here each day, I started to try and change my thinking. I was thinking about the good of our area. I thought, “Well, it's nice that Kami-sama is like everyone's neighbor”. In fact, neighbors often come by to offer sake, candy, sweets, or even the harvest from their own gardens to Kami-sama.

It is a really nice community neighborhood we have, it is so beautifully quiet and peaceful despite just being 5 minutes walk from the core of downtown Yokosuka. Our shrine is up on the hill overlooking the area as well. Not to mention - it is also in the evacuation area in case of natural disaster. Thinking about these positive things, I began to warm up to our shrine's location more and more, and feel very grateful and humbled for the location, especially during a particularly strong earthquake and threat of tsunami, or when there was threats of flooding from the coast. I learned our shrine even survived through major catastrophes, such as the Great Kanto Earthquake, World War I and World War II.

Becoming more appreciative, I began to slowly warm up. And, the longer I lived in the downtown Yokosuka area, the more I realized our shrine wasn't the only neighborhood kami-sama! While other areas of Yokosuka city are more quiet and residential, and the shrines have beautiful natural features (perhaps famously for our city is Hashirimizu Jinja, and the East and West Kano Jinja), no where I have seen is quite like downtown Yokosuka.

For example, Suwa shrine, one of the older and larger shrines, has a sando (Sacred path) squished between a McDonald's and a Chinese food Restaurant, and the other open path is facing the road. Shops tower around the shrine too.

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  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    This is a very beautiful and insightful piece. I think it's typical for us as Westerners to have particular stereotypes about wha
Ruminations on the Soul: Mental Illness and Suicide

**This post is rooted in recent current events, and has foundations in my experience as a mental health chaplain. The content may be upsetting or triggering to some**

"Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

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  • Mark Green
    Mark Green says #
    Thank you for this post.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
In Praise of Catalpas

The catalpas are in bloom: thank Goddess.

Catalpa speciosa, the northern Catalpa. They're huge trees, catalpas: often the tallest on any given block. Heart-shaped leaves, bigger than your out-stretched hand, and those flowers: creamy with spotted tongues, like little orchids, really, if you can imagine tens of thousands of orchids all in one place. (Thus does superabundance render even the greatest beauty banal.) The city's catalpas are towering pyramids of white right now, that you can smell a block away: that sweet, spicy, nutmeg-y smell of Midsummer.

They're weedy kinds of trees, actually. Soft wood, not good for much of anything. They're also "dirty" trees: first the fallen flowers, which coat the sidewalks with slime, then the long, carob-like seedpods that litter the lawn by the thousands and (I swear) tens of thousands.

Oh, but they're in their glory now, and that means Midsummer can't be far away.

I grew up calling them (PI alert) "Indian tobies." Oddly enough (it took me a while to figure it out), "tobie" is short for "tobacco." Here's why. 

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

This morning
I laid on my back on the rocks

stuck my legs straight up in the air
and then spread them open to the sky.

I brought my knees into my chest
and laid there on the stone b2ap3_thumbnail_34561828_2094922720719939_6452653518552563712_o.jpg
like a stranded beetle for a while

I had the sensation
that I was waiting for something,
some insight or
inspiration or
magical something
to happen,
and had a vague feeling
of disappointment
in such a “normal day”
with no special lesson
or encounter.

But, then I heard a small voice
from within say:

“well, you got your spirit back,
so there’s that.”

And, I decided that was enough.

On my way back to the house,
there was a snail on a leaf. 

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Witch Crafts: Make Your Own Healing Salve

Comfrey is beloved by kitchen witches and is one of the best-known healing herbs of all times. It has even been referred to as “a one-herb pharmacy” for the inherent curative powers.  Well-known and widely used by early Greeks and Romans, the very name, symphytum, from the Greek symphyo means to "make grow together," referring to its traditional use of healing fractures. Comfrey relieves pain and inflammation. Comfrey salve will be a mainstay of your home first aid kit. Use it on cuts, scrapes, rashes, sunburn, and almost any skin irritation. Comfrey salve can also bring comfort to aching arthritic joints, and sore muscles.

Lavender-Comfrey Cure-All Salve

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Coming Home

It was day three of a seven-day meditation retreat and I was busy sabotaging my practice by wallowing in guilt. At the mid-week interview with the meditation leader I complained about these negative thoughts: “I don’t know why I do this to myself.” 


“But are you doing it?” she said. “Are you doing it?” 


Well, no. My thoughts were basically thinking themselves, assailing me when whether I wanted them or not. The more closely I observed myself, the more I came to the conclusion that I had ridiculously little control over the thoughts and reactions that drove me into various states and actions. 

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You Can’t Break Up if It’s Already Over

So, in Sicily, my brain was completely clogged with salami, seafood, veal, cheese, pasta, blood orange mimosas, arancini, cannoli and wine.  We were surrounded by the gorgeous sea and because there's a volcano there that still erupts periodically, the whole island is positively fecund with wild olive trees, wild pomegranate trees, poppies, wild oleander, jasmine, almond trees, chamomile, orange trees, lemons.  Like, by the side of the highways, randomly growing in archeology sites.  Palermo is like an explosion of Etsy fever dreams - herb gardens and succulents on every balcony and coverable piece of sidewalk.

So you can imagine that despite the fact that I am absolutely shamefully horrible with any language that's not English, I desperately wanted to stay.  I mean, 65% of women in SIcily are unemployed, but dude that is right on track to have the life that Ali Wong always dreams about, that I want too! ("I DON'T WANT TO LEAN IN!  I WANT TO LIE DOWN!)  But blahblahblah you have a husband or something and a "career" and a stupid business and another book to write and the crushing oppression of your life back in Gilead/America to deal with.  Because yes, in SIcily you can get a literal bunch of asparagus or a beautifully laminated Saint prayer card from a vending machine for a Euro, but the fact remains that they would be having none of my proud freak shenanigans there which would eventually get old.  Eventually.

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