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Autumn in Japan: A season of the moon, ancestors, and gods

It is now Autumn in Japan, one of the most important seasons of the year.

There are four big events, starting with Shubun no Hi (Autumn Equinox), Tsukimi (Autumn Full Moon viewing), Kannazuki or Kanarizuki (Month Without or Month with Kami), and then Shuuki Taisai or Shuuki Reitaisai, (Autumn Grand Ceremony).

It is no surprise Autumn is an important time in Shinto and Japanese culture. As with many cultures and spiritualities around the world that are in tune with nature, Autumn is the all-important harvest season. A season to reap the bounties and give gratitude toward nature and the ancestors, deities, and other spirits to survive the cold upcoming Winter. In addition, it is a time of celebration, family, gathering, introspection, and reflection.

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  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    I always love you providing these details. Autumn seems to be a special time of the year in many places (I know the Mid-Autumn Fes
  • Courtney
    Courtney says #
    This was lovely and informative. Thank you.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Reflections of August

Reflections of August

A tumultuous month, but one of growth. As September begins, the fire inside that was being whipped in the wind, will now begin to glow brighter and brighter. It will be needed for the inevitable Winter after the Fall.

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  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    Excellent post! I think when it comes to worship and religious practice there's usually two different approaches, which are the p

 

I am surprised that the month is already almost over, and what a month it has been. I had been meaning to write since the year end purification festival, known in Japanese as Nagoshi no Oharae (Half Year Purification), or also my shrine, Hantoshi Kansha Sai (Half Year Appreciation Ceremony), but responsibilities, and also tragedies had hit the country, and my priorities had shifted towards these incidents.

I will start from the beginning — that is, at the end of June on the 24th, we held our Half Year Appreciation Ceremony.
At this time, in Shinto traditions, it is a time to reflect on the year so far since New Year’s. It is an important time of renewal — the renewing and reflection of our hearts and souls. It is also to give thanks for the year so far, and to pray for the next 6 months of the year to go well. The date itself varies from shrine to shrine, but this event is usually commemorating the Summer Solstice, or the time around and after the Solstice.

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  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    I'm sorry it's been such a chaotic, discordant month. As always I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. I do find it very in

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Ceremony day at Konkokyo Hongo Shrine

This article will be a little different than my usual informational style, it is a more of an experience day to share! I hope you will also enjoy to read, and I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions about this style too.

It helps me a lot to keep me writing. For informational posts, I often need to fact check, cross-check, have other priests read over the content, and read over them many times myself - so I can write unbiased and factual information. In combination with a hectic schedule, it takes a long time to post a new article. I really think quality is more important than quality - especially in informational posts. However, to keep things fresh, I do have lots of experiences living Shinto day to day. So I thought about writing them in the meantime as I work on the informational posts.


My thinking is, Shinto is a way of living as much it is a faith with myth, rituals, and beliefs. In addition to sharing what I know about the myths, rituals, beliefs, and customs, I also think it is good to share the day to day mundane life while practicing Shinto. That is, how faith is expressed in everyday life. That we don't only experience the blessings of kami at shrines, but day to day (that is actually the origin of my blog name, living with kami!) So I hope you will enjoy to read these style articles too!



So, yesterday, I went with Masafumi-sensei, my partner who is also a priest, to Konkokyo Hongo shrine in Tokyo. He was invited to give a sermon there. In Shinto, especially Kyoha Shinto like Konkokyo and even Izumo Taishakyo, after a ceremony, a priest gives a sort of 'sermon' - but it is less like sermons in Christian church, and more like saying words of appreciation, giving shrine announcements, and then the main part is to share a faith story or spiritual experiences, or prayers answered they have had with the kami of the shrine, and/or elaborate on how to live with kami in our lives day to day. Masafumi-sensei's sermon, for example, was telling the story of why he decided to become a priest, and how he helps people in his present life with Kami-sama since becoming ordained.

While Masafumi-sensei was invited to give a sermon, I was invited as well as a guest. I felt very humbled for the invitation, and I am always excited to see how each Konko shrine looks on the outside, the inside, how they decorate their altar, what prayers do they use, what rites do they incorporate, and so on. The beauty of Konkokyo is every shrine can do things in their own ways and have some flexibility how to decorate the altar or the order to use prayers, or what rites to include or omit, and I really love to see the diversity, and even get some good ideas for our shrine!

So, Masafumi-sensei and I first left from Yokosukachuo station at about 9:30am; we head straight into Tokyo but first got off a few stops early to have ramen at this really delicious shop, called 'Himuro' which specializes in Hokkaido style miso ramen. The food was absolutely delicious and great price too. If you find yourself in the area – I'd definitely reccomend to eat there!

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The super delicious ramen at Himuro !

Afterwards, we got back on the train and rode a few stops to the Hongo shrine. To my surpise, it was right beside Nezu shrine! Not even a 30 second walk, you could walk right from Konkokyo Hongo shrine into Nezu shrine. I was really shocked. Masafumi-sensei planned for us to visit Nezu shrine before we went to Hongo shrine, but I thought it would at least be a 5-10 minute walk judging from the map. But actually, they were next-door neighbors!

We walked around Nezu shrine for a little bit. I had been there once before, but it was raining, and much past 5pm so the gate to the shrine was closed. I never got to see the Haiden (worship hall) or pray to Susanoo no Mikoto, who is enshrined there. So, while it was still raining that day, (as fitting as the weather is for Susanoo no Mikoto!) I got to pray there and greet him, and I was really thankful I got a chance to come back.

Nezu shrine has a very interesting history in Tokyo. The legends say it was founded by Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, a famous prince in Japanese history, who was the son of Emperor Keikou. Emperor Keikou reigned traditionally from 71 to 130 AD, so Yamato Takeru is said to have lived about that era as well (though it is said he died in the 43rd year of the Emeperor's reign, or 114 AD)

Yamato Takeru no Mikoto is said to have founded Nezu shrine originally in Sendagi, a location a bit north of the current location of Nezu shrine. The current location was built in 1705 on orders of Tokugawa Ienobu, and it makes it one of the oldest shrines in Tokyo. Unfortunately no remnants remain of the shrine from the original location, but the power of Susanoo no Mikoto enshrined is still very strong.

When I visited this time, I was in awe at the palace-like architecture and the deep inner haiden. I did not take a picture of the haiden out of respect and the general air not to take photos of inside, but I felt the power.

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The side view of the Haiden of Nezu Shrine

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The gate of Nezu shrine, which was once closed

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Back of the komainu of Nezu Shrine

Masafumi-sensei and I greeted Susanoo no Mikoto, and then we went on our way to Hongo shrine..which was still, to me, shockingly easy, Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama and Susanoo no Mikoto being next door neighbors! It made me really happy to see though. It reminded me how Konkokyo Shiba shrine and Hibiya shrine are also right across from each other, and give each other offerings for their ceremonies. I like that there is the sense of community.


As we approached Hongo shrine, it was also so beautiful and powerful. It is surrounded by trees and one particularly large, old tree. In addition, the shrine had been recently renovated, and smelled that lovely, addicting smell of fresh hinoki which I love! Masafumi-sensei and I were deeply impressed by the shrine – while we both love the scent of hinoki, what we loved was shrine also kept very traditional style.

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Front of Konkokyo Hongo shrine

An eight petal mirror on Kami-sama's altar, shimenawa marking the sacred area, the large shrine doors that gave off Kami-sama's usual strong, yet gentle and calming power. The Mitama no Kami (ancestral spirits) altar also had a very strong power too. After all, I thought, this is a sacred place of Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama, and the ancestral spirits who were the community of this shrine from many years ago, the virtue was definitely felt strongly here too, and I was so glad.

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Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama's altar at Hongo shrine

When we got there, we purified our hands and mouth at the temizuya (sacred fountain for cleansing), then head inside. We prayed to Kami-sama and the mitama-sama, then did toritsugi mediation (mediating to Kami-sama via the priest there to give thanks for getting to the shrine safe) and gave our offering for the Grand Ceremony.

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  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    Thank you for sharing this Olivia. These insights are always welcome alongside the more informational blogs .
  • Thesseli
    Thesseli says #
    This sounds absolutely lovely.
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.

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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


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The trees of our garden

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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

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Tamagushi: What is it, and how to offer it

Hello everyone! I apologize for not updating as often as I'd like - I had been in a period of transition from May to June, and July was full of ceremonies, both private and public. Now that I've got a better handle of my time and schedule, please look forward to more posts!

For start, here is a short and simple article explaining tamagushi. There is more theories to their origins, and etmology theories to the word, however, what I wanted to explain here is the essence of tamagushi and it's present meaning.

Tamagushi (玉串, translated as jewel skewer) is an ancient offering to Kami-sama, it is usually a sakaki tree branch, or at times when there is no sakaki availible, an evergreen branch such as cedar, and shide (zigzag strip of white rice paper) on top attached to  the leaves. There can be larger and more elaborate tamagushi, with red and white cloth, and asa (sacred hemp fibres) tied in a ribbon on the top as well alongisde two shide. 

 

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  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    Welcome back, Olivia! Your presence was missed. This is a very interesting insight into a particular part of Shinto ritual that I
Pagan News Beagle: Watery Wednesday, April 20

Pagans get ready to celebrate Earth Day. Oklahoma Pagans face persecution from neighbors. And the role of magic in anarchism is considered. It's Watery Wednesday, our weekly segment on news about the Pagan community! All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!

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