Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ieshima Shrine (Tenjinsan) and Donald Richie

   The 1st and the 15th of every month, I volunteer along with others to clean up the shoreline and the area around Ieshima Shrine. Most of the volunteers are over 65. we arrive early in the morning and pick up all the trash that has floated and been blown onto the beach. It's a lot. Fishing lures, plastic bags, bottles, caps, boxes, styrofoam, cigarette butts, and all sorts of things. It all winds up here on the beach.

   After we're done cleaning up, we head up the 200 or so steps to the shrine and take part in a Shinto ceremony called "tsuki nami sai" (月並祭). We chant a passage that I think is from the kojiki and then the "priest" purifies us and asks that our health be looked after. When it is done, we each come home with a fruit of some kind, a can of coffee and a little tiny pouch of about a teaspoonful of rice in a shrine pouch that I guess is purified or something. Sometimes I cook it and sometimes I put it in our family "kamidana" or miniature Shinto shrine in our house.

   Tenjinsan (Ieshima shrine) is around 1,400 years old -the area that is, not the actual building. In Shinto, it's the area that counts. It's one of the more important shrines in Kansai and it has a beautiful view of the surrounding seas. after climbing all the way to the top through its uncut and untamed forest, you really feel you are in a special place.

   In "The Inland Sea", Ieshima was the first place that Donald Richie visited though many don't know it because he (mis)spelled the island as "Iejima". It's not really a misspelling exactly because the people here call the island "Ejima" and always have said it that way. Here is how Donald Richie described Ieshima:

   "The port of the main island of Iejima, despite or because f its lack of tourist recommendations, is instantly attractive. Houses tumble down the hillsides, fall over each other, and all but end in the water. Their gray-tile roofs almost touch, and small and narrow alleys swarm in all directions. The mud walls, straw showing through, are so close that it would seem the inhabitants move crab-fashion. The port is filled with fishing boats, strange junk like ships with high sails, and around them, on the docks, are bales and coils and baskets and boxes. On all sides there is the most glorious confusion."

  Richie then goes on to describe the shrine.

   "The shrine lay in the path of the declining sun. The shadows were beginning to lengthen, the light was growing horizontal. The open-mouthed shadow of the stone torii that marked the approach to the shrine stretched into the dark of the trees at the base of the hill. The sand of the beach was still gold, but inside, beyond the gateway, all was a mass of thick black trees and bushes. On the beach, it was still day; inside the grove, it was already night."
   When the ceremony is over, we head home tired but feeling good and somewhat blessed with good luck. If the timing is right, one of those tonbi that constantly soar overhead may just fly over your head as you cross the bright white bridge and face the blue waters glimmering underneath the torii.

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