Living With Kami: All About Konkokyo and Shinto

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

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

 

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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The area around Suwa shrine, courtesy of Google Maps

A medium sized Jizo temple, Enmeiji on Dobuita Street (a famous street here in Yokosuka), is squished right beside a live house music venue and a hearing aid office, with no proper sando, just facing the road path (similar to our shrine).

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The Jizo temple on Dobuita Street

A Toyokawa Inari shrine and temple up on the hill, the only way to walk to is to go through Mikasa Dori, a closed roof shopping road, and it is very hard to realize there is the path to the shrine there!

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The main way to get to the shrine temple complex, is through these doors in the Mikasa Street shopping center

It is the only main way (there is another way, but difficult to use) to visit. Ryuuhonji, the temple near our shrine, built all the way back in the Kamakura area, is also resting between the houses of our same neighborhood, Fukadadai, and facing the roadways too. It has some large trees, but doesn't enjoy the exact same nature a large shrine in Tokyo enjoys.

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Ryuuhonji's roadway


There is perhaps an exception in a small Shinmei shrine near our shrine, just 3 minutes beside each other. It has a good natural space around it, probably the most I have seen in downtown Yokosuka area. But just beside and behind the shrine, it is still very much nestled in our neighborhood as well

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Shinmei shrine, the shrine just near ours


As I say this, there may be a sense of dejection. To be honest, I felt so at first. I wondered why the downtown Yokosuka area's sacred spots were like so.

But after living here more and more, I began to love it. In Tokyo, the shrines and temples in the city very much have their own space - that is, you know you're going to visit a shrine as there is a special area, special marked path. In Yokosuka, you can simply stumble upon the torii just on your shopping trip. Or walking around the neighborhood, and suddenly there's a huge temple or a shrine just among the houses.

Thinking about it, and what made me want to write this article is - I absolutely love it now.

I think, while I am more of a rural area girl and love nature, isn't it nice that the deities are right with us even beside shops and homes?

I would be walking down to get lunch, and see Jizo-sama's temple and can make a sacred visit.
I go to visit for a dentist appointment, look up the road from the clinic, and suddenly there's a torii and the shrine right there, just one house down. When I walked around my neighborhood the first time, I stumbled upon the massive Ryuuhonji temple from the Kamakura era, just there down the street without warning. Or, I'm shopping in Mikasa dori, and see a sign for a shrine that leads to stairs, and find myself at the sacred spot.

Other cities may have small hokora in the middle of the roads like this, but Yokosuka is one of the few, if not only places that has a special charm where even medium and large shrines can suddenly be in the midst of the homes and shops. And, I love it. The deities are right with us even in our everyday, mundane life. They're our neighbors, they're there after you're going home after work, they're there right among the shopkeepers and the latest deals of the day. And I absolutely adore that about Yokosuka.

There is a special power and awe to shrines nestled deep within ancient forests, or far up a sacred mountain, or quietly standing proud in the rural villages; I love going to them too, and am always in great respect to them. But at the same time, there is also a special power and awe to the urban shrines too. Shrines near the shops and homes of everyone's everyday life. There is something really special about that too, that I love.

There are countless kami everywhere within the universe. The light of the sun and the moon shines across all land, and the winds blow across the world with no borders. Everywhere is inherently sacred, even if it becomes mundane to us, everything stands on sacred soil, is nourished by the sacred waters, and recieves the sacred light of the sun, moon, and stars. I learned to realize this, that the kami are really everywhere, not just can be felt in the spots surrounded by nature; but really everywhere. I realized this from the bottom of my heart, thanks to Yokosuka.

 

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View into our shrine at night

 

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Hello! I am Olivia. Nice to meet you. I am an ordained Konkokyo priestess since October 22nd, 2015. My hometown is Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but I'm currently working as an associate minister/priestess and miko at the Konkokyo Yokosuka Kyoukai in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan. During my training, I went to various shrines and temples, and regions all around Japan, and I want to share all the spiritual knowledge I was able to learn with many others all around the world. I hope to help others as much as I can!

Comments

  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Monday, 11 June 2018

    This is a very beautiful and insightful piece.

    I think it's typical for us as Westerners to have particular stereotypes about what a culture is or isn't like and how its religious beliefs are expressed "authentically." But somewhere in the midst of that we forget that in fact, all religions evolve and change and that people in other countries are "modern" too and not isolated in some idyllic past that may or may not have existed.

    So it makes perfect sense that as humans have migrated from the countryside to urban centers they've brought their gods with them. So thank you for helping illuminate that aspect in Shinto.

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