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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.

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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

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Konkokyo LGBT Kai

So, this is more of a news article, but also one that is very near and dear to me! First, I will share the announcement from the Konkokyo Honolulu Kyokai below!:

"“金光教LGBT会の承認

平成三十年二月十五日に教務総長により金光教LGBT会は各種団体を承認されました。

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  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis says #
    This is great news! Thank you for sharing!

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This past year, working full time as a priestess

Hello all!

So I had realized recently, I hadn't updated this precious space in quite a long time - nor even my own personal blogs. Where had I gone? 

Well..the story is a bit complicated. Last year, 2017, was a huge transitioning year for me. 

I moved to Japan in May 2017. And since then, it has been a lot of time of trying to settle into my new home, my new environment. Even the weather when I landed was quite different, and made me very weak comparing to coming from Canada's cold winter. I also missed, and still do miss my family a lot back in North America, which is the only downside to living here, and that also weighed heavily on me.

While here in Japan, I began to work full time as a priestess at the Konkokyo Shrine of Yokosuka, and assist with monthly ceremonies as well as private ones, in which there were many.
In addition, since Yokosuka is a naval base town, despite not knowing Japanese entirely fluently yet, I still was blessed to be busy with both translation work and also interacting with the local American community here. It was and is really great, and I love it here, but before I realized it, my time was getting busier and busier! I hardly had time to go online at all; only to check a few emails and messages, or answer direct questions.

The Fall itself felt like a blur, and in November, late Fall season, we held our Grand Ceremony, which is one of the two biggest ceremonies of the year. (The other is in May, or late Spring). After that, Winter came and New Years season came around, the busiest season of the year for shrines since everyone comes to pray for a happy and safe New Year, and in addition for the Year-End purification ceremonies, and Mochitsuki (mochi making event) in January.

And now..that brings us to here! And things have finally come to a settle I think. At least, I'm managing things a lot better and understand the work flow of the shrine here, and the general schedule. As well as being used to the home here, and the local city is familiarized to me as well. 

So, while I do have some long-term work I need to do, such as continuing to answer emails and questions, shrine work, which includes a website and print materials I need to make for this year and will take some time, and in addition of course the ceremonies - and studying more Japanese - between all these things, I also want to make a commitment to post more articles regularly! 

So thank you all and to those who have been patient with me! I deeply appreciate it.

Since 2015, I've been in a kind of nonstop busy mode. Priestess training was back in 2015, 2016 had a lot of travel to Japan, and now 2017 just flew by doing work here - 2018 I'm hoping is a lot more stable year where I can be settled into a good work flow schedule smoothly.

And I hope by 2019, I'll have a better handle on everything to do some hobbies I want to pursue, such as dollmaking, and doing more art and creative writing. But I want to get important things done first, or I can't enjoy other hobbies personally!

In any case, I know this update isn't entirely educational or Shinto related...but I think sharing some insight just into what I learned working as a priestess full time is like, I'll share here a bit! Hopefully you'll find it interesting at least. After this, I do plan to go back to usual educational articles, so please look forward to them!

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A photo of when I danced kibimai, a type of ancient kagura (sacred dance) I offered to Kamisama in the Konkokyo Shrine of Toronto, April 2017, before I left for Japan




Before I moved to Yokosuka, I did priestess work in Toronto. However, since it's in Toronto and Canadian culture is much different than Japan, services were only held every other Sunday, since it was the day of the week most had off in Canada, and other days people would be working and unable to visit. We also had to schedule around the western holidays like Easter, Christmas, and so on which also made having more regular ceremonies a bit difficult. In contrast, in Japan, we go by Japanese holidays which match up with the traditional rituals and ceremonies in the shrine, so it's much easier for the people to come more often.

So in other words...while I worked in Toronto - it was quite easier workload in comparison. I had the whole week, sometimes two free weeks, and then just had the one day I had to do priestess work. Of course it was a little sad for me, but it was also why I had a lot more free time to do blogging, or even other part-time work. 

I got an idea of what it was like to work as a full fledged priestess from the monthly ceremonies in Toronto - I helped a little with offerings, preparing tamagushi, and practicing ritual. I also did these intensely during priestess training, so things were as usual and not too unfamiliar. It was a lot like refining the skills. My teacher in Toronto is still the best teacher I have, and I respect him greatly now. I feel very blessed I got to train and learn under him.

However, since moving to Japan here and working more regularly in priestess work - I realized especially what my teacher meant when he said I still had a lot to learn! The workload is completely different in Japan, and since the shrine here is 120 years old, there were a lot of older knowledge of our shrine tradition I learned as well, and my mind and knowledge expanded so much more. 

The house and living area is right next to the shrine itself, so in addition I work essentially every day shrine keeping. It's a whole different experience. Whereas before in Toronto I could relax fully at home and not be concerned about visitors, just caretake my own kamidana - here I need to be sure to wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed (no pajamas!), open the shrine, and then watch for shrine visitors (sanpaisha) if they come and to greet them. Of course; I can afford now to have lazy days and sleep in, since 3 other priests and priestess work here (My partner and his parents) and I am not the Head Priest, but Associate Priestess, so my responsibilities are a lot lighter.

But I realized very seriously that if I was alone, I'd have to be much more serious about it, and be sure to get proper rest and a good schedule. We are open every day of the year, from 8am to 8pm, so I learned quickly the importance of having a very good schedule and managing everything - from personal hygiene, to chores around the house, to making meals, and managing the shrine and shrine work. It was so much more than I expected! 

As well, I gained a deeper respect for those who manage shrines alone. We don't get a salary or anything from a head shrine, so we are self-sustaining - and that means as well learning how to do accounting and managing money, and budgeting properly for things like offerings or ritual tools, to not overspend or even underspend too (buying the right amount and variety for Kamisama is also a factor for important ceremonies). 

In addition, at our shrine in particular, we also have a large garden, - which grows sakaki branches for tamagushi, vegetables such as cucumbers, and many, many oranges and persimmons - which is beautiful and I realized the bounty of nature, but as well, it's also another task to manage to caretake of the trees and plants, and trim and harvest accordingly. 

In making offerings, I also learned how to treat each food item carefully. We should try to place them the way they grow in nature, the proper way to cut and wash them, and the proper way to stack them with stability. Food offerings are still one of the hardest areas to master!

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A mixed fruits and vegetables offerings I did for the mitama no kami, or ancestral divine spirits, about a week ago. I learned afterwards I should have spread the eggplants more, and cut the top of the leeks cleaner, to improve and perfect the form.


Despite all of this hard work, I really, really enjoy it, and love to learn all the new things I am! And very happy to do things with care and sincerity towards kami-sama. I was actually moved to tears at one point, to see how deeply everything is carefully made, cleaned, arranged, organized, and run in the shrine for kami-sama, mitama no kami, and the people who visit the shrine and who are parishioners of the shrine. I understood a strong sense of community and sincerity, and I was and am very grateful to learn as well.

As in, it's not just the form or method how to do things as a priestess, but what's very important moreso is the heart, spirit, and sincerity behind it. I feel like I really learned that this year, and I think I will begin to understand it even more the longer I work here. 

I learned being a priestess wasn't just ritual work or making offerings - but it was so much more. It wasalso making offerings with care and consideration, even right down to details like how to wash and clean and cut them (even using a special, kami-sama offering-only knife).

It was learning how to do many different things, such as gardening, harvesting, accounting, budgeting, learning how to cook with the offerings we eat after so nothing goes to waste, learning how to make sacred items properly, learning different types of ceremonies, even my work in coding, graphic design and social media was and is needed to work on having and updating information online - it ends up being a kind of jack of all trades job. That is, this is all behind the scenes to the very important spiritual work which is our main focus.

In the end, all of it is done for the community and kami-sama, which makes me so happy. I feel so glad and grateful to be able to serve the community and kami-sama - that we are a shrine where not only people can come together and rest and have a connection with kami-sama, but also for our shrine tradition in particular, to come and talk about any problem or issue on their mind (a rite called toritsugi mediation). Organizing and running the shrine well contributes to everything to go harmoniously, and it's amazing to me how it all comes together.

This year, I want to start doing the old, ancient prayers at sunrise - such as Ooharae no Kotoba, and Amatsu Norito, as our shrine tradition used to do 100 years ago. I want to make our shrine shine even brighter and have more spiritual strength by returning and nurturing to the roots. Thankfully, it seems kami-sama also agrees, as the past year we have had a lot of things from the past return - including a very old Tenchi Kakitsuke, or Divine Reminder from the Universe, made by a shrine parishioner from a long time ago!

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The old Tenchi Kakitsuke. The meaning of the black background and white kanji, is that "even in the darkness, the reminder from the universe will shine through". It has such a strong spiritual power I feel!


So, those are the things I learned deeply especially this year about priestess work. For anyone who is considering to become a Shinto priest, or especially a Shinto priest in the Konkokyo tradition, there is so much to think about and manage...but I think in the end, it's very much worth it.

To see the smiling faces of everyone and their bright spirits - and to feel the power of kami-sama and the gentle power from the shrine and nature around us, I think it is all worth it, and any kind of physical and/or spiritual work that has to be done daily I'm so grateful to do every day!

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  • Mivi
    Mivi says #
    I'm so proud of you. I always love hearing about how your training is going. I cannot be as rigorous in studies since I don't liv

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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

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What Are Konkokyo and Shinto?

Hello, and welcome to the first post for "Living With Kami!"

You might be wondering – what is Kami? Konkokyo? Shinto?

These terms are all a part of the spiritual traditions I practice, which originate in Japan. Please allow me to introduce you to and talk about the Way of Kami in this blog.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Back in the 90's when I was still attending church some priests from the Tsubaki Grand Shrine Japan came and led a service. Your
  • Olivia
    Olivia says #
    Thank you very much! Oh wow, that's amazing! Yes, Tsubaki Grand Shrine now has an American branch shrine, Tsubaki Grand Shrine of
  • Critter
    Critter says #
    Thank you for sharing!
  • Olivia
    Olivia says #
    Thank you so much!
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Welcome to PaganSquare. I am looking forward to reading all about the Kami! I had not previously known about the differences betwe

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