Early Impression of Japan

Pre-arrival to Japan, I used to think that Japanese shrines were places of worship. When I thought “shrines” I thought of a placid, even solemn place where people walked around in a collective state of awe. A place where the spirits resided and left their residue on those who rang bells, prayed, and left little messages- possibly a note to a loved one or maybe a wish for prosperity- on thin, white rice-colored pieces of parchment.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

These days, shrines and temples now house those who not only wish for prosperity, but also live out their wish of gaining prosperity: Shop keepers. On a very atsui (hot) day during orientation week, a large amount of gaijin signed up for the Kyoto tour. Since there were so many gaijin, the huge group was broken up into little groups with a random amount of Japanese speaking partners. After the introductions, small talk, and train ride, our group arrived in Kyoto and walked to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I was ready to see the temple and walk on a path where many people paying their respect to whatever transcendent being they wished. The whole process of entering the temple, washing the hands and cleaning the mouth seemed like a very serious ritual, so I was enthusiastic to have a go at it.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

I suppose I had a highly romanticized view on shrines because after that small ritual, we entered the beginning of what seemed like a huge shopping district. However, there were people ringing bells and partaking in spiritual rituals, even though not even fifteen away there was a shop taking advantage of tourists and the full wallets. The juxtaposition definitely left me a bit disappointed. My disappointment did not go unnoticed and a few of my group members let me know that most shrines have become tourist attractions, which then caused the creation and arrival of small shops. These shops do sell objects that somehow relate to the shrine-experience. For example, we found many fortune and talisman shops on our winding way up the mountain.

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the somewhat peaceful walk up even though it was infiltrated by the squeals of hopeful girls receiving positive fortunes.


October 19, 2009. Uncategorized.

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