Saturday, January 03, 2004


Late afternoon yesterday, for Hatsumode (first visit to the gods) we walked down to the village to the main Shinto shrine there, whose name translates as "Eight Places" (I have to inquire into the origin of that interesting name, I'll put it on my huge list.)

As we walked down the mountain, the sky was exhibiting its awesome winter lighting, coloring and texture techniques, the towering clouds curving, silvering, rippling, purpling and ivorying with patches of blue now and then, setting the perfect tone for the spiritual mood of the village; for unlike cities, where Hatsumode is pretty much a social habit, here in the countryside it is still deep and real, still what it began as, most people around here yet maintaining direct connection with the earth and the water from which they derive their food and livelihoods-- this is where they grew up, this is what they grew up on, this is what they are made of. So Hatsumode here has all the depth of ancient simplicity.

Eight Places was clearly once a key shrine of the lakeside road, the Shrine's main power channel running as usual arrowstraight out from the main axis of the shrine complex through the entrance torii and down a small road leading directly to the Lake, a road seldom traveled anymore except by the folks who live down there, since it leads only to the Lake, though not so far back in the past the road was doubtless the major source of commerce for the village, most local commodities in olden times, not to mention fish, coming via and from the Lake, the region's major highway during the BP (before petroleum) era.

On their altars the gods get sheaves of rice, hulled rice, chestnuts, persimmons, mikan, sake, mochi and salt, and everyone within kami-radiant reach of the Shrine comes and claps and bows and then gets a cup of hot amazake (sweet sake) and stands socializing around the big fire that's always burning on the cold days of Hatsumode, preparing together for another in the thousands of years they and their ancestors have shared so far in this place.