Thursday, December 09, 2004


Yesterday being one of those beautiful crisp October days that because of global warming now fall in December, we went across the Lake to take part in the Burning Dedicated Wood Festival at Agajinja (aka Tarobo-gu) on Sekishinzan (Red God Mountain). The shrine is in the nether region of lost travelers alluded to earlier in these humble chronicles, but despite the usual random arrangement of highways and signs along our way, through sheer accident we made it to the correct mountain with plenty of time to spare, even after parking at a distance and walking the rest of the way to the mountain.

As we ambled though the pleasant roadside gauntlet of smiling farmer ladies selling their vegetables, beans, konnyaku, country-style pickles etc., occasional glances upward showed why the mountain had become a focus of the sacred. Throughout the millennia (the shrine was finally built in the 7th century), this mountainside was clearly the place for anyone who wanted to be alone; any sanctity-directed soul in this neighborhood who sought natural solitude in proximity to heaven must have been drawn here like a magnet.

In elegant testimony to Japan's religious syncretism, right at the bottom of the long stairway up to Tarobo's Shinto complex, strung out above over the mountainside, sits a Buddhist temple, whose explanatory sign takes the usual pride of temples around here in having been burned to the ground by Oda Nobunaga, who apparently later had a change of heart and restored this place, at least. Seems you can't burn down temples all your life.

A general uplift comes over you as you draw near the mythic mountain, and in that ebullience I started up the long stairway taking two steps at a time, but after a couple hundred of those I felt my legs dangling in hell and had to pause at the first landing to get my breath, heart, lungs, legs, general existence etc. back onto the earthly plane. I then commenced to climb at a pace more befitting an elder who has learned to minimize ebullience, i.e., experience in .zip format.

Thence upward in suitably elder fashion along the trail through chants and bells, prayer handclaps and red carpets of leaves past platforms and copper-roofed shrines to all the gods, including me (above one altar is a Shinto mirror; just visit to be whom you worship) that are tilted out on stilts or jammed in caves and crevices and ravines...

When at last we reached the first level the big fire was going before mountained offerings of radishes, sake, mikan, watermelons, strawberries, rice and more; there was a sort of vicarious firewalking path set up, across which folks were walking, while elsewhere bunches of elder ladies linked their arms and edged backward laughing through the roiling smoke toward the giant orange firetongue that was roaring at the sky, to get the sacred heat on their sore backs or legs or heads or wherever, as the mountain priests handed out fire talismans to the crowd.

Further up along the stilted walk was my personal favorite, Benzaiten (goddess of the arts) above her cave, then on to and through the giant rock that was split by the gods way before even the first inkling of history; passing through the split at the end of your climb you are reborn onto that small platform also known as life, in front of the shrine of Tarobo, the timeless goblin of the mountain. Here in vast distances the eye swallows whole are tiny homes down there, and moving among them mere specks like yourself, going about life much as you do when you're not gasping for air way up here, where it is growing cold, the horizon is darkening, end of day is nearing, time to start down and begin another life...

In the cold wind
She rubs the statue's hand
With all her need

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