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Saka Shrine: The Birthplace of Sake

Before Japan was poisoned by Western charms, legends used to abound of great Asian men who formed the intellectual upper-crust of societies all over the world.  Centuries ago, Dutch used to be the official foreign language of Business & Commerce in this country.  Japanese merchants were trading with Europe and America long before Mathew Perry appeared on the scene.   These samurai delegations were courted by royalty and dined with  Kings and Queens in many foreign lands, and took part in the forming of treaties and global alliances.   There were so many great Japanese intellectuals and legends that are fully documented, these were men who fully embraced their gods and local folk traditions, and were proud of their legacy.   Japanese hardly  pay homage to their own great legendary figures anymore, but instead have been leaning more towards Western folklore.

Yet they still manage to hold on to memories of their long gone ancestors  and gods, albeit, in a more obligatory way nowadays.    Most Japanese shrug off the notion that they are loosing touch with their own myths.   They claim that Christmas is merely a marketing ploy to boost lagging sales, and to make an excuse to buy their significant other an expensive present. There are other far flung notions.    It is not uncommon now to see stuffed stockings in Japanese homes nowadays, and even Christmas trees.   As you know, this is a hypocrisy.   You cannot claim to not celebrate Christmas in Japan when you partake in its ceremony.   I still receive complaints from Japanese men about how expensive presents have become over the years as their children become more Christmas oriented;  they expect to receive  more and more presents each year and at higher price tags.    Most Japanese still stumble over the significance of December 23rd, but are quick to acknowledge December 24th and 25th, like it's their own national and cultural  holiday.


Not all of Japan has forgotten its myths, nor have they replaced their gods with Anglo-gods.    There are places and institutions that still remain intact.  Institutions like the Shinto Faith have been the bridge between the ancient gods of Japan and mortal Japanese men for centuries, still remains intact.  The institution of Shinto is sacred.  I call it an institution because it is where the transmission of culture, history, and sake have evolved from.     In Japan, drinking sake is an act of purification and consecration.    It plays a major role in Shinto wedding ceremonies, as the bride and groom serve it to each other as a symbol of the vows they are making.  Sake is often  given out at shrine festivals to worshippers, and participants in those festivals usually have some sake before the actual festival begins.   Sake is a way where god and the Japanese could come together, intersecting both body and soul.  Sake definitely brings strangers closer together.  In the Western Christian church there is a similar practice called communion in which either red wine or grape juice and unleavened bread is partaken to symbolize unity between god and mortal man, and to remember the sacrifice of The Christ.    Sacraments are also issued to symbolize a divine act.

Like Christianity, Shinto is shrouded in myth and legends passed down from generation to generation.    The Jews have a completely different take on The Christ whereas Americans think otherwise, which leads me to the question of " How real is myth?"  myth and reality is intricately interwoven to give life to form.    How would Rome and Greece be without myth ?  How can you sit there and allow yourself to become so dry, boring, and uninteresting?  You need myth more than you know it.  From cradle to the grave myth surrounds us and give our existence meaning.  

Santa Clause evokes images of a great big jolly fat white man who rides around on his sleigh delivering presents to good little boys and girls.  This  is one of the most endearing myths ever created.   It has become the most widely embraced myths in the world even here in Japan.  In reality, we deny the myth to make ourselves appear normal, but in fact without the legend of Santa Clause,  Christmas would have no meaning.   The story of Jesus Christ has very little relation to why people wait outside in the dead of winter, or why people fight and even kill each other over a Christmas present.    Myth is real when it's spun in the imagination.   Myths are charming.   They give us joy and light-hearted conviviality with friends.   

"Fantasies and myths are real according to the minds that create them," according to a famous Jungian psychologist.    It's easy to throw around words like "god" in the lower-case, and words like "myth" when referencing Japanese cultural pastimes.    That is what I was thinking about as my train neared the last stop.    As the train squeaked its way nearer towards the station I could sense that I was exactly in the right place at the right time.    

The birthplace of anything is always special.    It is the beginning of all things; the place of our origin.    The home of the womb of our desire.  The place where we took our first steps.    The cradle of civilization is said to have originated somewhere in Africa, and that there remains the Lost Garden of Eden.   In Japan, there are many Edens.   The birthplace of many things, but how that's interpreted  is subjective ambiguity.      It is said that the Yangtze River in China was where the first rice grain ever sprouted from soil.    You and I were never around to confirm such a finding, just hearsay according to some "great somebody."   The first flower that ever bloomed is not even known.  This is why we attach myths and folk legends to tales told by old, wise, and sapient men.   This in turn evokes a sense of wonder and enchantment which fuels are curiosity.

In the taxi on the way over to Saka Jinja I notice this huge Torii gate.   According to legend, Japanese gods gathered in this area to set up a kitchen.   They made sake and spent quite sometimes drinking it.     Eventually these gods went their separate ways.    This event was called sakamizuki and this is why you have the word "saka." You'll notice a difference in the kanji. too.     The name of the god that is enshrined is called Kusu-no-kam. 


 Saka-jinja & Matsuo-jinja

Ichibataguchi Station is the nearest station to reach the shrine.  On foot it shouldn't take no more than 15 or 20 minutes.   If you come in the late afternoon you can witness a gorgeous sunset of Lake Shinji.

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And up I went.  Most holy shrines in Japan have these steps that you have to climb, like you are ascending into heaven.
Reaching the top the shrine is there, just like it was centuries ago.   It still holds its annual doboroku festivals every October 13th.   The energy and power is still there.   It's a solemnly beautifully place.
Off to the right you see an Ochoshi with small sake cups.   Ochoshi is sake ware for pouring the sake in to sake cups.  Choshi have been used for divine services from ancient times.
The sake is free, and for me it was pretty good.  For some others it may be an acquired taste, so don't expect much if you are looking for the best sake.   Pay extra attention to the aftertaste.
I want to believe in the ancient myths of Japan.  As a matter of fact, I choose to believe that gods roam about and congregate in holy places.   They inspire man to do great things and through teaching these ancient myths to future Japanese, Japan must continue spreading proper teachings of its national history, folk traditions and pastimes, so that future generations do not forget.  

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