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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Yahiko Shrine 弥彦神社

         "The enshrined god who rules over Ya-hi-ko is called Ameno-Kaguyama-no-Mikoto (天香山命)"  

This particular shrine is designated as an " Ichinomiya" shrine, in other words, a high ranking shinto shrine within its province.   Yahiko is one of the highest ranking "ichinomiya" in  Niigata Prefecture.  Don't get it confused with modern ranking systems like with "Jingu"  or the great imperial shrines in the long list of "Kanpei-Taisha."  Just know that this shrine is revered amongst the locals in this area.  The whole area surrounding this shrine is a powerspot, which means there's a divine aura of spiritual energy here.   

The beauty of Yahiko Shrine is that it is not painted read and gold like many shrines in the Kansai area.  This is the original form of an authentic Japanese Shrine - all wood.   Adding paint was more vanity and to appeal to royalty and  aristocrats.   

Even the offering box ( sasenbako) is in its original form from centuries ago.  The surrounding wooded area is comprised of thousands of keyaki trees or Zelkova Serrata, a grainy wood highly prized in Japan for making taiko drums and expensive furniture.   

In Shinto you put anywhere from 10 yen to 15 yen in the offering box.  Step back, bow twice at a 45 degree angle then clap your hands two times then pray in silence.  When finished bow once and leave.   

One of the neat aspects of visiting a shrine is that you see so many ordinary people worshipping there and communing with their gods.   In this photo there is a bridge, and it is called Bridge of the Gods, or Tamanohashi.   Gods crossover this bridge to you, but you are not allowed to crossover it.   There is a reverence still left in Japan, a deep spiritual connection here.  I can sense it in the water as it trickles over stones and ravines and how it flows through valleys and gorges.   
I can sense it in the soft grassy patches of brush.  I can sense it in the sweet scented wind whipped cherry blossom trees dotted along the countryside.  

The whole of Japan is imbued with the essence of Shinto.  The wabi-sabi, the cranes that fly into the sky carrying the whispers of a thousand generations on its wings.

Leaving the shrine I headed about 3 km on foot southbound on a winding road.   I enjoy my walks in the countryside.   Whenever I am up this way I like to stop through and take a dip in a nice onsen to refresh and collect my thoughts.

I didn't realise how far the onsen was on foot, so I hitched a ride with a stranger and he dropped me off here at an onsen called "Sakura-no-Yu."   For those who have not been to one of these places onsen water comes in a variety of different mineral compositions.  This particular onsen has a mild and gentle sulphur smell to it.   Imagine rotten eggs smell and that'll give you some idea of what a sulphur spring smells like. PH is at around 9.70.  For those of you not familiar with this benefit the high ph will act as an emollient to the skin making it softer and smoother.   Onsen between 9 and 10 are premium hot springs that are more for beauty than therapy.   If you come at the right time you can see a row of cherry blossom trees in the back garden from the bath!  You can really feel Niigata.   Feeling blessed from prayers at the shrine and a soaking of the joints I headed back into town for some revelry.

For those that have followed my blog know what I love and what I do best.  I eat good Japanese food, drink premium sake, and love the local Jukujo.  Only this one is a young Jukujo.    She's drinking Kubota and is teaching me the ancient secrets.....

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