Life in the Shrine

I recently posted the question, how does a shrine fit into the community that surrounds it? In the case of Kamigamo Shrine in the north of Kyoto this summer, it was quite clearly a place for people of the neighborhood to escape to, either for respite from the heat in the small river or to look at some modern art.

Art students from Seika University had put up an exhibition of their work for the Kamigamo Shrine Art Project 2011. I was fascinated by how people were interacting with the art installations that covered the grassy field within the shrine precincts.

The atmosphere was casual and calm, mixed with a bit of fascination and a good deal of whimsy, much of it past the point of being bizarre. A number of the pieces were inspired by the shrine itself and some encouraged viewer participation. But I really liked seeing a young boy who was actively being artistically inspired by the shrine. He sat in the grass, facing the gate leading to the heart of the shrine, drawing.

I was even pleasantly surprised when a woman came over to invite me on a three part tour of the exhibit, the shrine, and the neighborhood. It turned into a very pleasant afternoon.

The World Around the Shrine

(The intersection just outside the front of Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto.)

I may have lived in Japan for most of my 20s now, but when I take pictures, they are still mostly touristy shots of shrines, temples, nice houses, and flowers that I see while traveling. (I only post a small selection of the photos I take.) And although I live in Yokohama, I feel in some sense like a tourist in this city and in Tokyo, where I go almost daily. But I think a tourist can have a kind of openness that a resident might not have, because a resident is familiar with their world and takes a good chunk of things for granted.

That is not to say, however, that a tourist doesn’t take anything for granted. They see the foreign world as it fits with cultural stereotypes. A common tourist’s photo of a Japanese shrine will show a red tori gate or the main shrine building with maybe a few Japanese people praying in front of it. These pictures show the quiet and calm within the shrine, a quiet calm that may or may not be because of a lack of people in these places. When shrines are full of people for festivals, for example, the atmosphere is completely different.

But how does a shrine fit into the cultural fabric of life around it? I don’t think I can answer that now, but that is the question that came to mind when I saw this picture again. It seems to give some answer, but I can’t seem to be able to put it into words yet. . .

Speaking of shrine festivals and the relationship between shrines and the world of the neighborhoods around them, I’m now reminded of a post I did a long time ago of a festival at Shimo-Goryo Shrine near where I used to live in Kyoto. The atmosphere there was very different from the atmosphere in the picture above. . .

In the near future, I’ll post a picture of the student art exhibition that was going on within the precincts of the Kamigamo Shrine during this visit. And the recent picture of children playing in the water was taken on the same visit.



(Perhaps my favorite photo this summer is of kids playing in the river within the precincts of Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto. If you look closely, the kid at the center of attention is really upset, poor thing. In the background are art school students guarding an installation that was set up in the middle of the river.)

I can hardly believe it’s been more than a month since I’ve had the peace of mind to sit down and write a post for this blog. I’m sorry!

There’s just been so much going on. Yes, I was in Kyoto for a total of maybe two weeks at the end of July and beginning of August, mostly to get away from the mega-metropolis, but there was also a competition in Noh performance in Nagoya (my group even won a prize!), the GRE (yes, plans are taking shape to leave this beautiful country, at least for a little while), and a week with my family in Germany before going to a conference on Japanese studies in Tallinn, Estonia, where I made my conference debut giving a paper on a panel about space in Noh.

All in all, it’s been very hectic, and now I’m finally back and have the largest project of all demanding all my attention: my master’s thesis. Hopefully, at the end of the day I’ll find the patience to be able to spend a little more time in front of a computer screen to tell you about my summer adventures. There’s so much to say! Despite all the work that had to get done, I must admit it was one of the best summers on record.

How was your summer? Do tell me, if you have a spare moment!

Weekend in Nara

(Onusa, used to purify people, places, and objects, at Miwa Shrine in Nara.)

I just got back from a short trip to Nara over the weekend. It was such a relief to leave Tokyo behind and enter the countryside and mountains, to see the ancient shrines at Miwa and Tansan (Tōnomine), both places intimately tied to the performing arts and to Nō.

At Tansan Shrine, I saw a performance of Okina performed using a mask that hadn’t been used in performance for hundreds of years. The mask is slightly different and larger than standard Okina masks and labelled Matarajin, a god that in his craziness and his connections to performing arts has been compared to Dionysus.

Although I didn’t get a picture of the mask, I’ll be putting up pictures of Nara (and the evening I spent in Kyoto) on Sleeping Mountains, Photos as I sift through the huge number I took.

Tsubaki Petals

I took these on a recent walk in my neighborhood as I was getting over my cold. I didn’t have the energy to go far from home, but ended up finding a lot of beautiful places and things close by. The almost neon green and deep pink colors at the side of the road caught my attention right away. . .

Any guesses what tsubaki flowers are called in English?