Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fieldwork, or Ow My Toes

So this morning I decided that I would spend the day finding shrines in the area.  Google turned out to be very helpful in this respect, because it shows shrines on the map whereas most paper city maps don't.  Unfortunately, using Google to get directions wasn't particularly helpful, because the Google map directions look like this:

南山大学名古屋キャンパス 名古屋交流会館
〒466-0805 愛知県名古屋市昭和区伊勝町2丁目99 まで歩く
約 14分 (1.2 km)

If you can't read Japanese, let me translate:

Start at Nanzan University
Walk to Ikatsu Shrine (about 14 minutes)
Destination Ikatsu Shrine


Of course, it's not entirely Google's fault, because in most of Japan, streets don't have names.*  In fact, the only streets in Nagoya that have names are the major roads, and they are named things like "153" and "220."  This would be why most directions in Japanese go something along the lines of, "Go straight and then turn right at the blue house and then turn left at the high school and it should be just past the weird-looking tree."  Also, addresses are given in the form of the city then the district then the neighborhood then block in the neighborhood and THEN the house number, because buildings are numbered in the order they were built, so #1 and #2 could be ten miles apart on the same road.

Oh, and if you think you can use street signs to navigate?

Awesome!  I'm on Child Welfare Center East!  Sure, that's a weird name, but whatever.  What's my cross street?

Oh.  Uh...wait, what?

I really haven't a clue what the street signs are supposed to accomplish, honestly.  Sometimes they tell you what neighborhood you're in, but that would be like if you were in San Francisco and the street signs said, "Sunset District."

Anyway, I wrote down directions as best as I could from the map I pulled up on Google, changed into business casual clothing (I figured it was better to be safe than sorry), and then packed my bag with all my handy-dandy research tools.

My camera bag (I couldn't take a picture of my camera, obviously), my passport (I have to carry it around with me until I get my ARC), my inhaler (you never know when you might need a punch a bear), a handkerchief, a notebook, and some writing utensils.

And then I went off.

The first shrine I stopped at was Ikatsu Hachimangu.  (It is also the only shrine that's name I'm sure I'm pronouncing correctly.)  It was about a fifteen minute walk from my dorm, and despite it supposedly opening at 9 a.m. and my getting there at 10:30 a.m., they were still setting up for the day.

Here's a dragon spigot that was at the hand-washing station.**

The shrine seems nice overall, but very small.  As far as I could tell, it has a staff of two (one man and one woman).  I would have gone up and talked to them, but they seemed very busy cleaning up something (perhaps because yesterday was the autumnal equinox?).

It turns out that the shrine will be having a festival on the sixteenth of October, so I'm going to try to visit again for that if not sooner.

 As I was leaving, the gentleman was dragging a tarp full of thousand-crane chains from the main shrine building into the shrine office (presumably for ritual burning).  As you can probably tell, some of the cranes escaped.

So then I started walking toward shrine #2.

On the way I passed this really nice lake/park.

And then I found the shrine.

As I was standing outside of the main gate trying to make sense of the kanji,*** an elderly Japanese woman called to me and asked me if the shrine had caught my eye.  I said yes, and then she asked where I was from. I said America and she reacted like I had said I was a superhero or something equally amazing.  And then I said I was studying shrines, and she was so thrilled.  She immediately began telling me all about the man who runs the shrine (apparently she knows him and she said I should talk to him because he would love to help me and knows lots about Old Things) and how young people these days don't appreciate shrines like they used to and how she and her neighbors gather at the shrine on major holidays and make delicious food and eat it together.  I could only catch about 60% of what she was saying, unfortunately, because she was talking really fast and had a really thick accent.  (I really need to learn older Japanese.  I have so much trouble talking to anyone over sixty, because the Japanese they use is so different than what I'm used to.)  But she was really friendly and I thanked her for the information and then she rode off on her bicycle.

And then I went into the shrine, which seemed to be set up in someone's backyard.  All the shrine gates were obviously hand-painted and probably built by hand as well, given that a few of them were a little bit crooked. Also, one of the shrines was:

...the entrance to a house.  (There's a normal room inside.  You can see the boxes through the window.)

Also, there was a motorcycle parked right in front of the shrine office.

Unfortuntely, the owner/priest/caretaker of the shrine didn't seem to be around, so I couldn't talk to him, but I will be going back, because that has to be one of the most unusual shrines I have ever seen.  Plus, I would generally like to talk to anyone who would want to set up a shrine in his/her backyard, and who also comes at the recommendation of friendly old ladies.

So then I walked around the block and found this shrine:

The shrine's name is 須佐之男神社, which I think might be "Susanoo Shrine" (yes, that Susanoo).

No one was at this one either, although it's also very small so it probably doesn't employ full-time staff.  There's a festival on the seventeenth of every month, though, according to a sign, so I can go back for that.

Random Japanese culture lesson of the day!  These two lion-dog-bear (nobody's really sure what to call them) statues appear at the entrances of shrines and temples.  The one on the right has its mouth open (and is making the sound "ah") and is male and the one on the left has its mouth closed (and is making the sound "n") and is female.  The male one represents beginnings, and the female one represents endings.  (The "ah" sound is the first letter in the Japanese alphabet, and the "n" sound is the last!)

Also, the female one is stepping on a small lion-dog-bear.  I'm not really sure why.

Aaaaaaaaaaand then I walked and walked and walked a bunch more, and stumbled upon a shrine that somehow wasn't on my map!  What luck!  The name of the shrine is 五社宮, which, I'm going to hazard a guess, is Gosha Shrine?

More dragon-spigots!  (You can actually see the ladle this time.)

Once again, nobody was there, although just as I was leaving, a little girl (probably about two-ish) and her dad went strolling through the shrine.  (Or, really, the dad was strolling, and the girl was chasing pigeons.)

Here's a place to hang up ema.  Normally they're hung on racks, but here they're hung on a string.

And then I proceeded to get massively lost and wind up at a grocery store instead of the shrine I was trying to reach.  I kept seeing signs for shrines, but they would point toward parking or wouldn't have any directional arrows.  So I gave up and walked toward the last cluster of shrines...and wound up getting lost there too, somehow, despite the fact that I knew EXACTLY where the shrine was supposed to be and I kept seeing posters for the shrine. eventually I gave up, because my feet were really hurting.  (Walking around for five hours in dress shoes isn't the greatest idea.  I don't think my toes will forgive me any time soon.  I'm really going to need a better solution if I'm going to keep walking around as much.)  So I stopped off at a grocery store and bought soap.

Because nothing says "beautiful" like the majestic cow.

*Kyoto is one of the few exceptions to this rule.  Kyoto was also built on a grid, which means that it's supremely easy to navigate.

**Before going into a shrine, you have to wash your hands to purify them.  This is a fairly simple process.  Pick up the ladle with your right hand and pour water over your left hand.  Then switch the ladle to your left hand and pour water over your right hand.  Then swish some of the water around your mouth and spit it out.  (Most people opt out of this part, 'cause shrine water can be pretty grungy.  Acceptable alternatives are wiping your still-wet right hand over your mouth or pantomiming taking a sip from the ladle.)  Tip the ladle so that the remaining water runs down the handle (note: this is really hard and most people don't do it because it's REALLY HARD and requires hand-eye coordination) and then put the ladle back where you found it.  Yay, you're done!

***The name of the shrine is 白髭稲荷大明社.  Shirohige Inari Taimeisha?  Basically, it's the White-Facial Hair (the word can mean beard or mustache or both) Inari Shrine.

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