So today was the 愛知県女子神職講演会 (Aichi Prefecture Female Priest Lecture), which meant that I woke up supremely early and took a subway to the train station, where I met Itou-san (Kawahara Shrine's guji) and we took the train together to Higashi Okazaki.
Itou-san, by the way, is still awesome. She regaled me with tales of her exploits around the world (seriously, she's traveled so much; I'm pretty jealous) and then tried to get me to teach her English. She said that sometimes foreigners come to the shrine and she wants to show them around, but doesn't know enough English to be able to pull it off. So I got to teach a little bit, which was cool.
The shrine (Rokusha Shrine) was only about a five minute walk from the train station. We arrived really, really early, because the train took 15 minutes less than the schedule said it would, so everyone was setting up chairs. I got to meet a whole bunch of really cool ladies who were really excited when they realized I could (mostly) understand what they were saying.
...it was kind of funny, because almost all of them told me about how they had grandchildren my age. Ouch.
Also, one of the women, upon discovering that I was studying at Nanzan, told me that she had graduated from Nanzan, which made her my senpai!
Also also, Nakano-san was there as well, so I got to say hi to her as well.
Before the lecture started, everyone went to pray to the kami of the shrine. When I went to wash my hands, however, I discovered that a newt had taken up residence in the water dipper. Itou-san rescued the newt and took it to the pond right next to the hand-washing station.
And then we faced THE STAIRS.
Rokusha Shrine has the most terrifying set of stairs I have ever seen in my entire life. They are so sheer that unless you're standing at the very edge of the top step, it looks like a sheer drop with no stairs at all. Also, the stairs are essentially giant stone cubes that were put in place at least four hundred years ago, so time has made them lopsided and scary as all heck. I clung to the handrail for dear life as women four times my age went up with no problem.
The shrine itself is absolutely gorgeous; it's a Japanese cultural treasure. I don't have any pictures, unfortunately, but the shrine does have a Wikipedia page (although don't trust the information on it, because I can tell you for a fact that Tokugawa Iemitsu was dead loooooong before 1934).
There was a short purification ceremony inside the shrine as well as an offering of a sakaki branch to the kami. I have never seen a priest so nervous as the one performing the ceremony today; not only was he performing in front of the kami, he also had twenty incredibly experienced priests watching him PLUS his boss (the guji of the shrine).
Then everyone headed back down the TERRIFYING STAIRS (they were even worse on the way down) and went into the shrine office to listen to the lecture. The lecturer (who was the only male there) was also a priest, and he was lecturing on concepts of death and the afterlife in Shinto. He went through concepts of death and the afterlife in a whole bunch of world religions and then in all the different branches of Shinto through all of history. It was pretty cool, even if it was really hard to understand, because he kept using really complicated words. (On the positive side, I now know how to say "cremation"?) I understood about 75% of what he was saying, but afterwards I felt like I had run a marathon. I keep forgetting how exhausting it is to mentally translate academic speech.
Overall, the important points can be summed up as "there are a whole lot of different views about death and the afterlife in Japanese culture and...we have no idea which one's right, so good luck."
Anyway, there was a lunch break in the middle, so I got a free lunch and impressed everyone again with how I could eat anko. Unfortunately, my lunch had Ninja Wasabi in it* and so I died a little, but not enough that anyone noticed. There was also a "tea time" break in the middle of the afternoon, where everyone had tea and cake and that really good mochi stuff that comes in cubes and is covered in ground up sesame and maccha? I don't remember the name of it. Anyway, during tea time a discussion about brain-death popped up, as well as one about whether animals have souls. (The lecturing priest said that he thinks cats and dogs and tanuki and foxes have souls, but not cows and chickens and pigs. And then he shrugged and said that maybe he was totally wrong.)
Also, I wasn't considered weird for not drinking alcohol (there was the usual post-purification ceremony sake), because a number of the women there don't drink (most for health reasons; I heard some incredibly terrifying stories), but I WAS considered weird for not drinking coffee. When I explained that I don't react well to caffeine, everyone seemed to consider that a reasonable excuse but also strangely hilarious.
ALSO, everyone kept giving me food; I took home a shopping bag full. Their reason for giving me so much food was "because you're a student," which I think is probably polite code for "the only reason a human being would be so skinny is if they have no money, you poor, starving student."
The event ended at about 4:30, and afterwards Itou-san and two of the other women and I went to a nearby temple, which is very famous because it has one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's (many many many many many) graves.** I had actually been to the temple before, when I visited Okazaki back in the summer of 2009, but it was cool to go back and actually know what I was looking at this time.
And then we took the train back to Nagoya.
And now I am really tired and should sleep.
Sorry for having lame posts the last two days, even though what I did was awesome. I'm just...too...tired.
On an ironic note, I am better at socializing with women who are three or four times older than me than with people my age. Yay?
*THERE'S YELLOW WASABI? I thought it was mustard or something, a mistake I will never make again.
**Tokugawa Ieyasu was an interesting guy. An interesting guy. He has a whole bunch of graves...all over the place. Because he was interesting.