2016 North American Post Japan Tour Report By Gary McLaughlin
For The North American Post
*This author joined the North American Post’s annual group tour to Japan. This is the last in a series of articles by tour members.
Whenever my wife and I travel, I always spend a post-travel period of time in reflection. It’s a kind of spiritual connection to the sites, senses and cultural experiences, noting the similarities as well as differences. The similarities provide a very easy connection to a newly experienced culture. This yields a sense of our shared humanity. Differences often bring a growth of new perspectives, curiosity as well as intrigue. An opportunity to see something with a new point of view.
Our trip included both experiences in large cities, including Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as cities and towns in the “Japan Alps,” Shirakawa-go and Takayama and Kanazawa. Our visit included experiencing the moon-viewing season ( the full moon of September). There were numerous displays with a shared theme, including images of the moon disc, a rabbit, as well as grasses with feathered plumes, blown over, swaying with a breeze. This was visible in textiles, art work, as well as posters and ikebana throughout both cities and villages, whereever we traveled.
While meandering in Kyoto, we came across a shrine (Seimei Shrine) that was very busy. This was intriguing. What made this shrine so popular? It was surprising to see people, most of them young adults, lined up very patiently to make an offering, ring the bell, and then pray. Several of them would then walk to a nearby tree, touch the tree and pray once again. The tree was wrapped with a rice-straw rope, decorated with folded white paper “Gohei”, which indicated the tree possessed a kami (spirit). I was intrigued. Upon return to our hotel, I discovered that the tree had a name, Kuso-no-ki. This shrine is included as a subject with a currently popular manga in Japan, hence the popularity trend.
We also took a visit to see the shrine of Fushimi Inari Taisha, on Mt. Inari, bordering the city of Kyoto. Overwhelming scenery abounded on the pathway through portals of over one thousand vermillion painted torii (gates) amidst a beautiful mystical forest. On the climb up the mountain paths, we met an elderly gentleman, who suggested we take a side path. The kindly man said he routinely walked that trail through the torii everyday.
His cordiality touched us. We took his advice. The path was frequented with numerous shrines that included images of foxes. These shrines were filled with large numbers of miniature torii, as offerings. The fox (kitsune) is a spiritual entity, a messenger of the spirits within the forest.
The forest glistened with the heavy rainfall of the typhoon season. We spent a half-day savoring the beauty of the forest as well as the many shrines. Our umbrellas were well-used and we had no regrets, for this lovely experience shared with the forest spirits superseded our tiny discomforts with a fine reward as one of the highlights of our visit to Japan.