Monday, 5 March 2012

Shinto Purification

It is the home stretch now for the tour preparation. (Almost there.... just some glass in the window frames. ) Nat appeared out of nowhere and caught up in her whirlwind of enthusiasm we both jumped in head first to the Japanese Textile Tour World.... It is now hard to remember life without it.

At first we figured to have the tour members stay at a nearby log cabin resort. Imported log cabins from Canada...kind of like me. Considering the picking up and dropping off and the very non-Japaneseness of the cabins the decision was made to host the guests at the house.

There has been a constant flow of people coming to the house since I first moved in 18 years ago. Some slept in the hay in the old barn. Others have found their own little nooks and crannies to nest in. There was a good pile of futons on the second floor and the policy was to set up camp wherever you took a liking to. Fun for certain.... but not practical this time. It was time for an upgrade to the house. The house is big. In the "Impossible to Renovate Category."

It started with book cases and organizing all the silk equipment two years ago. Somehow the entire house was suddenly engulfed and under construction both inside and out. Then Nat showed up and the two year plan was condensed to 8 months.


First, my beloved outhouse toilet had to be seriously upgraded. Now I have flush toilets! Just amazing...Civilization has arrived.

I won't bore you all with house construction stories. Those of you have been there and done that know what it is like.

Last weekend Sugimoto san and his wife dropped by to wish me luck. (He was actually born in the house.)
He wasn't feeling well and his son had been off work with the flu. I was complaining of back pains.... He figured that the root of all these health issues was that the house was put under major construction without offering anything to the house gods. The Shinto priest was to come on Saturday but for some reason he couldn't make it. Sugimoto came by in good spirits with his wife and would play the priest-role himself with a bottle of rice wine, a dish of salt, and a handful of Shrine-issued paper votives for appeasing the house gods for making a nuisance with house renovations.

The local dialect in this village is hard to follow. And try following the logic of these animist beliefs without offending the villager's good intentions.

Have you got an alter to put this stuff on?
Well but will this old box do?
Need a cup to put the rice wine in.
This sake cup do?
No. It is for the God you need something bigger.
How about this rice bowl?
Anything bigger? You have to dip the branch in it.
Branch? The house is a mess shouldn't we vacuum first?
(Blank look of disbelief...)
Did you bring a fish or something for the ceremony? Snoopy might take it if we leave it on the alter and turn our backs.
No fish this time. Do you have some sacred sakaki leaves?
No..but I can get some from the tree next to the graveyard I'll be back in five minutes.
Don't bother. Anything green will do.
How about a cedar branch.
What? (Disbelief) Anything else around?
How about that coffee tree branch?
It will have to do.

Sugimoto and I walk around the outside of the house clockwise. He sprinkles salt and chants while I dip the fake sacred branch in sake and sprinkle it behind him.
He chants.
"House God, good health to us all. House God please let there be no accidents until the construction is finished. Snoopy did a big job there you better clean it up. House God please make the house strong and last forever. The stones on the septic tank were a nice finishing touch. House god, I hope Bryan knows what he is doing and doesn't go bankrupt with house repairs. House God, How about an early spring?"

Some profound religious feeling missing here. I suspect the House God would be offended rather than pleased.

Back at the start of the circle it was time to tape up the votives. North, South, East and West facing walls. Above the entrance and on the central pillar of the house, then the big wood votive in the kitchen God shelf-shrine.

What is the tradition with the tape?
Hmmm... why ask such troublesome questions? No rolling the tape on the back. Make sure it doesn't fall down until next February or you will be in trouble.

What do I do with the leftover rice wine? Is OK to drink it? What about the leftover salt? Can I use it to cook with?
No answers to these questions. I realized that Japan didn't have hundreds of years of Christian debate setting down the do's and don'ts. No Thomas Aquinas etc. Just a kind of free for all. The rules instinctual.

Later that evening on the news the president of TEPCO ( Nuclear meltdowned plant operator.) says that the company isn't responsible for the radiation. They just make electricity and the by-products are not his problem.....