Every where you look in Japan there is a shrine. Sometimes one in front of another. It’s unavoidable and sometimes once you have seen one you have seen them all. The shrines here are either Shinto or Buddhist so they are are very similar looking. Some are small and are on the corner of business or on the side of houses.
Some are big with torii gates to let you know that it is a shrine.
But I recently went on a hike with a friend and I think I had my best shrine experience yet. It made me feel like I was really in Japan….and I know that sounds strange but when you live somewhere long enough to tend to just get used to things and see them as normal. I see these toriis all the time so I start to forget them, but this was a really nice experience.
So to get to this hiking trail and shrine you have to walk up a mountain. So when you get near the top you walk up and see two cemeteries and then you keep walking and you see these steps. They looked quite magical just sitting there. The steps look like they are out of a Studio Ghibli movie. Every step I took the more I thought Totoro would come around the corner and greet me. I almost wished he did because man, the incline on mountains is no joke. He could have at least carried me to the top or something. I am going to have the best calves when I return to America. So you have to take these steps for a little ways more up the mountain, and they are kind of tricky to walk on because the distance between them change. So they are short and then they are far apart. I don’t really know how anyone walked on these when they made them especially in Yukatas and Kimonos. Ancient steps are strange here.
But after a good bit of walking you get to a small area that looked like this! And the closer we went up these steps the more I heard the sound of water…and strangely music.
The music happened to be coming from this older man at the top of this structure. It was one of the most peaceful and the most cultural experience I have had at a shrine. Because when you usually go to a shrine its quite and you see people who come to pray and they do their whole praying routine. Bow, clap clap, bow,clap, pray bow leave. Its pretty much quick and people get in and get out. This time there was a man playing was very traditional Japanese music played on a flute like instrument. And with the waterfall in the background it was so relaxing like one of those sleeping tapes. We went up the stairs to inspect the top of this area and ended up speaking to him after he finished playing one of his songs. He seemed so happy and surprised to see us. That was probably because we are both foreigners (me from the US and my friend is from Australia) and most of the people who climbed this mountain were locals. It’s pretty hidden. We learned that he come up here often to play for the gods. He said its very relaxing for him and he enjoys the view. We also learned that he has been playing for over 50 years! Honestly I was more impressed by his commitment to climb up this mountain everyday and play than anything. He really made this shrine experience wonderful and also made me wonder in the old days how many musicians would just come up the mountain and play for the gods.