We got to sleep in today!!! Whoooo! Well, we were only able
to sleep until around seven o’clock this morning, but it was something. At this
point, every second of sleep counts. #allsleepmatters
breakfast, we were separated by roundtables (RT) before boarding buses. It was
a twenty minute drive to Izumo Taisha, one of the most influential and
prominent Shinto shrines in Japan. On the way the religion RT, fondly called
“Rem Rem,” gave a presentation on Shinto religious characteristics and told us how
the world was created according to Shinto philosophy. The story is quite
interesting, so I’ll share it here on the blog. Before the world existed there
were two gods named Izanami, a female deity, and Izanagi, her male counterpart.
When these gods used a tool to stir the ocean, several drops of water dripped
off their utensil and formed several of the island of Japan. Although Izanami
and Izanagi saw that the newly created landmass was good, they were still not
content, so they took to their marriage bed. Izanami later gave birth to the
rest of the islands one by one. This story is just one of the grand bits of
Japanese mythology that we learned about today. We also heard the story about
how the gates of hell were sealed with a stone and about how the one of the
gods added land to Japan by stealing it from the Korean Peninsula. Shimane
prefecture is bursting with ancient stories passed down from generation to
generation. There is a deep relationship between religion, history, and life
here, resulting in a sense of mystery and intrigue. I, personally, (and I’m
sure many others share this feeling) believe that this connection with the
local culture and its past is very important and inspiring. We were lucky to be
able to learn about this all in person.
In addition to being a
famous shrine, Izumo Taisha has a long history and many interesting features.
It’s official name is Izumo Oyashiro, and it houses Okuninishi-no-kami, the god
of relationship building and interpersonal relationships between humans. Because
of this god’s area of expertise, girls often come to this shrine to pray for
marriage or their relationship status. This is prefect for all the
Since JASC is one of the best programs in the world (…maybe I’m biased…),we
were given special access to parts of the shrine that few people aside from the
monks ever see. We were privileged enough to be invited to observe a worship
ceremony. The entire event, though nearly thirty minutes long, included only
one priest, a priestess, and two drummers, all in long traditional robes. After
a few moments of Taiko style drumming, the priest chanted a gorgeous melody
from a scroll and systematically waved a specially designed flag towards the
alter. Then a brightly dressed priestess walked in a tight circle multiple time
while holding a rattle composed of a cone shape with bells hanging off of it
and a handle draped with long, sweeping ribbons in bold colors. At certain
points in her circle, the woman would twist her wrist, sending the shrill sound
of bells throughout the large worship hall. After walking in many circles, she
shook the rattle in our direction, which I assume was either a purification
ritual or a way of blessing us.
After attending the ceremonial event, we were invited behind another special
gate. Before we could enter, our leaders had to offer a tribute to
Okuninishi-no-kami. This is a very special process that deviates from the norm.
Our leaders wore white robes and held a small branch in their hands. We all
bowed twice, clapped our hands four times, prayed, and then bowed once more.
This process is unusual because the normal process to pray at a Shinto shrine
in Japan involves one bow, two claps, and then another single bow. We also
received a bit of sake to drink once we entered through the gate. A monk later
gave us an informational tour regarding some of the unique characteristics of
Izumo Taisha. This included explaining how the roof is made with bark and an
overview on the complexities of the shrine’s architectural designs. Once the
tour ended, we all headed to a restaurant to eat Shimane’s special soba!! It
was so good. It was also wonderfully cool on such a hot day. Many of us treated
ourselves to some refreshing ice cream in an attempt to find further relief
from the heat.
We then returned to our lodgings and began the American culture presentation.
This was done by a few people who had volunteered long before JASC officially
started. The presenters talked to us about certain aspects of racism and then
organized us all into smaller groups and mediated discussions. Because JASC has
a large amount of diversity amongst its delegates, it was interesting and
sometimes saddening to hear people’s experiences with prejudice and
discrimination. We were also prompted to talk about other race/sexuality
related issues such as America’s Affirmative Action legislation and the line
between harmless jokes and micro-aggression. While it was all engaging, the
portion I found especially interesting was the conversation about the relationship
between one’s personal identity and social labeling. I learned more about the
labeling that takes place everywhere, even in the U.S. census, and the sheer
amount of labels that Japan and the America have, whether they are meant in an
innocent or derogatory manner. Though it was a sensitive issue, all of the
delegates worked hard to create a non-judgmental and caring atmosphere, which
enabled depth in the conversation because no one felt it was necessary to
withhold their opinions.
Once the culture segment ended, the delegates formed their separate RTs and
began topic specific discussions like normal. RT time sped by, and soon it was
time for dinner. While we typically savor each bite of our meals (food is
wonderful), tonight we rushed each bite. The difference between tonight and
every other night was the impending talent show!!! We raced through dinner in
record time in order to find a spare moment to perfect our skills. It was well
worth it too. Everyone spent the evening in awe. Delegates and RTs preformed
standup comedy and dance routines. Groups also sang and played incredible
musical numbers. Each segment was so creative and skillful, and now the extent
of JASC talent has been revealed.
From learning about Japanese mythology, attending a Shinto worship ceremony,
engaging in deep discussions, and participating in the talent show (not to
mention everything else in between), it was a long and exhausting day. Every
day in JASC is a new adventure. Tomorrow will be no exception. So with that in
mind, I’m heading to bed. Over and out!