There are 10,000 Torii Gates that take you to the top of a hill overlooking Kyoto, a city that once served as Japan’s capital. These gates serve as the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社). The vermillion color (red, originally created from mineral cinnabar) serves to block misfortune and calamity. The gates, donated by companies, organizations, and individuals as an expression of gratitude for prosperity, surround the path of several trails. There are lanterns that light the tunnels of color, creating a wondrous experience in the early evening.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is in honor of the Shinto god of rice. “Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants.” (Wikipedia) What are Kami? I found this site that gives the best definition. (I liked this site so much I “bookmarked” it on my search engine to use for future ‘exploration’.)
Along the paths, there are many statues of kitsunes (foxes). People of the Shinto faith may leave offerings of food or objects at these locations as they appeal to the spirits. A favorite food of the fox is said to be a fried tofu – aburaage. This article gives a background on the fox and its place in Japanese spirituality and culture. Understanding the background may make you more aware of the use of the fox in today’s Japanese influenced entertainment.
Walking through the beautiful vermillion gates would be very relaxing to me, but I can’t read Japanese. The names of the donating businesses and organizations are written on the gates and I have wondered: If I could read Japanese, would I be reading all those gates as I passed through? When I was in Chile, I found that my mind could relax because I couldn’t read the signs or understand the language. Not being able to understand them made me realize how hard my mind must work all the time to take in the written and audible communication around me. Would walking past these beautiful gates be like walking past billboards if I understood the language?
It is interesting that the god of rice is also the god of prosperity. Rice is important to Japan. It is an important food in the diet and has a long history of cultivation influencing the culture. Please see this important article that explains the deep effects of rice on the culture of past and present. Rice is such an important part of the culture that I will spend more time on this subject – tomorrow.
Japan, slightly smaller in size than California, is located in East Asia. Japan is an archipelago (chain of islands). Over half of the country is mountainous with a large abundance of forests. I gave you a clue regarding the country by telling you that this country has boundaries with six seas/ bodies of water. Can you find them? Four are located on this map. The Inland Sea is located between the major islands. The Korean Strait is located between Japan and Korea. Take a look at your world map to see Korea and Japan. They are not that far apart; are they?
When we visit Japan I believe our main impression will be the cleanliness of the country and the deep tradition of respect seen within the communities. The respect can be seen in how people interact with one another and with how they interact with the environment. I remember watching the country’s early reaction to a disaster and noted the consideration that people had for one another even in one of its more stressful times. I was impressed with the view of a shelf previously filled with water bottles, still holding several water bottles despite the thirst and needs of the people surrounding the area. In their culture, it is dishonorable to take the last of something when someone around may need it more.
I found a wonderful site that gives you an idea of the manners needed to visit Japan. Please take a look at this site. After reading this – How would you feel visiting Japan? Would your habits and manners be good enough for you to feel relaxed around people there or would you be nervous about “messing up” and offending someone? I think I would be worried about messing up but I bet the people there would be understanding of my good intentions.
Would you know when to take your shoes off and when you can leave them on while visiting in Japan? Here is an article that explains when you should remove your shoes. The socks I sent to you are called Tabi socks. Because they have a separation of the big toe from the rest of the toes, you can easily slip them in and out of thongs.
Some areas we visit are very populated and mass transportation is our form of travel. The trains are known for being on time and reliable but we would probably avoid using the trains during rush hour. I found it so amazing that there are people paid to “stuff the trains” – pushing everyone on and getting the doors closed. Watch this youtube showing the workers stuffing the train. Observe how the people are patient despite the discomfort of the closeness of the crowd.
Japan’s national flower is the cherry blossom. The trees bloom around April and people come from all over the world to see the beautiful display. The USA has a famous cherry blossom festival as well, in Washington DC. The beautiful displays of color are the result of an initial gift of three thousand trees by Japan in 1912. They represent the friendly relationship between the two countries. Like family members, our countries have had periods when this relationship was not as good but peace and time have given us the benefit of this bond.
We will explore fascinating sights, sounds, and tastes of Japan in the coming weeks. Enjoy learning about another wonderful country!