October 28, 2016
I have always felt deeply blessed. I have a fun and healthy family. I love what I do. Our family is fortunate to be born at the most peaceful and comfortable time in history in the most successful country in the world.
But we are now just a tad more blessed.
Our extra blessing came from a Shinto temple. Shinto is the indigenous faith of Japan. It believes that people are fundamentally good, but that we struggle with evil spirits. Blessings are efforts to encourage benign spirits and discourage evil ones.
As I mentioned yesterday, having Altus as a tourguide and translator has enabled us to experience some things that would not be possible to a standard tourist. Yesterday, I described the roadside stations. Today, I will take you to a Shinto shrine. Altus’ wife grew up Shinto and the faith continues to be part of their family. When they still lived in Japan, they would make an annual visit to the Samakawa Jinja Shrine to receive a blessing.
He invited us to join him at the shrine on Thursday. Apparently, you do not have to be Shinto or even believe in Shintoism to receive a blessing. $30 and the ability to communicate with the priest is all that is required.
We arrived to find multiple parents bringing their children to receive special blessings that are the equivalent to a baptism. Children can receive this special blessing as infants, 3 year-olds or 5 year-olds. They wore tiny, traditional Japanese outfits. It was adorable.
The overall impression of the shrine was threefold. First, it was serenely peaceful and beautiful. Second, seeing the children create a sense of fun and joy. Finally, it is simply overwhelmingly Japanese, from the excruciating attention to detail to the flying of the Japanese flag.
During the blessing ceremony, they read the names and hometowns of everyone there to be blessed. Everyone sits in seats wearing white robes over their clothing during the ceremony. Sadly, I could not take any pictures, but is was really interesting, involving a drum, bells, and something that looked like a large feather duster. It was odd to hear my name spoken during 5 minutes of solid Japanese.
At the end of the ceremony, you receive a piece of wood with your name and information. Along with this item, they give you sacred salt, sake, hashi (chopsticks), dirt and sugar.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
After walking the grounds for a while, Altus took me to the pre-blessing, sign-in area where I gave my hometown, family name and first name. I then expected them to ask for Susie’s name and our kids’.
“They only need the head of the household.”
This, my friends, was an awkward moment. I was excited to have a souvenir with everyone’s name on it, not just mine. Even more important, I deeply see Susie and me as a partnership. If there is a head of our family household, I would say that she is it.
But suddenly a priest speaking Japanese made it clear that I was the head of the household and her name was not relevant.
I got a nasty look at that one.
Have you ever had a loved one have a bad dream in which they imagined you doing something mean or inconsiderate? When that person wakes, he or she is still irritated at whatever you did in the dream. Of course, you have done nothing at all. If anyone should be a little irked, it should be you because the other person imagined something less-than-complimentary about you. But the anger is there for a few moments.
That is exactly what I felt like when this random priest suggested that I mattered more than Susie. That led to the look that seemed to suggest that I was somehow complicit in this patriarchal misstep. Of course, she quickly reset herself, choosing to see this as tradition and forgiving my inadvertent participation in it.
After the ceremony, we helped families take pictures with their children, bought a few trinkets for luck and walked to our car.
While we are certainly not believers, we left feeling more peaceful and calm. The serenity of the setting and the celebratory feel of the proud parents made those 2 hours seem different and better than most.
That seems like a blessing to me.