The year 2018 has come and gone, and it was a year full of new experiences for me. My first year of marriage, my first year of living abroad, and of course, with some wonderful snippets of honeymoon in Europe. So if I had to use one word to describe 2018, it would be change. Even my skin changed upon living in Japan, especially during my first few months, as I’d arrived in winter. It turned so dry and crusty and itched terribly. Turns out I had eczema, which I never had back in Singapore.
But I got to see and truly feel all four seasons, which was something I dreamt of my entire life. I will never forget the surreal scene of cherry blossoms as the winds made the petals dance across the air, and am definitely looking forward to the dreamy view again. And though the winter cold was a lot harsher than I’d imagined it to be, my first experience of snowfall was nothing short of wonderful. And thankfully, despite all the new adjustments I had to make, most of it was smooth-sailing thanks to my amazing partner.
This new year we were not able to head back to his hometown to spend it with his family, so we spent a quiet New Year by ourselves. Last year’s Hatsumōde (初詣 – the first shrine visit of the year for the Japanese) I got to witness a relatively intense crowd praying for New Year blessings as his family brought me to a pretty popular shrine in Kyoto, the Kitano-Tenmangū Shrine.
This year, we headed to a shrine near Shin-Maruko station, the Keihin Fushimi Inari Shrine. While the crowds were definitely lesser, it was still livelier than we thought it would be, and the shrine was unbelievably pretty, albeit rather small. While most shrines tend to be more muted except for their bright torii gates, this shrine reminds me of a chinese temple in its use of vivid colours everywhere.
It is a branch shrine of the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, and also features a mini-torii path leading to a pond enclosed by a rock sculpture with 108 fox figures of various sizes and colours reclining in different poses.
The number of the foxes symbolises the number of earthly desires of humans in Buddhism. 108 earthly desires?! Laziness, pride, vanity, negativity, obsession… and the list goes on. I am definitely very far from attaining any sort of enlightenment in Buddhism.
At another end of the shrine you can see an altar dedicated to the worshipping of Mount Fuji. This replica of Mt. Fuji is actually made from the lava of Mt. Fuji. What is lesser known about Mount Fuji, is that besides being the symbol of Japan and the object of inspiration for many artists and poets, is that it is a sacred site for Shinto practitioners. The goddess guarding the divine volcano is Asama no Okami. Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha, located in the foot of Mt. Fuji, is a shrine dedicated to appeasing the deity and was originally the traditional starting point for climbing Mt. Fuji.
Last year, due to the crowds, I didn’t get an omikuji (fortunes written on strips of paper), but this year, I managed to get one! It was only small blessing (小吉, shō- kichi) for me this year, but it’s fine, for my lucky hub got a great blessing (大吉, dai-kichi)! For those who are not familiar with omikuji blessings, dai-kichi is the highest blessings one can receive, and shō- kichi is kind of some where in the middle.
So how does one go about drawing an omikuji? Though nowadays in certain places they actually have vending machines for drawing omikuji, the traditional way is through shaking a wooden cylinder box. You will first have to make a small offering of usually around 100 yen, then shake the box they give you, and a mikubo (long thin stick bearing the number of the omikuji) will fall out, and the staff will then pass to you your omikuji.
Whenever I have to do something for the first time, my heart will start fluttering with anxiety as I try to comfort myself that I will be able to do it right and not make a fool out of myself, and yet I always fumble. I am a clumsy one. Does anyone ever feel this way, I wonder? And as I was a bumbling idiot as per usual, I shook the box vigorously the wrong way round till the temple staff gently pointed it out to me.
So what do you do with the omikuji after reading the predictions? If one’s fortunes are bad, one can fold up the omikuji and attach it to a pine tree (松, matsu) or a wall of metal wires alongside other omikuji in the shrine grounds. It is said that if you tie it to a pine tree, as the word 松 (matsu) is a pun for the word 待つ (matsu), which means “to wait”, the bad luck will wait by the tree instead of attaching itself to you. If you are blessed with good fortune however, you can choose to keep it for luck, or tie it to the trees or wires for better effect.
While it is customary to draw omikujii during hatsumode, omikuji can be drawn anytime you visit a shrine, so do give it a try if you are visiting a shrine in Japan!
Keihin Fushimi Inari Shrine
Getting there: 13 minutes on foot from Musashi-Kosugi station (JR and Tokyu-Toyoko lines), or 2-minute walk from Shin-Maruko station (Tokyu-Toyoko line).