Tales from the shrines of Japan

During my part time with WakJapan, I got a chance to interact with a few high school students in Kyoto. These kids were as excited as me, to learn about different cultures. They had so many questions about India, the Indian culture, the Indian “Curry”, the festivals, the Gods we worship and the list goes on. While I spoke about the diverse culture, the region, the food we have in India, these kids taught me so many interesting stories, I never knew of.

Here are a few of the interesting ones, which can be found in the shrines/temples in Japan.

  1. Kyoto Fortune Telling Stone (Omokaru-ishi)

In Fushimi Inari Shrine, at one corner you would see these two lanterns. Legend says that these can be used to predict if your wish will come true or not. So, first we make a wish, and then try to guess the weight of the rock (placed on top of the Lantern), and then lift it. If the weight of the rock was lighter than you had expected, your wish will come true. However, if it weighs more that what you had expected, you might have to push yourself harder to make the wish come true.

2. The Fortune Telling Papers (Omikuji)

If you have ever visited the Shinto shrines in Japan, you would have noticed folded papers tied at some corners in the shrine. These papers have prediction written on them, which indicates how your luck will be in terms of work, school, marriage and so on. If the prediction is good, keep the paper, but sadly if you are not satisfied with it, tie it in the dedicated place in the shrine, so that God can take care of it, and the bad luck does not follow you.

3. Tori Gates in Fushimi Inari Shrine

Tori gates are seen as entrance to a Shinto Shrine. But isn’t one enough? Why are there so many Tori gates in Fushimi Inari?

Well each of these Tori gates have been donated by individuals or companies wishing for good luck. The name of the donor is written on each of these gates and the size of these gates depict the amount of their donation. If only I could read the names, it would have been more fun, but nevertheless, these kids did show me the tori gates donated by a few renowned Japanese companies.

4. Sake Barrels at Shrines (Kazaridaru)

Many Shinto shrines have huge displays of sake barrels. But these are just decoration barrels. They are not actually filled with rice wine. These barrels are called Kazaridau, which means “decoration barrels”.

Sake is used to bring God and people together. In olden times, when people visited shrines during festivals, they would receive rice wine to drink, which made them feel closer to God. Given that there are many brewers in Japan, Shrines would often get Sake barrels as donations, which in turn is given back to people during festivals.

5. Amazake

We ended the trip by treating ourselves with the traditional sweet low alcohol Japanese drink, made from fermented rice — Amazake.

As we exchanged stories from our countries, the shop owner also had an interesting time having us. While we were leaving, the owner stopped us and gifted us and origami frog. She told — “ Always keep this with you, it will bring you good luck. If you keep it in your purse, it will bring back every penny you spent.” Frog is “kaeru” in Japanese. “kaeru” also means “go home or come back”! Japanese people love good luck charm with word puns!

Another interesting finding- Japanese origami, an art often associated with Japan. Did you know, the word “Origami” is originated from the Japanese word, oru, -ori meaning ‘fold’ and kami meaning ‘paper’. No wonder Japan has so many shape variations. The traditional origami crane is the most popular example of origami. There is another interesting story related to the the crane origami, which I’ll share in my next story :)



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