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Pilgrimage to Asami Shrine!
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Recently we are witnessing a surging number of visitors to shrines and temples, and in their hands are goshuin-cho, booklets in which to collect seals from these religious places.
“Asami Shrine” is, of course, one such Shinto structure set in a primeval forest of Beppu city and is also worshipped among locals as a ‘power-spot’, a place believed to endow visitors with refreshing or healing spiritual energy. I couldn’t wait to drop by as soon as I heard about such an extra special folklore!
It’s a holiday today. Youngsters are playing a game of tag running up and down on a main road which leads to the very front gate of the shrine, whilst some mothers are throwing inflatable balls back and forth with their infants in a quiet corner. Observing the peaceful daily lives of the locals makes me aware of how the neighboring community is deeply melded with this particular shrine.
“I found it~!!” I step onto one of the strangely shaped cobblestones on my approach.
There are two—one in the shape of a gourde and one in the shape of sakazuki, a cup specially designed in ancient times for the sole purpose of drinking sake. The local folklore says you will get cured from hangovers much faster by stepping on this specially curved stone.
I walk closer to the shrine and notice two huge cedar trees side by side with just enough of a gap in-between for two people to go through. They are called monsugi, and the belief is that any couple who passes through the gap arm-in-arm will tie their love knot in the future. For today, I must go through it alone…
In Japanese traditional custom, we are supposed to cleanse ourselves to be presentable to the gods at temizusha, a place to rinse hands and mouth before entering sacred grounds of shrines. Here at Asami, we use legendary spring water of “Mantaro Kiyomizu” for this purification. The folklore says a boy called Mantaro, who was well known for his sincere devotion to his parents, took a cup of water from this very spring and cured the serious illness of his mother.
I climb the stone stairs while catching a glimpse of its worn-down edges and finally reach Asami Shrine. I then pay my respects to the god with the usual praying manner for Shintoism, ‘two bows, 2 claps, and one bow’. Looking back at the city from the high vantage point of the shrine, I see a beautiful cityscape with the iconic Beppu Tower and also the bay, glistening gold from reflecting the gentle afternoon sun. Far off in the horizon, Shikoku Island is also in sight.
Let us not forget, the reason why Asami Shrine is considered a ‘power-spot”. Right next to the main shrine, there is an enormous camphor tree, which I’m sure has been silently witnessing worshippers visiting it and, in fact, generations of human drama happening around the shrine.
I step on a flat footrest placed in front of it, which is only big enough for one person to stand on, and I spread my arms upwards in the shape of a‘Y’. Closing my eyes, I feel as if the long history and mysterious energy of this tree are transmitting straight down into my body. An owner at a café nearby told me that people experience a warm feeling on their left palms when doing this! He is right!! I thought.
At the shrine, we can also get the special seal, goshuin, and various kinds of fortune slips including English ones for foreign visitors! I look through their selections and eventually choose one for “love fortune”, which I will tie on a heart-shaped object for more success in love! As for goshuin, there are two different kinds, one for “Asami Shrine” and another for “Onsen Shrine”. …Shall I get them both? I ask myself and decide to get the pair eventually!
On the way back, I go through a café where we can have a cup of coffee brewed with the very water that cured the illness of Montaro’s mother. Passing by a well right next to a torii gate where this holy water is springing out, I see locals filling up large plastic bottles and carefully taking them back to their homes.
I turn around, bow deeply with respect towards the shrine and start making my way back with invigorated and joyous feelings filling up my spirit like never before!!
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