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Heavenly Fields Forever

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 30/03/2008)

Japanese mid-terms week is over!  There have been lots of great cooking adventures this week as well.  Yesterday I went to Tenri with Aurora and her Religion in Japan class to visit the main shrine of the Tenrikyo religion.  It was a beautiful day with some scattered clouds and a gentle breeze.  We had to transfer to the Kintetsu line at Tambabashi station.  I love Tambabashi station for two reasons – 1) one of the best bakeries ever is in the Kintetsu part of Tambabashi station and 2) the Kintetsu Line is so cool!  One of the trains going by had alternating pink and green cars, the pink cars decorated with pictures of Kyoto and the green cars decorated with pictures of Nara.

And I just had to share this picture of a crazy bush in a school near the station.

We boarded a significantly less decorated train and headed to Tenri.  The further you get from Kyoto the more beautiful the scenery becomes.  We sat eating our breads together and watching the scenery go by.  When you’re talking with someone on a train it’s really cool to watch the scenery go by as reflected in that person’s eyes.  We arrived in Tenri and I was impressed with how spacious the town square is.  We walked along through a covered shopping arcade (a street lined by shops and protected by a roof covering the corridor) until we got to the Tenrikyo compound.

There were all sorts of little booths set up on the road out in front of the Tenrikyo compound selling various things.

I really love the huge wooden buildings that scattered the compound.  I wasn’t allowed to take pictures once I took my shoes off and entered the building.  The main hall is composed of four wings which surround a central column.  This central column is considered holy ground because it is supposed to be the place where humanity was created (or something like that).  Consequently, it is sacrilegious to place a roof over it so it is left open to the elements.  The halls are covered with soft tatami and there were small groups of people and individuals scattered around the halls, praying and chanting.  There are three chants that followers perform and they have to repeat each one a certain number of times.  The chanting is really beautiful and even though everyone is singing at different times and speeds and in different parts of the progression it all blended together beautifully.  The hand gestures that accompany the chanting were fascinating in their fluidic simplicity.

We sat and listened to our tour guide for awhile as he explained various aspects of the religion.  At first I thought that Tenrikyo was kind of like the Mormonism of Shinto.  They had to become a sect of Shinto in order to be recognized as a real religion.  The religion was started by a Japanese woman around a hundred and eighty years ago and she was regarded as an ideal housewife and mother.  Her child was very ill and this woman developed healing powers to help the child.  Eventually she gave all of her possessions away to the untouchable class and burned her house down.  Where her house used to stand is the holy ground that is now surrounded by the main headquarters.  I really liked how laid-back the religion seemed to be.  They don’t seem to be pressuring anyone to join.  The tour guide said that he questioned the religion for awhile while he was growing up.  He said that some of the things they are doing are kind of weird but that he realizes that and likes it anyway.  Being part of Tenrikyo has helped him to build a sense of identity and belonging somewhere.  As a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian who grew up in Hawaii, he never felt Japanese or American but he realized that he did feel Tenrikyo.  I thought that was kind of cool.

We continued the tour across the compound and I stumbled along trying to rub feeling back into my legs after sitting in seiza (legs folded underneath) for so long on the tatami.  Many followers were crawling along the long wooden hallways on hands and knees while washing the floors and singing softly to themselves.  Volunteering is an important doctrine of Tenrikyo and people are encouraged to come and work at the headquarters whenever they feel like it (there is a box of rags near the entrance that believers can use to clean).  Everybody seemed pretty happy and there were a lot of little kids running around having a good time.  It really did feel like a spiritual place and I admired the apparent faith and freedom everyone seemed to share together.

Tenrikyo is a worldwide religion, although mainly focused in Japan.  A majority of the people in the city of Tenri are probably Tenrikyo.  There are several large Tenrikyo dormitories nearby and even a Tenrikyo hospital.

After the tour, Aurora and I poked around on our own in some of the shops for awhile, trying on hats and looking at socks and Engrish t-shirts.

These socks did not smell like vanilla…

Sake (liquor) and tobacco are not generally regarded as good for the heart…

There were several stores selling traditional Japanese musical instruments like kotos, shamisen, and giant ornate gongs.  I was surprised that there were several stores focusing on kelp (we weren’t really near the ocean, well, at least not any nearer than the rest of Japan) and several other stores focusing on selling aloe vera.  We checked out the city park next to the station where the sakura (cherry blossoms) were in full bloom.  There was a big blue slide that looked like a robot with kids sliding down out of the mouth.  There was also an old steam locomotive on display.

We rode the train back to Tambabashi and had dinner at a little “Italian” café.  We were the only patrons at first and the little old Japanese woman who ran the place was really nice.  I got pepperoncino spaghetti (which was really good!) and Aurora got the tuna-cream omuraisu (rice inside a layer of egg covered in sauce).

We came back to the dorms and Aurora went back out to Osaka to meet some other friends while I stayed to watch Cowboy Bebop with some of my friends in the dorm.  I’ve heard nothing but praise for this anime and I was happy to find that it really is good.  It kind of reminded me of Firefly, one of my favorite TV shows.

Here are some alley pictures from Tenri:

Alleys and signs – that’s what I’m all about.  Here’s a picture I took a few days ago on a return trip I took to Kisaichi.

Okay, I admit it, the clouds are fake.  Nothing other than the sky has been changed.

Lots more plans for the coming week – it’s sakura time which means hanami (flower-viewing parties)!

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