神社で春が始まる Spring Starts at the Shrine

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Spring Starts at the Shrine

   I carefully went up Pref. Road 258, along the ever-snaking Nakaoku River. I pretended not to think about the road wide enough for just one car, and kept a mental note of the conditions of the road and where I could back up. When the road widened and I was able to take the long-awaited deep breath, I had arrived at Junisha Shrine.
   Every spring (April), summer (June), and autumn (October), the people of Seto, Sogio, and Nakaoku hold a festival at Junisha Shrine. Large trees tower high over the main shrine. Smaller shrine and sub-shrines are all lined up to the right. I walked up from the water basin and followed my buddy as we paid our respects to each shrine. I could hear adults’ conversations, children’s laughter, and footsteps on gravel over the flowing Nakaoku River. I saw a lot of faces I am indebted to, and wanted to say hello to as many people as possible. Seeing the growers and the regulars of Yamaiki-ichi, my yoga teacher, and the old man with good stories in a different environment than usual, I felt like I was able to see another side of them.
   The holy sake and her d’oeuvres came out, and the conversations men and the conversations of women continued. Restless children ran around on the gravel, getting more and more excited. Mochi was passed out to people individually, and everyone gradually gathered in the sunshine in front of the main shrine. I decided to watch the proceeding events from the perimeter. Numerous small, white mochi flew up in the air, making a beautiful arc in front of the trees on the shrine grounds, and dropped down toward everyone. As if to say, “The long awaited mochimaki has begun!”, everyone cried out and rushed to gather the mochi that had fallen onto the gravel. Just when I thought that the mochi weren’t quite making it to where I was on the perimeter, one flew above everyone’s heads, and looked like it would fall near me. I took a step forward, squatted down, and caught it in my left hand. The festival finished before noon, the offerings were gathered, and the fire in the drum can gradually faded out. As I walked to my car from Junisha Shrine, I noticed for the first time that a set of stone steps leads from the shrine down to the Nakaoku River.
   That night, I dressed the warm, expanded mochi in soy sauce and I ate three of them. The insects outside started buzzing before 7 p.m. and seemed like they could continue until morning. I didn’t turn on the television, didn’t play any music, and just tried to lay my ears to the voices of the bugs. It was still warm, and I forgot to turn on the heater. This year’s long, cold winter reflected beautifully in my rear-view mirror.