上社での新年 New Year at Kamisha

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New Year at Kajisha

Before I started helping at Niu Kawakami Shrine Kamisha, I was dressed into white clothing by the reverend. Wrapped in layers of white cloth, my actions felt different than usual. The world became a shade quieter. However, I did not have time to think about that, quickly got to helping out the reverend.

As I was not used to the tabi socks or zouri sandals, I did my best keeping up with the reverend while we walked across gravel or climbed up and down the steps. In the morning, I cleaned the main hall of the shrine with the reverend’s grandchildren. In the afternoon, I helped set up the tent and prepared the stove heaters in the rest area. After sweeping the gravel from the paths with a bamboo broom, I went home just before evening and napped for a few hours.

I went back to the shrine the night of December 31st and changed into the white clothing. It was even colder than before, so I gathered around the tondoyaki fire with other villagers. “It’s burning good, burning good!” one person said. After midnight everyone entered the main hall to be purified by the reverend. The steps leading up to the third floor of the main hall glistened in gold. The dragon god Takaokami-no-okami and the colorful offerings welcomed everyone into the New Year. Finally, I poured the sacred saké for our worshippers. After that, the worshippers warmed themselves in the tent while drinking saké and munching on snacks.

After taking a deep nap for a few hours and seeing a vibrant dream, I woke up just before 6 a,m, on the first day of the year. The reverend was still sitting at the office window, waiting for worshippers. We were blessed with clear weather, and the first sunrise of the year slowly climbed up from behind the upstream mountains. After eating toshikoshi soba with the reverend and his wife, I waited for worshippers at the office window. Some locals I knew came, but there were many people who came all the way from Osaka or Hyogo Pref. for prayers, shuin stamps, amulets, fortunes, and amazaké on their first shrine visits of the year. These few days are the busiest of the year for the shrine. While the sleep-deprived reverend and his wife were busy running around, they greeted every worshipper with a bright smile and took the time to lend an ear.

My last day helping at the shrine was a little colder. That morning the reverend performed a ceremony twice at the small Sui Shrine next to the main hall. In the afternoon, the seven young villagers of the Coming-of-Age Ceremony paid a visit to the shrine. While they were all taking a photo in front of the main hall, a light snow started falling. As the sun approached the edge of the mountain, I swept the gravel from the path with the bamboo broom. Before I went home, I slipped a 100 yen coin into the red vending machine and received a fortune.