Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Togenuki Jizu

I am functionally illiterate. The only kanji I can recognize reliably are the numbers, and those are generally given in their Arabic form - so a rather useless piece of knowledge at the moment. Once we were out of the airport, roma-ji and English essentially vanished. It's frustrating, to say the least. I'm reduced to pointing at things on the menu and saying, that looks good.

My room is a traditional Japanese space. A futon on the floor, tatami mats, shoji screens. And slippers at the door. And slippers for the postage stamp sized bathroom. In many ways it is reminiscent of the rooms I've stayed in in various retreat houses. Small, simple, but offering a welcome. The thermos of hot water set on the low table, with a pot and cup to make tea, and a small snack (though since I'm functionally illiterate at the moment, I have absolutely no idea what is in the little orange and brown paper packet).

We went to Togenuki-Jizu last night, a temple in Tokyo that draws people seeking healing. The story goes that a maid, working on repairing children's clothes, accidentally swallowed the needle. They took her to the temple, where the priest wadded up a piece of paper with an image of Jizu on it for the maid to swallow. She swallowed, then vomited back up the paper, with the needle through the image. You still get slips of paper at the temple to swallow, as you might bathe in water from Lourdes. You can see our packet of them in the photo. Shades of St. Blaise.

The temple is in a neighborhood, with lots of little shops that appeal to women of certain age (it's sometimes called the grandmother zone). You cross into the percents, to find a Chouzuya, a place to wash. The stone basin here was sheltered under a small pagoda, with elegantly simple brass ladles. You scoop up some water with the ladle and wash your right hand, then your left, then pour a bit of water in your right hand, rinse your mouth and spit (discretely) onto the ground. The sheer abundance of the water is beautiful. It is reminiscent of the holy water fonts in Catholic churches (though most of those seem parsimonious compared to this flowing water, so rich visually and aurally), and of the places to wash your feet before entering a mosque.

There are several large urns in which to burn incense, you can buy a bundle and drop it in. People would walk up and waft the smoke over themselves, breathing it in, swirling it around their heads.

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