Sunday, July 16, 2006

Of Shrines and Aikido

My recent trip to Japan allowed me to visit the Aiki Shrine in Iwama and to go to all three of the Kumano grand shrines in the Shingu area. The Aiki shrine is, of course, a major center for Aikido. Many people have much less exposure to the other three, so I'm going to make an attempt to fill people in.

Back when Osensei was born in Tanabe city, Wakayama Prefecture, if a husband and wife had no male heir, their estate was taken by the government upon their passing. At a time when his mother was suspected of being past her child bearing years, she and Osensei's father made a pilgrimage to the Hongu Grand Shrine to pray for a son. After this was done, Osensei was born some miraculously quick time thereafter. He grew up hearing constantly that his birth was a miracle and that he was a child of the kami. He was even told that he was an incarnation of Susano the Storm God, who is one of the kami enshrined in the Hongu Grand Shrine. So he grew up in a region very steeped in Shinto mysticism and probably felt that he was a deep part of all that.

The Nachi Grand Shrine is built around the Nachi waterfall, which is the highest in all of Japan. On one pilgrimage, Osensei is reported to have seen a mythical golden dragon(ogun no ryu) in the falls. One of the first photos I remember seeing while in the Shingu area was of Hikitsuchi sensei doing an Aikido demonstration with live blades showing the great falls in the background.

The Hayatama Grand Shrine is located just around the corner from the Shingu dojo. Since it is so close(you must make an effort to get to the other two, especially the mountainous Hongu Grand Shrine) it is very easy to dismiss. When I was learning the Kami Goto in 1977, I would go there and practice the chant. In 1991 I took a group of students to the Shingu area. On the morning we were scheduled to leave, we had arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us to the train station to catch the train to Tokyo. At the appointed time, the taxi failed to show in front of the dojo. Every body from the dojo had left to do a demonstration in Gamagori, so there was no one to contact to get another cab. I speak some Japanese, but I don't have the reading skills to look up a taxi in the phone book. So I ran out of the dojo knowing that I had to make something happen. Instinctively, I headed for the Hayatama Shrine. Something said to head for the kami.
I arrived there in about a minute and saw a solitairy young priest raking some leaves. I rushed up to him quickly explained the situation to him in Japanese. He said he would try to call a cab. I ran back to the dojo, only to see this same priest pull up in a large (for Japan) car. Somehow we squeezed all the luggage into the trunk and everyone into the car. And, defying all laws of time, space, and traffic(which did seem possible in Shingu, especially on getaway trips to the train station) we made our train. When I called Hikitsuchi sensei later while back in America, he explained that the young priest was the gongugi. Gugi is the title for head priest, so this was the son the the head priest, literally the head priest to be in training. I bought and mailed a picture book of Yosemite to Hikitsuchi sensei, who passed it on to the young priest.

Hopefully, this will give you a feel for these other shrines so important to Aikido.


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