Believe E.S.P.

13 04 2009

Statue, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

On Saturday after a night misspent at an all you can drink/eat ramen restaurant, I got up extra early, took the train to Kyoto Station, and accompanied a portion of my Japanese religion class to Ishikiri, the fortune telling capital of Japan. Ishikiri is an excellent example of the fluid nature of religion in Japan. A famous study conducted in Japan found that more people claimed that they were followers of a religion, such as Shintoism or Buddhism, than there were people in the country by almost a factor of two. Religion in Japan is simply not a fixed entity as it is in the West; it’s entirely normal, for example, to have a Shinto birth ceremony, a Western, Christian wedding, and a Buddhist death ceremony. Also prevalent are folk religions, communal belief systems based on local values and superstitions. Fortune telling in Ishikiri is similar to it’s mysticism derived relatives in other parts of the world, but it is perhaps lent an air of authenticity by it’s propinquity to the common tradition at temples and shrines of the omikuji, a sort of fortune that comes on a piece of paper and has a wide variety of outcomes, from very good to very bad luck.

Fortune Teller, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

Much like Japanese religious life, fortune telling can be a hodgepodge of various traditions, such as the above store, which is based equally in native Japanese nature worship, Buddhism, mysticism, and even Jewish Kabbalah. The character 占 is the character for fortune telling. There was a panoply of methods available in Ishikiri, from the obvious, such as readings by palm and crystal ball, to the more esoteric, such as tongue reading to determine your health (complete with a chart of forty different tongues to compare).

The seers of Ishikiri also do not express the slightest reservation about the commercial aspect of their services, as evinced by this chart relating price to the accuracy of their predictions. They range from 3,000 yen for a sure thing to 1,000 yen for a decent guess. Other services, such a Feng Shui techniques to adjust the directions of your home (I didn't entirely understand this) and lucky names for your future children can run into the tens of thousands of yen, or hundreds of dollars.

The seers of Ishikiri also do not express the slightest reservation about the commercial aspect of their services, as evinced by this chart relating price to the accuracy of their predictions. They range from 3,000 yen for a sure thing to 1,000 yen for a decent guess. Other services, such a Feng Shui techniques to adjust the directions of your home (I didn't entirely understand this) and lucky names for your future children can run into the tens of thousands of yen, or hundreds of dollars.

A similarly synthetic religious tradition can be found at Ishikiri Shrine, the major tourist attraction in the area. As our professor explained, the original Ishikiri Shrine burned down hundreds of years ago and all records of it’s traditions were lost. Now, all of the shrines ceremonies are of the pinchbeck variety, without the least velleity of truth to them. Ishikiri’s “tradition” is essentially a folk religion in and of itself, based on invented ceremonies that have been lent legitimacy after the fact.

Legitimate or not, Ishikiri Shrine is a popular place.

Legitimate or not, Ishikiri Shrine is a popular place.

One such tradition is based on two stones in the middle of the grounds of the shrine. “Legend” says that if you walk around the outside of the two stones one hundred times your wish will be granted. I passed on that.

Ishikiri stone, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

Wandering around the grounds, I saw what at first I thought were some colored ropes…

Cranes, , Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

Until I realized they were thousands and thousands of paper cranes. Thinking about how long they must have all taken makes my head hurt.

Cranes 2, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

On my way back to Kyoto, I stopped in Osaka and paid a visit to a few stores in order to find the actual comic my project for my translation class was based on. After a bit of foot work, I managed to track down and buy most of the author’s work for a pittance (Americans get killed on the price increases in importing this stuff). I have to admit it was odd to hold something I had grown so use to seeing online in my hands. I also finally saw the damn kanji I couldn’t read in the scans due to blurring and the author’s handwriting. Goddamn 普通 and 誘う.

I got back to Kyoto around nine and completely exhausted, but remembered to snap a picture of Kyoto Tower before wandering zombie-like back to my apartment.

Kyoto Tower, Kyoto, 4/11/2009

Music I’m Listening to Now: Peter, Bjorn, and John: “Last Night”.

Bonus! Sort-of Engrish:

Bag 1, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009Bag 2, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

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