Not all Japanese trains are supersonic.
The suburban journey that brought us from Kure, through Hiroshima to the Miyajimaguchi dock, took time.
Even though we woke up at 8:30 am, we only took the midday ferry, with little time to look for the religious site where the Hiwatarishiki ritual would take place, carried out by a Buddhist sect named Shingon which has its headquarters at the top of the koya mountain.
Ascension to Miyajima's Daishoin Temple and the Mysticism of the Hiwatarishiki Ritual
We hurried around the various corners of the Itsukushima temple. We pointed to one of the slopes that would lead us up the slope.
Shortly afterwards, both breathless and curious about what awaited us, we entered the Daishoin temple, already filled with monks, worshipers and visitors from Miyajima-
The last ones were arranged around the patio where the busy cenobites moved. In yellow and white outfits, with shaved heads adorned with fabric ribbons, they begin by walking around and sounding great cowries, accompanied by dishes.
The purification of the altar and the audience follows, at which time we are seasoned with salt. Afterwards, the monks run, clutching a large rope, around a fire that burns green cedar branches on which they lay small wooden slats with prayers.
The bonfire does not take long to consume itself and leaves a legacy of glowing embers that is also purified with salt, always under the bass sound of the cowries.
Hiwatarishiki's Purifying Embers and Smoke
The only one of the priests with purple robes, he leads a kind of divine pacification of the embers that he carries out towards all the cardinal points.
Finally, the other monks wrap them in such green leaves and leave only an open central path.
They pass a sort of standard to their leader who, with a stoic cry, inaugurates the sacrificial phase of the ceremony and crosses the embers with deep strides.
Several other monks follow him to the rhythm of drums, wind instruments and others that animate mantras chanted in an increasingly hypnotic way.
Faithful of all ages join the procession who overcome the pain lost in the white mist produced by the slow consumption of dead vegetation.
Mothers pass by with children in their arms, elderly people who the religious hold hands to prevent them from falling, and believers so carried away by the experience that, on leaving the incandescent carpet, they seem to have sensed Nirvana.
Finally, the long line of followers runs out. The monks extinguish the embers, put an end to the event and retire to their rooms around the courtyard. We stayed nearby to examine which artefacts the ritual had been composed of.
Without expecting it, we still had a look at your thorough washing of your feet, using buckets of soapy water and white towels.
An Unexpected Miyajima Tea Ceremony
We leave the Daishoin temple downhill towards the coast of Miyajima when a couple who speak basic English invite us to a Japanese tea ceremony.
We accept. We go together to one of the elegant terraces installed in the middle of the slope. The hosts make an effort to remind us of the importance of the tea ritual for Japanese culture.
We try to appreciate it and follow it precisely, with some difficulty.
The long hours without eating and the intense walk since the ferry had docked in Miyajima had long made us feel sorry.
It was like a garnet blessing of beans and buckwheat that we saw two pastries land in front of us manjuAnyway, for more of our favorites. During the several days of exploring Japan we had already experienced them in all shapes and sizes.
"doumo Arigatou enjoyimasu, thank you, thank you”. We appreciate the experience and the meal in a bilingual and as polite way as possible with successive almost bows.
Descent to the Inland Sea of Seto, in Search of Tori of Itsukushima
After paying attention, we descend the stairs and several paths towards the coast.
We went around the temple of Itsukushima again, which we found to have been abandoned to the sea mud and slimes by the low tide.
We took advantage of the cyclical duration of the phenomenon to investigate the temple and the island from the bed of the inland sea of Seto.
To get there, we pass through its commercial streets lined with small restaurants specializing in oysters and other seafood that is abundant in the surrounding area. Also in patisseries and confectioneries for snacks sold at hyper-inflated prices.
We came across a matchmaking session of two newlyweds who were photographed there in traditional costume aboard an old rickshaw pulled by human force. Along the way, hunger returns to us. We buy cookies.
As we walk along the waterfront that leads past Itsukushima, four or five of the deer that roam Miyajima sniff the deer.
They chase us so wildly that they force us to run ahead of them, even though we have heavy backpacks on our backs.
We descended some stairs to the sand and were, at last, safe. Another hundred meters on foot and we find ourselves in front of the big torii “floating” of the temple, one of the main brand images of Japan.
This eccentric orange portico was dedicated to the three daughters of the Shinto god of the seas and storms, brother of the goddess of the Sun.
The Secular Sacredness of Miyajima Island and Tori Itsukushima
Miyajima has long been decreed holy.
For this reason, the populace simply could not set foot there. So that pilgrims could approach and dock at their sanctuary – something they should do through the torii – Itsukushima was erected like a pier over the water, as if it were floating and separated from the rest of the island.
The preservation of Miyajima's spiritual purity was taken to such extremes that, since 1878, births or deaths in his surroundings have been avoided by all means.
Even today, pregnant women are supposed to withdraw to the mainland when the day of delivery approaches. The same is true for people with terminal illnesses or elderly people who are visibly at the end of their lives. Funerals are prohibited on the island.
However, the population's access to some of the island's resources has been alleviated.
We circle the torii and reach the sandy threshold that opens onto a bog covered in green slime. There, a brigade of elders, each wearing his hat, digs hard for oysters.
A little later, we found them with buckets full on their way to the restaurants in the village that they used to provide.
The tide does not take long to fill.
It returns the status of “floating” to the portico and the afternoon work to boatmen with conical hats, who can count on hundreds of passengers eager to go around and photograph the monument and the sanctuary aboard one of their gondolated boats.
We wonder how the lighting highlights the torii against the silhouette of the opposite mountain and the twilight sky above.
It gets dark at once and the portico gains a trustworthy marine reflection.
We boarded the ferry back to the mainland with a plan to return to Miyajima the next morning to continue its exploration.
To the Conquest of Mount Misen, the Ceiling of Miyajima
At ten in the morning, we are disembarking once more. We point to Mount Misen, the highest point on the island, with 500 meters of altitude.
Slope after slope, rung after rung, we conquered its shaved summit covered with large granite boulders.
At first, only a well-flowered almond tree breaks its chromatic harshness. Soon, a school excursion joins us. The top is filled with colorful and chatty young Japanese people.
We climb one of the cliffs and contemplate the slopes, the channel and the islets of the Sea of Seto subsumed in the mist.
On the way back to the base coast, we return to the Daisho-in temple's stronghold and descend its most enchanting staircase, flanked and blessed by five hundred statues friend disciples of the Buddha.
Upon arrival at the Itsukushima shrine, the tide is fuller than ever. It seems to sail the building over five hundred years old.
Noh Theater Show, about Seto's Inland Sea Tide
In one of its wings, a protagonist hidden behind an old cypress wooden mask and a shozoku – silk larch robe – performs an act of a performance of theater noh.
It is a form of Japanese classical musical drama that has lasted in Japan since the XNUMXth century.
The ascent and descent to Mount Misen had left us stranded.
It was, therefore, in a strange mix of fascination and sedation that we stayed for more than an hour to follow the flutes and exotic percussions and the cavernous voices that accompanied them.
Soon, the play ended.
With nightfall, the tide went out again.
Miyajima remained true to his rigid spirituality.