Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year 2006!

Day Six. HAPPY NEW YEAR! (I know, I know. I already rang in the New Year yesterday. But for me, the day doesn't actually switch over until I've slept and woken up again. SO THERE.)

Up and at 'em early today. A late night can't stop me from an early morning! In most cases, it even causes it!

First things first. Finish up those New Year's Cards!

Yep. I am on top of my game this year.

So for most of the morning, I wrote New Year's Cards and watched some comedy groups on TV. Once I finished those, I packed up my dirty clothes, made sure Jiji had enough food, and headed out to do laundry. After a few nights out in the bars, I had some seriously smoky clothes that needed washing. I tossed my clothes in to wash, then headed over to Ranpu no Yu.

Ranpu no Yu is an onsen (hot spring) that was built on the south side of Izumo Station. Living in Izumo was really cool, because it was only a five-minute walk to the station, a ten minute walk to Daikan-cho, and I had a supermarket and laundromat within three minutes of my place. Each fall (all two of them), something new and cool got built on the south side of the station. My first year, it was a conveyer-belt sushi restaurant that had inexpensive, delicious sushi. The next year, it was Ranpu no Yu.

"Ranpu" is a Japanese way of writing "lamp". It's a wooden building with lamps inside the bath area. No other lighting. Makes for a really cool atmosphere when it's dark. Plus, the wood they used to build the place smells really good. I really liked Rampu no Yu while I was there, and since they were open on New Year's Day, I figured I would take advantage of a nice hot bath.

Nice it was, and hot it was. Relaxing it was as well. (Read as if you're Yoda or Gollum)

After my bath, I went back to the laundromat and tossed my wet clothes in the dryer, then went over to visit the Shigiharas. We talked for a while (while my clothes were drying), and then I went back, folded my clothes, and headed out to Izumo Taisha.

Izumo Taisha is the second most important shrine in Japan, right after the Imperial Shrine in Ise, Ise Jingu (check the link to the shrine's official website). And it's right in Shimane! Very very very very very very cool place.

Unfortunately, the tradition in Japan is to visit a shrine on during the New Year's holiday, which lasts for three days. A lot of people will make a trip to a major shrine nearby (or not so nearby, as is my case now). This is called hatsumode (pronounced haw-tsu-moe-day). So on my way out to Taisha, I got caught in a MONSTER traffic jam. At first, I figured the traffic would move along slowly but surely. As more and more cars lined up behind me, and more and more pedestrians passed me, I realized that we were going nowhere extremely slowly. Being a former local, I knew some of the back roads, which I then used to get closer to the shrine. There were a few times when the narrow back roads of Taisha were a bit backed up, but these jams cleared quickly. Finally, I got around to the old JR Taisha Station and parked my car in the lot there.

Then I walked to Izumo Taisha.

While I am not a big fan of crowds (too many people actually make me feel ill), I was loving the New Year's atmosphere. I even ran in to some people I knew. First, I purified myself with shrine water, and then went to pray.

Usually, when I am at a shrine, I don't make any special prayer requests. I express my thanks for being alive and being able to visit whatever shrine I'm at, plus my thanks for my friends and family. This year was a little different.

See, Izumo Taisha is famous throughout the country as a shrine to pray at to find a marriage partner. Now, I wasn't trying to get ahead of myself, but I did pray for the chance to talk to Crab Girl and express my feelings, plus, if it was at all possible, I wanted us to work out.

I prayed fervently and wholeheartedly. This was one devoted white guy.

Then I went to get the official shrine seal stamped in my shrine seal book (shuincho), and after that, I picked out an omikuji (fortune). It's a tradition to pick out a fortune at the beginning of the year to see what your luck is like for the year to come. Here's what mine said:

This year, conservatism or unnecessary worry, in all things, is taboo. Be bold and daring in your actions.

Well, this was something I needed to hear. Translate that into modern English, and you get, "Go for it!"

There was more.

You will receive a message. It is a good time to build and furnish a home. Your sickness will be cured soon. You should rethink a move. You will find that thing you have lost. In sales, you will make a small profit. Any direction is lucky for you. It is safe to travel.
Again, all good stuff. But here's the kicker.

This year is an extremely good year to get married.
Whoa! Small problem there, no significant other. However, I am on a quest to redeem that situation.

The tradition with omikuji is to tie them to a tree branch or somewhere that space is provided, but if it's a good fortune, you can take it home with you. Let's just say that this one was a keeper.

Afterwards, I ran into a priest I knew, and he took me to the head priest's office. Senge Guji is the Head Priest of Izumo Taisha and a good friend of mine. I met him through Mr. Nawa (from Hakuta) back in the summer of 2002 at a National Shrine Conference that was held in Matsue. Mr. Nawa was the president of the Shimane chapter of the association involved with the conference, and he asked me to help out with the conference. So I checked luggage during the conference, and at the party that night, Mr. Nawa found me, grabbed my arm, and said, "Follow me." Following a drunk Mr. Nawa is usually inadvisable, but follow I did. And I'm glad I did. He took me over to a table near the front of the room, and sitting there was none other that the FREAKING HEAD PRIEST OF FREAKING IZUMO TAISHA! (Trust me, it was a big deal to me.) He told me that he had heard of me, and was pleased to meet me, and here's my business card with my e-mail on it, and why don't you e-mail me sometime? I was tongue-tied and not able to speak well, but I told him that I was honored to meet him and I would indeed send him an e-mail.

Which I did, not really expecting a response. But a response I got. And it led to a friendship that continues to this day. He took time out of his schedule, during the busiest time of the year for a shrine, especially one like Izumo Taisha, to talk with me for more than an hour. I told him about the Izumo Shrine that I found up here in Hokkaido, and he said that he would have to come up and check it out the next chance he got, preferably in the summer when Shimane is nasty humid and Hokkaido is nice and dry.

This is from a farewell party that Senge Guji-san organized for me before I left Shimane. He's standing behind me on the left. Nagaoka-san is on the far left.

Senge Guji-san is a busy man, and I didn't want to take any more of his time. He had called over Nagaoka-san, another friend of mine out at Taisha. He studied in Memphis for three years, and he speaks great English. We're planning on working together to design an English website for Izumo Taisha. I've offered to help as much as I can, and he's accepted my offer. So we talked for a while about stuff, and then when he was free to leave, he gave me a ride back to Lisa's car. It had been a nice warm day, and I figured I would be able to get out to Taisha without too much trouble (idiot) and didn't take along a coat. Now it was nighttime and cold. So he gave me a ride. THANK YOU!

I swung by a convenience store for something to eat, then cruised back to Lisa's place. I figured I would rest a bit, gather up my strength, and then head out to drink again. But before I could do that, I noticed two things.

1) My throat was feeling a little scratchy.
2) A copy of "The Da Vinci Code"

So I crawled under the kotatsu, turned on the electric blanket, opened up the book and started reading. It was such a quick, entertaining read that I didn't notice that a couple of hours had passed. Since I wasn't feeling so hot, I skipped going out drinking and went back to reading.

At some point I passed out under the kotatsu.

End Day Six.


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