Photo by Fg2 — public domain
From the train station all the way up the hill, sacred gates are lined up like hollow dominoes. We are the spots, our pale acquisitive faces bobbing atop suit coats & kimonos. Vermillion, the color of success is vermillion, & it hurts our eyes.
As we near the shrine, we hear the tin hail of one-yen coins, which are minted for no other reason than to feed the bottomless stomachs of the offertory boxes. And that splashing sound is no fountain: every day, in the name of purity, thousands of mouths are washed out with the same few dozen bamboo dippers. We take them from the hands of strangers with the slightest of bows. Water is the earth’s own currency, & we swallow with reverence. Our words must be clean when we speak to the god, even if the tongue barely twitches in its lurid cave. Our desires must be pure as pressed rice.
I’m here to accompany my homestay family, whose eldest son is about to take a high school entrance exam, but they encourage me to pray, too. “Whatever you want the most, say it in your heart. Use pictures! Inari won’t understand English.” Indeed, I am the only foreigner here. It may be a major shrine, but tourists prefer thousand-year-old temples from which the last traces of paint have long since faded away, & where the aesthetic of enlightened poverty reigns unchallenged. What do I want? I go through the motions, clapping my hands to get the god’s attention. A white fox flickers in my mind’s eye.