Friday, 11 September 2009

A summer rite at Shimogamo Shrine –Shimogamo Shrine (1)

The Mitarashi festival at Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

It’s already September. The worst of the unbearable heat and humidity is passing, it’s getting milder. Before summer is gone I want to leave one more Kyoto summer.

I was requested to guide at Shimogamo Shrine and went to do a little pre-guiding research.

The day I went there was a festival taking place - Kyoto has so many festivals there’s one almost everyday somewhere in town. This festival is called The Mitarashi festival and involves ritual foot bathing in the water of Mitarashi pond (actually a stone-lined pool) in front of Mitarashi Shrine, part of the Shimogamo complex. The ritual is based on the belief that those who bathe their feet in the pond will be blessed by the god Mitarashi, bringing good health, curing plague and removing misfortune. There was a long queue I didn’t join waiting to follow the ritual. I had a look but wasn’t impressed…

I took my guests to the shrine and asked if they would like to have a look at the pool in which the ritual is conducted. It was terribly hot and we were almost dried up having been out in the strong sunshine all morning. There were only few people there. We approached the steps into the water and I couldn’t resist bathing my feet in the clear-looking water and took off my shoes, slowly walked in. The water wasn’t deep, coming to just below the knee and kind of chilly, but very pleasant and refreshing in the centre of the pool, until then I hadn’t realized it was spring water. I felt the water was not only cool but also blessing. No wonder there had been a long queue on my previous visit. Seeing is believing so I recommend you try it if you visit the shrine on a hot summer day.

I think spring water has ability to add something extra to things and feelings, which reminds me of this from my childhood. When ever I visited my grandmother in summer she always offered fruit which she cooled in a little stream by a paddy field. In my memory those home grown water melons and oriental melons were the best I’ve ever eaten.

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