On the 22nd October 2019, follwing Typhoon Hagibis, Japan welcomed its new Emperor, Naruhito, on a bright and sunny day.
Although Japan has many unusual annual public holidays, the Emperor’s Ascension was a rare celebration and I’m thankful I was able to witness such a special occasion for the country.
Several Japanese lab-members met me at Nagoya Daigaku station and we caught the Meijo subway line to Atsuta Jingo shrine. We approached the humble, yet impressive, entrance and bowed to the gods.
I was then coached through the correct technique of cleansing myself: first you take water in the cup with your right hand, and pour the water over your left hand. Then you swap hands to clean the right. Then swap again to clean the left a second time, bring some water to your mouth to rinse, and allow the remaining water to run down the handle of the cup.
We made our way to the main shrine where we greeted the gods by bowing and then clapping twice. Five yen (around 3 pence) is often given as an offering as the Japanese pronunciation, go en, is a homophone to go-en which is used to describe good luck with the deities.
Next, we purchased fortunes. We shook a box until a stick with a number fell out. We presented the number to a staff member and they gave us a written fortune in return. My fortune, 大運, meaning ‘Big Luck’ told me how everything will go my way on my year abroad, while other lab members were not so lucky…
The rest of the group did not want to keep their ill-fortunes and instead tied them in a knot to be collected and burnt, and so burning away their bad luck.
Wishes and prayers can be written on wooden slats and hung around a tree for the gods to answer.
I was able to take part in a traditional tea ceremony, and there are few other experiences that are simultaneously so special but also so stressful. People were almost silent besides telling me off for placing my cup the wrong way, not bowing frequently or low enough, not hiding my napkin behind my back, not admiring the cup long enough. The hardest part was sitting on my feet for over an hour. It was a very impressive and sentimental ritual. By the end of it, I was wide eyed, stressed out, and I couldn’t feel anything below my hips.
The celebrations ended back at the main shrine courtyard with traditional Japanese music and dancing. The wind instruments looked and sounded completely different to a traditional western orchestra, and created a sound that transcended your mind to a tranquil Japanese countryside. Although the dance movements were not so complicated, I was in awe of how the dancers moved in such perfect synchronicity.
Nagoya, as a whole, is not your typical “crazy” Japanese city: it is very industrial, and not so glamorous. However, if you look hard enough in the right places, you can find yourself immersed in so much Japanese history and culture. The ancient shrines, hidden in plain sight, are portals that pull you straight out of the city.