Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taiheizan Miyoshi Shrine

It is a tradition to visit a shrine or temple during the New Year in Japan. This first trip to a shrine or temple is known as hatsumode. This year, hubby and I were unable to visit a shrine during the New Year holidays as we had been to India that time. After almost two months, on February 27th, we visited a shrine named Taiheizan Miyoshi Jinja in Akita city.

Taiheizan Miyoshi Jinja (shrine) was established in 673 AD. At this shrine people pray for success in business, family prosperity, and winning in life. During Edo period, Satake samurai clan of Akita domain (also known as Kubota domain) regularly prayed at this shrine. Now also this shrine is very popular among the people of Akita and about 800000 people visit the shrine every year. Miyoshi Jinja was originally constructed at the top of Mount Taihei which is 1171 meters above sea level. This remote shrine is known as Okumiya, which is difficult to visit and in the past women were forbidden to enter this shrine precinct. Therefore, a village shrine named Satomiya was established which is located near human habitation at the foot of the mountain where everyone is free to go and worship. Satomiya Taiheizan Miyoshi Jinja allows for more convenient worship of the god originally enshrined in Okumiya at higher mountains. Satomiya shrine was constructed in 1977 and the shrine headquarters is now located at this premises. Hubby and I visited Satomiya shrine.

We reached Taiheizan Miyoshi Jinja at about 1 pm. A gate named seisando torii was located at the entrance of the shrine precinct. Near the torii gate, there was an information notice board that gave historical information about the shrine. Near the entrance we saw several huge barrels of sake offerings to the god of the shrine.
I am standing at the entrance of the shrine precinct

Hubby standing next to an information notice board at the entrance of the shrine

Huge barrels of sake offerings

At the torii gate we saw a pair of lion-dogs called komainu, which are lion-like creatures that guard the entrance of the shrine. One of the komainu statues has its mouth open as if saying ‘ah’ which symbolizes opening or birth. The other komainu statue has its mouth closed as if saying ‘um’ which symbolizes closure or death. Komainu are supposed to protect the shrine from evil spirits. Komainu statues at this shrine were made of stone and located on either side of the entrance.
Open mouthed komainu

Closed mouthed komainu

Seisando torii gate looked old but it was an elegant structure. After entering the gate, on the left side there was a water house named temizusha where we washed our hands and rinsed our mouth before offering our prayers at the shrine. It is a symbolic act to clean the mind and body of impurity.
Hubby standing in front of seisando torii gate


The main altar of the shrine named goshaden looked so beautiful and exquisite. The current structure of the roof of this main altar building mimics the appearance of Mount Taihei. We loved the beautiful pattern of thick shimenawa hanging at the entrance of goshaden. Shimenawa is braided rice straw rope used for ritual purification. We took several photos of goshaden building.
Goshaden main altar of the shrine

Hubby standing in front of goshaden

I am standing in front of goshaden

Hubby standing at the entrance of main altar

Shimenawa rope pattern at the entrance of main altar

At the altar, we offered money into the offertory box, pulled the rope attached to the bell hanging from the rafter in front of the box, and then clapped our hands and prayed. I prayed for good health and prosperity for hubby and me. Afterwards we just walked around inside the shrine premises. We were surprised to see an old sword exhibited in the shrine precinct, which is probably a samurai sword although we are not sure about it.
I am ringing the bell of main altar

I am praying at the main altar

Hubby standing next to an exhibited sword

Later we went to an adjacent room in goshaden building and bought various kinds of omamori amulets for good health and driving safety. We also bought an eto-hamaya, which is a decorative arrow and has ema plaque with this year’s zodiac animal ‘rabbit’ drawn on it. Hamaya decorative arrow is supposed to destroy evil spirits, ward off misfortune, and attract good luck. Hamaya can be purchased at any shrine during the New Year’s time.
Various kinds of amulets

Omamori for good health

Omamori for driving safety

Eto-hamaya for 2011

We felt very peaceful after visiting the shrine. Later hubby enjoyed watching some sports channel on our car television.
Hubby watching a sports channel on car television

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sapporo Clock Tower and Hokkaido foods

As I wrote in the previous two posts, on 11th and 12th February hubby and I had been to Sapporo to see the annual snow festival. On 12th February, we visited Sapporo Clock Tower before going to the snow festival site at Odori Park. The tower is located just north of Odori Park.

Sapporo Clock Tower is a wooden building, which is a major tourist attraction and is a symbol of Sapporo. The tower building has an American design and is one of the few surviving western-style buildings in Sapporo. The tower was built in 1878 and was the drill hall of the former Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University). The clock was installed later in July 1881 by a Boston based watch company. The clock still continues to run and keep time, and the bell rings every hour. We took several photos of the tower building and the clock for the sake of memory. Presently, the building has a museum that introduces the history of Sapporo and the Agricultural College. We skipped entering inside the tower building. Later we visited the snow festival site at Odori Park about which I have written in the previous post.
Clock at the tower building

Sapporo Clock Tower as seen from an angle

Front view of Sapporo Clock Tower

Clock at the tower building

Hubby and I in front of Sapporo Clock Tower

At Sapporo we had various kinds of Hokkaido foods. On the night of 11th February, hubby and I had a bowl of miso-butter-corn ramen, a Sapporo specialty, which was delicious. We also enjoyed having a side dish of gyoza.
Bowl of miso-butter-corn ramen


Hubby having ramen

Hokkaido is a leading producer of potatoes in Japan. On both days of our stay in Sapporo, we had potatoes cooked in various ways like baked, grilled, boiled, and fried. All these ways of cooked potatoes tasted wonderful.
Hubby having fried potatoes at Odori Park snow festival site

On 12th morning at Odori Park snow festival site, I had an experience of eating fresh grilled crab meat in a delightfully unique way. Kani kourayaki of Monbetsu City in Hokkaido is a crab specialty where crab meat is grilled and served in the crab shell. While the lady at the food stall grilled the crab, the mouth-watering aroma wafted through the air. I ate the grilled crab meat out of the shell itself. It tasted rich and heavenly.
A lady grilling crab at a food stall

Kani kourayaki

I am relishing grilled crab

At another food stall hubby and I enjoyed having grilled beef on a stick. The meat was flavorful and juicy but for me it was a bit tough and hard to chew.
Hubby having grilled beef on a stick

At yet another food stall we saw the stall owner grill various kinds of seafood. We had grilled squid at this stall. We ate too much food at the snow festival site but it was worth it as everything tasted wonderful.
Stall owner grilling various kinds of seafood

Grilled seafood

During our return to Akita on 12th evening, we reached about an hour early to Shin Chitose airport at Sapporo. So we had an early dinner at a restaurant inside the airport terminal building. Fake plastic food samples were displayed in front of the restaurant. They looked so real and tempting. I ordered a set menu of kaisen donburi and hubby ordered a set menu of uni donburi. Kaisen donburi is a rice bowl dish with different kinds of fresh seafood toppings already prearranged beautifully. Kaisen means seafood and this dish had ebi (shrimp), kani (crab), ikura (salmon roe), hotate (scallop), uni (sea urchin), salmon, kyuri (cucumber), and shiso (perilla) leaf as toppings. Uni donburi had only fresh uni topping on a bowl of rice. Both the set menus consisted of miso soup and a salad of shredded cabbage, fresh cucumber, and tomatoes. We tasted each other’s food. Hokkaido is famous for seafood and we enjoyed our dinner of various kinds of seafood very much.
Plastic food samples displayed in front of the restaurant

Set menu of kaisen donburi

Various kinds of fresh seafood toppings in kaisen donburi

Set menu of uni donburi

Hubby having dinner

Hubby eating shrimp

I am having dinner

Hubby and I had a nice time in Sapporo on 11th and 12th February. We visited Sapporo Clock Tower as well as the snow festival site at Odori Park. We also enjoyed eating various kinds of Hokkaido delicacies on both days.