Ancient Forests in Suwa Jinja

Living in my old place, I used to make frequent trips to the local temples Tozenji and Hondoji, both amazing places to visit and near to Kita-Kogane station. I like the sacred, quiet atmosphere in these places, which as a former religious studies student appeals to me over the hussle and bustle of the city (though interestingly enough, viewed the right way they are both sacred manifestations of life) and find myself watching my watch a lot less when faced with the questions of eternity. Also, they are great refuges for nature, in the form of collosal trees and beautiful gardens, which in a city poor in greenery is a great resource to have. Now that I live in Toyoshiki, my nearest place is Suwa Jinja.

Japan has many Suwa Jinjas, the original being located in Nagano prefecture, which makes the one I like to visit so much a kind of ‘franchise’ of sorts. Due to it’s location and tall, shady trees, it is best before sunset, when it quickly gets dark and is amazing in the early morning. Some of them are reputedly hundreds of years old, one is even said to be several thousand years of age. There are also some remarkable statues there, designed by a modern artist, which are far less ubiquitous than the ones you usually find in temples or shrines here. Sitting amongst the trees all year around, they almost seem to have a life of their own.

The general atmosphere conjures up a fantastic world, reminding me something of the universe of the Zelda games or Narnia. The quality of light there is incredible and having what remains of the ‘ancient forests’ of the title there mean it comes through the trees creating shadows and spotlight-like patches of light. In fact, it seems to me to be another real-world photo studio. Very early in the morning, with the pink light of dawn spreading slowly overhead, you can even here the rhythm of Sanskrit chanting and taiko drums, as the priests who live there prepare for and celebrate the day ahead. It all gives an atmosphere of timelessness, of a space that is neither old nor temporary, just endlessly vivid and new.

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