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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“All For One and One For All”… Getting Beyond the Ego

The flight of a butterfly is an adventure of the mind, if you are that very butterfly.

Recently, as many who know me will know, I’ve been heading out to Suwa Jinga in the mornings to take photos and then heading back to the safety of air conditioning before it gets too hot. I’m not just there for the photos. Being surrounded by the tall, wise, cooling trees and fluttering butterflies is an ethereal experience in itself. But I feel something more is drawing me there, like a moth to a light, or a bee to a flower.

Yesterday I took my time wondering amidst the trees and set up an infrared photo in one of the shady regions. Now as I said in my last post, these photos can take time… This particular one needed about seven minutes on the taking side, which means a further seven to take a black frame for noise subtraction, an essential part of the process. So I decided I’d do a little study while I waited for the camera and chanced upon this page. It suggested an exercise to increase awareness by expanding your sense of empathy to people or things around you, entering their minds, as it were to experience the universe from their point of view and attaining a wider sense of how things are.

I started on one of the big, black and dark-blue butterflies that flit between the trees. Imagining I could do the same, I felt a much richer sense of the environment. Height and tree-cover suddenly became relevant, as the trees became as central to my perspective as the surrounding buildings and shops are to the average human. The shrine structures themselves, of course, faded into obscurity, seen this way.

The next thing that occurred to me was a traffic policeman who had suddenly drifted in to sit on a bench and listen to his iPod and doze off. I found it a nice enough seen, but I couldn’t quite enter into it and the fact he sometimes woke up a little and threw not so friendly glances in my direction didn’t help much.

Then something remarkable happened, which I suppose could be coincidence, but Ai couldn’t help but see as connected to my little exercise. A young guy entered, with a small camera to take photos of the shrine. He gestured to me and we swapped stories. Apparently he is a care worker whose hobby is visiting shrines, not just here, but far and  wide. He showed me photos on his camera of ones in Omiya, where he was going later that day, Izu and Nikko. In fact, he collects the spring water from each shrine and carried some in bottles in his bag, as he believes the essence of the kami from each one resides in it. He showed me other photos, of bright, rainbow-like orbs above shrines he called kami and a very dragonesque cloud over a shrine that he said literally is a dragon, the shape showing what it is. Whilst I’m sure many people would call the ‘kami’ examples of lens flare and the ‘dragon’ a random shape, or perhaps a shape that had inspired the myths of dragons many years ago, I was prepared to suspend my disbelief. Now his world was mine and the narrow one of only my ego, with it’s personal, survival-centered (including economic survival) concerns had to be set aside as just another illusion, one more limited interpretation of reality, now that this one had come to the fore.

I showed his the web-page and told him of the exercise to regain a sense of all-oneness and transcend individual blinkered understandings. He smiled and understood immediately, probably better than I did; “All for one and one for all?!” Yes, that’s what it means. It’s not just a metaphysical explanation, but an emotional one, too. We are all in this together. Indivisible connected and with a clear mind we can be happy for every expansive success, however small, as it is one of our victories, too. For my own part, I was happy to have made a new friend…

It made me realise, thinking now, that there is a lot more going on with the seemingly frivolous social- networking we do so much of these days. We aren’t just swapping photos and silly jokes, but actually sharing in one another’s experiences, to realise on a greater level more of who we ourselves really are. Its like lots of people realising they are really all one, related family, or droplets, each individual, finding out they are all part of a vast, seemingly infinite ocean. Seen this way, it’s an invigorating, exciting experience, a fusion and ‘reunion’ of all the parts of humanity.

So think this next time you like a photo or Facebook post, seen from a broader perspective, you are actually liking another part of your cosmic self, reaffirming your essential and the internet are part of a human process of growth, reorganisation and even, dare I say it, evolution. A leaving behind of the fearful, primate-based, tribal ways of life, for a broader realisation of our destiny.

“All for one and one for all, indeed”!

Straight, No Chaser.

A Traditional Photography Blog - dehk © 2016


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