Minatogawa Shrine


In my Way of Tea class a few semesters back, as we reviewed the history of Japanese aesthetics, I learned the difference between Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines. I’ve since forgotten, which is perhaps a reflection of the grade I got on my final, but it seems the two have all melded into a single entity in my mind. Don’t they all tie slips of paper on a rope wall, wash their hands from a well, and ring a bell to get the gods’ attention? This happened today at the Shinto shrine, I’m sure, but didn’t it also at the Zojoji Temple on New Years? I’m religiously conflicted.


The study abroad students went to the Minatogawa Shrine in Kobe today. Beforehand we were briefed on the protocol. Then we swarmed the temple, a horde of funny-looking funny-talking college kids with no manners, blocking pathways as we walked side by side. I hate traveling in groups.


We washed our hands at the well, left then right, then a swish of water in our mouths but don’t drink it! Then we lined up at the temple to do our prayers.


Start by throwing 5 yen into the offering. 5 yen in Japanese is said “goen”, which shares the same pronunciation as a phrase for good luck. If you are a horrible thrower and your offering misses, apologize to the gods and try again. Tug the rope to alert the gods of your presence, bow twice, clap twice, say your prayer, then bow a final time.

Of course, I may have gotten it all wrong.


Cameras in hand, the students scattered across the grounds, clustered together in groups and pairs save for the lone girl who would really rather sightsee alone, thank you very much. The students bought trinkets and fortunes, exclaiming over their luck. At another small shrine, the bowing and clapping and offerings were repeated to the god of good studies. Rubbing the head of a stone bull was said to give you good luck.


We gathered on the steps for our final group pictures, the teachers juggling handfuls of cameras so everyone could have their own shot. Finally the security guard shooed us off, and peace fell in the shrine once again.


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