One day, a friend asked me to go to Manai Shrine and Rokusho Shrine with her.
What? I thought. Usually I’m the one asking people to drive me out into the countryside hunting for mythological shrines.
Naturally, I agreed, as these two have been on my visit list since I wrote that first Kojiki manga about Izanagi and Izanagi. Manai Shrine is up a long flight of stone steps and quietly hidden away against a mountain, which made it strike me as a counterpart shrine to Kamosu Shrine, which is dedicated to Izanami and located in the same general area. Rokusho Shrine was located directly next to the local Izumo government offices back in the Heian period, so it was used as an organizational base for all the shrines in the area.
All three of them have the same crest, the character 有 (ari, “to have”) inside of a tortoise shell. The tortoise represents longetivity and is therefore lucky, while 有 is made up of the characters 十 (“ten”) and 月 (“month/moon”), which, when paired together as 十月 mean “October” (or at least, they referred to the 10th month of the agricultural calendar beforehand, but that’s been a mess since the Gregorian switch). Of course, the 10th month is special here in the Izumo region. While it is traditionally referred to as Kannazuki (“the month without gods,” written 神無月 (gods-nothing-month)), only here is it referred to as Kamiarizuki (“the month with gods,” written 神在月 (gods-exist-month), but can also be written as 神有月–there’s that 有 again!). This is because the 8 million gods from around Japan congregate at Izumo Taisha during that time.
We visited Manai first, and found it quiet and sparse, in a refined sort of way.
Rokusho turned out a bit more interesting, as we found the remains of some recent festival. “Nan darou…” we both trailed off many times as we noticed things around the shrine, the straw weavings and the gohei (paper streamerson small sticks) left around the trees. “Nan darou… I wonder what this is…?” We found other little things, such as a handwashing font partially hidden under the trees at a back entrance, a boat possibly for use on the nearby Iu River, and a basketball hoop. “Nan darou…”
What really brought my friend out to those southern hills and valley at the outskirts of Matsue was not the shrines so much as the Manai Waterfall, which the nearby shrine was named after, and is said to be holy water with healing properties. It is about three meters high, and nestled away up into the hill, and we made a few rounds around the neighborhood following a handful of different maps trying to find it. “Doko darou… where could it be…” we said over and over.
We asked directions from an old lady taking a break from her gardening who answered us in very thick Izumo dialect, and later on we asked directions from an old man with a dialect almost as thick. He was cheerful and helpful, but trying to be those things sometimes comes off as discouraging. “You’ll see that sign for the soumen shop, and it’ll be right up behind it, you can’t miss it! But nobody’s used it for years, they don’t make nagashi-soumen there anymore. Nobody bothers with the waterfall anymore. It’s nothing much. But yeah, there’s a parking lot, and you’ll find the waterfall right there! It’s too bad about the soumen…”
Little did we inner-city dwellers know about this supposedly famous nagashi-soumen (soumen is a type of thin, white noodle, and when served nagashi-soumen style it slides with water down a bamboo shoot and you try to catch it as it goes by–a popular thing to do in summer). I saw one big sign for it by the road as we passed around the tiny neighborhood and the hill a few times, but mistakenly thought it was referring to the building it was fixed to instead of to the little abandoned stall we found by the other sign the old man told us to look for.
As soon as we stepped out of the car, we heard the sound of water, and found its source much sooner than we expected. Filled though the neglected pond was with fallen leaves, the water was perfectly clear.
“Maybe we should wash our hands with it?”
“A rinse couldn’t hurt.”
“You think it’s safe to drink? Dou darou… I wonder…”
“Dou darou… maybe fill your water bottle and then take it home and boil it?”
“Ah, good idea.”
“What will you do with it?”
“I wonder if it works. Dou darou…”
I took a look around the forested area and noticed this little sight next to the pond.
“Hey, it’s an Inari statue… hhm, the head’s fallen off. That’s unsettling.”
And then we found another by a tree behind us.
“Nan darou ne…”
Beyond the tree, there was a little blocked off clearing of mysteriously placed rocks, and the carved ones were not legible.
“I wonder why we can’t go here?”
“I wonder if there’s something buried.”
“I wonder what it says.”
Neither of were particularly wary, merely curious. We stood and looked up at the branches and fresh spring leaves high above us, rustling in the wind on that cloudy April afternoon. The light and sounds were different in that space from the sleepy neighborhood and rice fields below, the forgotten gathering spot for catching noodles sliding down the supposedly holy water.
“I’m glad we found it.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We went on trading our darou‘s throughout the rest of that shrine hopping afternoon in the southern stretches of Matsue, and the heart of where the Izumo region used to be ruled from.