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Travel Journal - A Shinto Shrine

It was a few nights before New Years Eve and I was walking home from the liquor store, in Japan liquor is accessible as soon as you can reach the counter to pay the cashier. I had bought a bottle of wine for my boyfriend and was anxiously heading back home to prepare the dinner of a lifetime.

Ever since I was seven years old, I passed this same Shinto shrine on my way home from the shopping district at the end of the road. Every day this shrine shone with brilliance, from its gifts of small, ripe tangerines and sticky rice cakes to it's delicately carved torii gates. However, this cool and windy December eve my favorite little shrine was shining more brightly than before.

At this point in my life, I did not know anything about Shintoism. To be honest I didn't even know if this was a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple, but on this frigid night the essence and the beauty of the shrine grasped me by the heart and pulled me in.

I slowly worked my way towards the chozuya (washing station) and cleaned my hands. Putting my bottle of wine down, I slowly began to rinse my mouth with the water. I'd never done this before, it always looked unsanitary to me, hundreds of people a day drank from this same tin cup, but on this night it felt nothing but soothing to know that I was cleansing all the bad spirits that had been collecting inside of me the entire year. I headed towards the saisen bako (offering box) placed directly in front of the altar and reached into my jeans to find some change.

I could not remember if I was to clap twice, then bow, and clap again, or bow then clap once, then bow then clap again, all I knew was that I had to clap in order to alert the kami (spirit) of my presence before praying and making my offering. It seemed silly that I needed to awake the kami, for I felt the presence of over a hundred kami cradling and inspiring me.

I made a wish that I don't remember today, but with all of my trust I knew that the kami would make it come true. Throwing my change into the saisen bako and bowing slowly as I took a step back, I noticed all of the beautiful New Years decorations surrounding the altar. I felt that the couple of hundred yen wasn't enough, for the kami had given me so much more.

I placed my bottle of South African wine on the ground next to saisen bako and felt a rush of humor; most of the gifts surrounding me were that of tangerines, rice cakes and sake. I knew that the kami would forgive me; after all I was just a 17 year-old gaijin.

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