A Japanese New Years and a 94-Year Old Female Priest

New York, N.Y.  This year I had an unusual New Year in Japan. I visited Tenkawa Shrine in Nara on January 5 when I returned to Japan for New Year’s Day, and I went to do the annual “Matsumochi Jiji.” There is a large pot in front of Goddess in the middle with boiling hot water in large Kama, traditional iron pot.

Among offering things to the God, Kami, were pure Water, fresh sake, salt, rice and so on, and so on. The shrine maiden holds a pine tree in both hands, and splashes out the hot water and scatters it in all directions. At this time, it is said that there will be good lucks for the whole year if hot water splashes to you.. It is mysteriously solemn, beautiful that white steam rises in one side and it jumps up to the other sides, While it is cold. I love this sacred Ceremony and I attend every years

Tenkawa toriiThe Tenkawa Shrine in Nara where I performed New Year’s“Matsumochi Jiji.”

For this deity of Tenkawa Shrine, on January 5, the Noh-Kyogen play (Sambasoo) is also dedicated every year. The Play comes out with bold dance performances, and the masterpiece of the Kyougen was played, which is a powerful performance. Since This superb performance is dedicated to the Goddess of  Tenkawa Shrine, how lucky we are to be able to see it also with the Goddess..

Then, I went to Ise Shrine. It has been 30 years since I have been there last time. . A nephew who used to stay with me in NY in the past, got married and have a child, and I joined as they went to the 7-5-3 of the children celebration.

In Ise Jingu Shrine, we admire the imperial ancestor gods, and collect the worship of Amaterasu Oomikami, believed to be the ancestor of our emperors. We gather there and worship as a great ancestor of the Japanese people and Emperor. There are 125 shrines, centering on the Toho Daijingu (Toumiya), which is the center of the Tohono Okami, the guardian deity.

Although we went on January 9, already some days after the New Years, both were still full of people. It is said that in the past, Englishman Lafcadio Haarn (Yakumo Koizumi) wrote that he felt Japan for the first time here in Ise. but it is a wonderful area where I can feel a lot as I am Japanese.

In the Ichinomiya area, there is a shop called Ise Kurusu Honpo, and in the old days, medicine that was here was called “Marukintan”. It was to clean the intestinal wall. That has been 500 years ago. There are still many people taking it every day, and I am one of them.

Originally, there was a herb garden in the middle of the shrine where everyone went to visit Ise and brought back to their home places. In the old days a company was in the middle of the herb garden, it was said that worker made medicine waling round around while praying and chanting .

As one was able to buy this remarkable medicine, only at Ise, many people brought it back home, and became known all over Japan. Everyone was walking around with this medicine. Because it is so natural and good medicine, I decide to support sales in the United States and the world, and named it “HDK”

Anyway, it is the world’s best Herbal medicine that Japan ever created. The 29th generation of this medicine, Mr. Kato, is wonderful man who run the company still today at Ise. Everything was great wandering around Ise shrine with him.

94-Year Old Female Priest

After that, I met a 94-year old female Shinto priest. This is a priest who inherits the old Yoshida Shinto tradition, and usually lives in Okayama, but that day, she was Tokyo. How lucky I was!

Yoshida Shinto is one of the oldest schools of Shinto, and is based on the integrated Shinto theory incorporating Buddhism, Taoism and Confucian ideas as an orthodox Shinto party during the Muromachi period.

The woman priest has served a shrine for a lifetime, and has done a tough training at Mt. Hiei in various holy places. I came to meet her while wishing to have some advice. But meeting her itself was a great experience. I was about to get stuck mentally. So, I think that meeting this person was an important thing in my lifetime. Even at the age of 94, I was enlightened by her presence, and I wanted to be like her. I would also like to study Shinto under her as one of my goals.

During my stay in Japan this time, I met many people one by one. it was a lot of fun to be able to talk with one or two people separately while having a meal or tea.. I thought that meeting people should be always like this, because there are so many great people in Japan. It is wonderful to be alive and be Japanese, because there are so many wonderful encounters with Japanese. But, I regret deeply the fact so few people can communicate in English fluently. What can We do about this?

Originally published as Vol. 60 in Weekly Biz, February 16, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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