Mall-ification Gone Too Far?- A Branch of the Mt. Tsukuba Shrine Opens (temporarilly) at Creo Square at Tsukuba Center
By Avi Landau
Call me old-fashioned. I prefer a Shinto shrine made of wood set, deep in a sacred grove- or at least surrounded by a few ancient trees. This what makes the JINJA (shrine), for me, the most beautiful type of religious structure in the world.
But I guess you have to keep up with the times- and these are times in which it seems that CONVENIENCE is what matters most.
And things sure HAVE gotten convenient in Tsukuba over the past two decades. All those troublesome woods which used to occupy much of the area have been cut down to make room for CONVENIENT shopping malls and housing developements. And subsequently many of the INCONVENIENT shops and restaurants which were NOT located inside these malls (many of them my old favorites) have gone out of business.
Life in Tsukuba now revolves aound these malls- and more are being built ! Those who want to stay in business, whether they have a shop,restaurant, medical clinic, photo studio, or culture school of some sort have found out that they had better be in a mall.
Soon these malls themselves will probably start failing- I mean how many can we have here in the Tsukuba area- especially when most of the shops in each these malls are the same as in the other malls- the same familiar name brands: in fashion, food,and now……….. religion!
I was more than a little surprised today while in the Creo Square Shopping Mall (next to the Q`t and AIAI Shopping malls at Tsukuba Center), sandwiched between outlets of famous clothing, jewerly and luggage makers, was an outlet- a new branch of the famous Mt Tsukuba Shrine!
Now I have seen shrines at shopping malls before. I have written about the Love Shrine set up the IIAS Mall in the Valentines Day season for those wanting to make wishes for finding true romance or an appropriate partner for marriage. A cute gimmick.
But this is different, it is an official branch- the Deities of the shrine have been ritually divided and brought to the mall- of one of Japan`s most famous shrines.
In other words, you don`t have to make the INCONVENIENT trip out to Mt. Tsukuba to do HATSUMODE ( the first visit of the year to a shrine), draw a fortune (OMIKUJI) or write a wish on a votive tablet (EMA). That would be a waste of time! Now you can do it all between lunch at KFC and coffee at starbucks before doing some shopping at Seibu.
There are even Miko (shrine maidens) on duty and panels explaining the shrines history (without mentioning how this shrine had long been a huge temple complex on Mt, Tsukuba which was destroyed just after the establishment of the Meiji government in 1868 to make way for the shrine).
Those reading the explanation panels will learn that the Mt. Tsukuba Shrine is not very different from the Valentine`s Day Shrine set up at IIAS- it famous as a place to pray for finding a romantic partner and for happiness in marriage.
The setting seemed quite strange to me- but that`s just me! Many of the Japanese people entering the mall a seeing the shrine, proceeded without hesitation to face altar and make their New Year`s prayers.
No one seemed to care that it was not beautiful or that the setting was not traditional. They all seemed very happy with the CONVENIENCE of it all!
Visiting the Mt. Tsukuba-Shrine (Tsukuba-San Jinja) Creo Square Branch
The shrine`s OUTLET at the mall will be open through Monday January 5th ( it has been there since the 1st).
You can draw your fortune (OMIKUJI) for 100 Yen. There is no set rule, but some people tie their fortune onto the rack made available for that purpose and leave it there (this is mostly done by people who draw an unfavorable fortune- but some even tie and leave the rarest and luckiest of fortunes DAIKI
You can buy an EMA (絵馬) votive tablet upon which you can inscribe your wishes for 300 Yen. Write your wish on the back of the tablet and hang it from the special rack (from which you will see all the other EMA hanging. A quick survey of the wish tablets hanging there now show that most people were praying for passing examinations and the health and safety of their families.
If you would like to actually pray at the shrine, approach the altar and bow. toss in a coin (preferably a 5 or fifty Yen coin) clap twice, and then bow again.
To the right of the altar (in the next booth is a place to dispose of last year`s amulets, charms, and other lucky objects (these are traditionally never thrown out in the trash)
Still, if you would like to experience HATSUMODE ( a New Year`s visit to a shrine) at the Tsukuba-San Jinja, I would strongly recommend going to its MAIN BRANCH half-way up the mountain- despite the inconvenience that that would involve!