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Friday the 13th and Yatagarasu

It's Friday the 13th (here in Japan anyway) and I'm up early, drinking green tea and waiting for Nora to stir. Today we are starting the day with a visit to Shimogamo-jinja.

According to Japanese lore, the shrine is in commemoration of how the three-legged crow deity Yagatseru guided the first Emperor of Japan on a journey from the south. Emperor Jimmu (585-770) traveled from the region which would become Kumano (an area south of Kyoto, including Nara and Wakayama on the southern coast) to what would become Yamato (a more central area closer to Kyoto) and it was near here that the Japanese empire was established.

One of the central deities of the Kumano shrines is Yatagarasu (八咫烏), the "eight-span crow." There are three Kumano shrines in Kyoto, and by a neat coincidence, one of them is just a block from our ryokan. We have already visited several times and paid our respects; I stop here on my morning walks to Family Mart for the bottled coffee and hot buns that comprise our breakfasts. I have gotten several lovely omamori from a friendly young priest who reassured me that my multiple crow tattoos didn't debar me from the community of grace. He even explained that he, himself, had a friend who was tattooed over 90% of his body--and that he, himself, was a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the notably extensively tattooed lead guitarist Flea.

Besides symbolizing divine guidance, protection and intervention in human affairs, Yatagarasu also symbolizes rebirth and rejuvenation, as the crow is an animal that has historically cleaned up after great battles, symbolizing the renaissance after such tragedy. Very appropriate for these strange times.

Somewhat in keeping with the theme of Friday the 13th, Nora and I will be making Emperor Jimmu's trek in reverse, as later today we will travel to Nara in the hopes of witnessing one night of the Omizutori (お水取り) fire ceremony rituals at Todai-ji temple. Held every year during the first two weeks of March, these Buddhist repentance rituals have been held annually for over 1250 years, making them one of the oldest reoccurring Buddhist events in Japan.

This has currently not been cancelled, according to their website, but it usually attracts big crowds. I somehow doubt it will this year. In any case, we are looking forward to a brief sojourn to Nara and the Deer Park.

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