Where can you find a really, really big tree in Himeji city?
You can’t. The City would like you to believe that a standing, living tree does not create jobs. But cutting one down does. And for the past few years I have borne sad witness to an industry that has turned tree doctoring into ‘tree butchering.’
Before the relentless summer heat arrives, small trucks of hard-hatted men with chainsaws disperse throughout our city shaving and snipping, chopping and chipping, wiping out the very shade and oxygen-giving botanicals that we need!
Yet in this sprawling western Japanese city, unplanned and mismatched in every sense of the architectural word, small green spaces exist. They are pockets of calm, oases, where a forest giant or two rises, birds congregate, highschool kids smooch and elderly toss coins, clap their hands and bow into the warm, fragrant depths of Shinto shrines.
That’s right, I’m talking about the abode of the Gods: Shinto shrines.
My local shrine sits on a tiny knoll cut off from the world by a rice paddy sluiceway and a luxuriant wall of foliage. Out of this rise two enormous kusunoki (camphor trees) and at the foot of them stands an old weathered Shinto shrine, pelted by bird poop and succumbing to creeping moss.
It is the quietest place in the Good Hood, a traditional neighborhood north of Himeji Castle and my home away from Australia for the past 14 years.
So there I sat this morning, on a poop-pelted bench, watching feathers and fruit stones fall from the canopy and shafts of morning sunshine illuminate patches of fiery red spider lilies. Beetles whirred and butterflies flitted through the undergrowth.
The reason such life exists is because the grounds of a Shinto shrine are sacred turf--off limits to the little men in hardhats with the biting saws and stinging blades. Trees are the realm of Shinto gods. They are untouchable.
My troubles dissolved, I left through the torii (Shinto gateway) refreshed, my mind emptied and at ease, ready for the surge of new knowledge, stimulation and stress that each day brings living in Japan--a country which, despite its traditions, prides itself on living at light-speed.
Next week: The Good Hood celebrates Autumn with colour, noise and plenty of hops.
What is the essence of a traditional Japanese neighbourhood? Writing from my home in Himeji, a castle town in western Honshu, Seaweed Salad Days distills, ferments, presents!