The Trees are Enormous – Tsurugi Shrine, Japan

Written by Mark Groenewold

It’s the first thing I notice walking through the well-worn path that winds from the parking lot into the forest of the Tsurugi Shrine in Japan. It is like stepping from one world—a world of concrete and careful parallel parking—into another of moss, ferns, and cedars reaching the sky.

And then you hear the sounds of low chanting, like waves flowing over a stone in a shallow stream. The sounds are deep and rhythmic, and our hosts await. Slowly, as if drawn by sound and the smell of incense and trees co-mingled, we get to the shrine itself. The roof is broad, and its corners sweep down and upwards. It is pristine, and all the windows and shutters are open. The air flows from end to end.

Tsurugi Shrine Japan

Inside, the high priest, adorned in his immaculate white robes and a kanmuri hat with a peacock-like tail, commands our attention. His hands hold a wooden fan, and his eyes remain closed as he gracefully glides through the sacred space, his every movement a testament to the reverence of this place.

Our friends beckon us to enter from the back of the room, slipping off our shoes as we step up. They gesture to us to come and take our places before the low dais. The chanting and gliding continue, and the priest enters the opened chamber ahead – the holy place where this shrine’s gods, the kami, are most potent.

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Through the chanting, I hear my name

Then, through the chanting, I hear my name. The priest prays for me, for my health, for my success. I close my eyes, making my private wishes as they trail after his.

And then he appears before us, holding a sacred branch and beckons us to bow our heads and lean in. He touches each of us with the branch in line, and whether it was the wind flowing through, the chanting in time, the smells of the forest or the sacred places itself, I have no idea, but I felt something. Something electric. Something blue.

And then it was over.

Afterward, we join the priest for a cup of sake. He smiles, and we chat. I see something in his eyes, and he knows what I feel and how I feel it. But before we can discuss more, he returns to his spaces, welcomes new visitors, and begins his rituals. 🟥


Tsurugi Shrine Japan – The Trees are Enormous
Hero photo by Mel

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