Sumiyoshi Shrine,Wajima

In tune with the spirit or Nature
The orientation of buildings in their environment in Japan was important from very early times.  Even simple dwellings were erected with functional considerations very much in mind.  A doorway, for example, was positioned to take advantage of summer winds from the south or south-east, while avoiding typhoons winds from the south-west and cold winter winds from the north-east.

The development of buildings to satisfy a spiritual need was also very early.  It is most likely that the earliest people to inhabit the islands, which came to be known as Japan, were animists and therefore trees, plants, animals, rocks and other natural phenomena such as seas and waterfalls were thought to have a spiritual energy.

A place of worship might be a spring where pure water could be found, a tree that was considered to have supernatural powers and, of course, mountains were kami or deities resided.

Originally the worship of mountain deities involved lining up with the mountain at a place marked by three trees or another natural feature.  This kind of engagement with “nature” was gradually rationalised and sometimes replaced by a combination of natural symbols and a built shrine.

The form of such shrines gradually made a division between deity and worshipers by using separate buildings—an Oratory and the main Shrine, which might only house a large stone or nothing at all.  It was a space for the deity.  At the very least spaces were separated from each other under one roof.

There are now a number of different types and styles of shrines in Japan and it is these which represent the Shinto religion.  What is common to almost every shrine is the existence of a torii gate. Often red in colour, sometimes made of stone and occasionally made of bare wood, they mark the entrance to the grounds of a shrine and are common to all, large or small.  They are also lined up with the main shrine building and that may also be lined up with a mountain or some other honoured or deified feature.

In Wajima at the Sumiyoshi Shrine the Oratory has been rebuilt and resembles some of the coastal buildings, which housed places of work as well as dormitories for those who were engaged to work on the boats and ships that plied the seas around the Noto peninsula.  In both case a building of volume with a prominent gable in the rear dominates the lean-to style frontage.

At this shrine in the Fugeshimachi district, the main shrine is completely hidden by the Oratory.  The open lean-to frontage and Oratory provide shelter from the rain or snow for worshipers or even for a Wedding or other celebration.

One thing for sure is the fact that all Shinto shrines seem to be invested with a feeling of peace and tranquility, a sense of spiritual energy in harmony with all about them and to many Japanese their local shrine is a focus for the whole of their lives.

Infomation on Shinto:

Coastal Architecture:  Similar pattern of lean-to building—Hamaya style

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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