Date: June 13, 1988
Age: 13 years old
When Satoshi and his mother, Toshiko, arrived at JR Kirishima Jingu Station, their plan was to take a taxi to Kirishima Jingu. Satoshi was ecstatic about the taxi ride since he rarely had opportunities to ride in them. Once his mother flagged one down, he hopped in the car with a smile that matched the sunny and warm day. After the taxi departed from the station, he was so consumed by thoughts of a quiet ride ahead that he was unprepared when his mother abruptly yelled, “Stop!”
Satoshi jumped at the sudden exclamation and hit his head on the seat in front of him as the taxi driver slammed on the brakes.
What happened? Was there a problem? Satoshi thought. He turned to his mother and saw her eyes following a shrine bus that had just entered the train station.
“It’s a sign,” he heard her whisper to herself before saying aloud to the driver, “Sorry, but we’re going to take the bus instead.”
As they exited the taxi, which hadn’t even left the station, Toshiko explained to Satoshi that the shrine buses only came about once every hour or two. The bus’s arrival was clearly a sign from Heaven.
Satoshi shrugged, trying to hide his disappointment about the impromptu end of his taxi adventure. He didn’t know if the bus was a sign from the other side or not, but at least the ride was only a short 10 minutes. Satoshi made sure to secure a window seat and fixed his eyes on the changing landscape. He enjoyed watching the rural homes pass by and noticed that the mountain air grew crisper the closer they got to the shrine. Eventually, the shrine’s massive red torii gate came into view–a symbol of the boundary between the mundane and the sacred. They had arrived.
Kirishima was certainly a lovely part of Kagoshima, highly regarded for its hot springs and hiking trails. But what set the area apart, Satoshi knew, were the myths surrounding its forests and ancient volcanic mountains. According to legend, this region was the birthplace of the Japanese nation. Toshiko reminded Satoshi of this belief many times. Of course for this reason, the area attracted people from all over the country. Visitors came to hike, relax and rejuvenate, but also pay respects to the area’s religious and cultural heritage. The power of the gods felt relevant here, and it was this fact coupled with his mother’s infallible faith that led them to Kirishima Jingu. A quick hike or dip in a hot spring would be nice, of course, but after the fortuitous timing of their arrival, Satoshi knew his mother wouldn’t let him miss out on a blessing from this ancient location.
While Satoshi and his mother followed the path leading to the shrine, the cawing of the crows caught his attention, and he noticed a rather large one, off to the side, perched on a low lying branch. The bird’s sleek black feather’s reflected the sun so majestically that Satoshi turned to his mother and said, “Look. A crow!”
His mother whipped her head in the crow’s direction and stared at it intently.
“Crows are messengers of the gods,” she reminded him in a steady voice without even looking at him. She was entranced by the bird’s presence. Although the crow wasn’t looking at them, Satoshi had the strangest feeling that it had placed itself near them for a reason.
Satoshi was about to share this feeling with his mother, but when he turned to her, he saw that she had already started walking up the path again.
Satoshi glanced once more at the crow and then followed his mother. However, he had only walked a few steps when the feeling of being watched washed over him. He stopped, hesitantly peaked over his shoulder, and then gasped when he saw the bird turning to face him. The crow watched him in an unnerving fashion, seemingly tracking his every step. Despite the warm temperatures, Satoshi felt a chill tickle his spine. He swallowed loudly, ready to call out to his mother again, when he felt a tingle course through his body. Not a strong feeling, but perceptible, leaving him with an aftertaste of unease.
He turned around and quickened his steps to his mother, but couldn’t help stealing one more look at the crow. Its haunting form was still there, watching him. His steps slowed as he locked eyes with the creature. Should he say something? Just then, he felt another strange tingle slightly stronger than the last. Satoshi’s heart pounded as the crow gave him one last unsettling look and then flew off. Satoshi patted his chest to calm his beating heart, but he couldn’t shake the ominous feeling. Was that how crows delivered their messages? After a moment of failed self-soothing, Satoshi hurried along after his mother. The remaining walk to the shrine passed without incident, but Satoshi still felt shaken from his experience with the crow.
Outside of the shrine stood an 800-year old cedar tree. Satoshi positioned himself beside the impressive tree, and as his mother began to move into the shrine proper, he blinked in surprise and horror. There was the crow again, perched on its branches, looking right at him. Before Satoshi even had a moment to process the bird’s presence, he felt another tingle reverberate from the center of his chest to his toes and fingertips. His knees wobbled from the sudden feeling, and as he gained his footing again, he called out in a panicked voice,
She turned and gasped when she saw the crow. Two crows in succession? Overwhelmed by faith and unaware of Satoshi’s discomfort, she bounded with enthusiasm, crying out,
“It must be a real message from the gods!”
Toshiko grabbed Satoshi’s hand and hurriedly pulled him towards the shrine. It was time to get that blessing, she thought, but Satoshi felt uneasy. He couldn’t share his mother’s excitement. The unnerving feeling wasn’t leaving him, and it bothered him. The person he was this morning, excited about a taxi ride, seemed distant to him now. Not knowing what else to do, though, he followed along with his mother.
The vibrant vermillion structure stood in stunning contrast to the ancient green forest. Kirishima Jingu was full of superb detail but none of it was a match for the yellow-eyed stare of the crow. The shadow-like bird had followed them into the grounds. Satoshi stared at its menacing form in fear and then searched for his mother who wandered off to find a monk. In the space of only a few minutes, Satoshi felt that strange tingle. This time, it was strong.
He could not contain the audible gasp that escaped him as the feeling intensified. He looked around, wide-eyed, but saw nothing strange. Nobody else seemed to share his concern. People strolled around the shrine, casually chatting, unbothered. Satoshi looked back at the crow just as it flew off. Was he imagining everything or had that bird been making an extra effort to look at him? He couldn’t be sure, but as he stood there, contemplating the strange events, Satoshi felt the earth rumble. The simmering anxiety that had been growing inside him all day seemed to burst. Terrified, he was about to call out to his mother, when instead, he met the eyes of the monk she was speaking to. In a single instant, with eyes locked, Satoshi knew that this man had also felt the rumble. Clarity broke through Satoshi’s veil of fear, and he gasped in realization.
This was the crow’s message!
The monk grabbed Satoshi’s mother by the arm and called out Satoshi to move to the evacuation zone in front of the shrine. As they ran to the safe space, the ground shook more aggressively, and people screamed out in terror.
In his haze of panic, Satoshi recalled the temple’s history. Tradition had it that here, on Kyushu island, the sun goddess's grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, descended upon Mt. Takachiho in nearby Miyazaki prefecture to rule over the country and provide order. Satoshi had once asked why Kirishima Jingu was in Kagoshima and not Miyazaki. Shouldn’t Ninigi’s shrine be located where it originated? Volcanoes and earthquakes, he had been told. The shrine had been destroyed many times over the centuries before finally being relocated.
Of course, this made practical sense to Satoshi, but at the same time, the story disturbed him. The destruction must have been devastating to warrant moving a god’s shrine. The incident made him question who the ‘real’ god was. If nature could destroy a god’s shrine, didn’t that mean nature was more powerful than the gods? Or maybe, that the gods came from nature? Is that what Shinto really was?
These kinds of questions were nothing new though for Satoshi. His travels with his mother visiting power spots and sacred places had opened up his view of Japan. In time, they would open up even more, revealing another world outside of his familiar one. But, at that moment, as the earthquake finished its course, Satoshi was huddled with his mother, looking up at her and at the monk who had recognised the crow’s message.
“Are you alright?” his mother asked in a gentle tone.
“I-I’m okay,” Satoshi replied, embarrassed by the quiver in his voice.
Then, to Satoshi’s surprise, the monk also asked, “Are you sure you are alright?”
Satoshi, dumbfounded by the repeated question, forgot formalities and instead replied with a question.
“Sir, did you… also feel something?”
The monk smiled and responded, yet again, with a question, "What did you feel?”
Toshiko, watching the two closely, heard Satoshi answer softly, “A tingle, sir.”
The monk nodded his head slowly.
“What does it mean, sir?” Satoshi probed.
The monk looked at Satoshi’s mother, before answering, “It means that the world is always speaking and that you can listen.”
Satoshi looked up above him. Toshiko and the monk followed his gaze. There, the crow stood a moment, gazing at him, before flying off. The monk looked at Satoshi as a very small aftershock rolled through and then was gone.
The monk added, "Always.”