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Jishu Shrine and San-nen-zaka

The first spiritual visit of the New Year

Kyoto is a city of prayers. Thousands of temples and shrines dot this town, in labyrinthine alleys, nested into the folds of the surrounding hills. I was wondering if any difficult challenges in my public or private life would lie before me this year. So I chose Kiyomizu Temple for my first spiritual visit of the new year in order to face those challenges like a leap in the dark as if I were jumping down from the Kiyomizu-no-Butai itself.

It is said that the slope of Sannenzaka leading to Kiyomizu Temple has its origin coming from the word ‘San-nei’ which means ‘easy delivery of babies’. After I put my hands together in prayer before the principal image of Kiyomizu Temple, I walked round to Jishu Shrine, which stands behind Kiyomizu Temple.

Jishu Shrine is said to answer prayers of marriage so frequently that it’s alive with young women reveling merrily. It is also sacred to the Seven Divinities of Good Luck called Shichi-fuku-jin in Japanese. It is said that we should make prayers of gratitude here instead of making wishes. If you would murmur in your mind, “Thanks to the Gods for watching over me always. Thanks to the Gods that all of my family spent happy days this year in good health. Thanks to you again, Gods.”

Thereupon, the Gods hearing this say to themselves, “Oh, this guy is very strange. He didn’t make any wishes, and just said thank you. Today almost 50,000 people came visiting me here, but all of them put forth their wishes. No matter that their wishes have come true, nobody has ever come back to me to say, "Thank you God". Humans are so arrogant. But how about that guy? He didn’t make any wishes. What he said was just ‘Thank you’!” All right! My choice to grant good luck for this year will be him! Whooosh!”

On my way back I dropped in at Inoda Coffee Shop to have the first cup of coffee in place of ‘toso’ - the New Year’s sake.

When I left the shop and looked up at the sky of Kyoto, the intensely cold air was clean and pure with the occasional snowflake fluttering in the silence.

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