With Sincere Heart

When I moved to Korea, my first weekend in Seoul was during the Lunar New Year holiday. I lived in a relatively quiet, residential neighborhood away from the busy-ness of central Seoul, made even quieter by the national holiday. Shops were closed, streets were empty, not a creature was stirring, and so on.

My first weekend in Tokyo had a similar feel. Monday was a public holiday in Japan — Marine Day which is part of the Happy Monday System (of course they have Happy Monday in Japan) — and a much-needed day off for me. I am living in Central Tokyo, but it is a mostly diplomatic area of embassies, office buildings and upper class residences. For instance, the Emperor of Japan lives right down the street from me. His house is huge.

So it was extra quiet on Happy Monday. And Happy Monday was indeed happy, as I was able to gracefully ease into my Japanese life. I slept past 6:30 am for the first time in weeks, I went for a run, I took a nap, I ate caramel pudding, I rested, I read Lonely Planet, I didn’t unpack and I finally ventured out at 4pm.

I was starving, but I wanted to visit the Meiji Shrine near busy Harajuku before it closed its gates at 6pm. It was a hot day and the shrine grounds are a thick forest of 100,000 trees donated and planted by people from all over Japan, in honor of the late Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, so it was the perfect place to wander sleepily in the late afternoon heat.

As far as religions go, Shintoism is a pretty great one. I like the way the way it’s described on the shrine’s map best: Shinto has no founder, no holy book and not even the concept of religious conversation, but values such as harmony with nature and virtues such as “Magokoro (sincere heart).” I like that harmony with nature thing, but I like that sincere heart thing best.

In the late afternoon, the pathways were quiet save for the rustle of gravel beneath my feet. I washed my hands in the fountain, stood in silence in the temple, put my coins in the offering box and wrote a great big Thank You onto a scrap of paper, slipped it in the envelope and dropped it into the wooden prayer box. With my most sincere heart.

The sun went low in the sky around me as it crept toward seven and the lights went on, one by one. On my way out, I picked up a small brochure at the exit. Inside was this poem written by Empress Shoken:

Though overgrown
With a dense thicket
Of briers and brambles,
A path needing tread upon
Is one that must be followed.


12 Responses to “With Sincere Heart”

  1. hannah says:

    i’m a bit teary. and again with the goosebumps. sheesh.

  2. BF says:

    steph, wow. this is a perfect post for a friday. these photos and your words are calming, and sincere.

    (also, i’m not ashamed to admit that that note from dad to adam got me a little choked up.)

  3. Arliss Renwick says:

    Happy Monday’s for some – the time I was there, I remember security guards shooing away the Harajuku kids and not letting them enter the park. Mind you , it was nice to (finally) find an oasis of quiet in Tokyo, so that’s not all bad…

  4. claire says:

    oh stephanie. i’m just crazy about your most sincere heart.

  5. charlotte says:

    you know you’re going to have to publish your account of tokyo, don’t you? i love the city even more now through your words and i wasn’t sure that was possible.

  6. ash says:

    oh steph

  7. lisa says:

    love your meditations…like: Cerulean.

  8. cindy says:

    i found your wonderful blog through brian’s and so happy i did. i would love to visit japan, but probably will never do so. your writing is so pure and your photos intimate in the way i think of the culture. the Meiji Shrine sounds very special. thanks so much for sharing your experiences. i can’t wait to read the next one.

  9. oh i loved the meiji shrine! and these are such great photos of it / such nice moments.

    such an oasis of quiet contemplation even when there are more people there.

    it was the last shrine i went to on my trip. and there’s a little sandwich/pastry shop right out front by the big tori that has these really really yummy pastries made out of that purple stuff i am forgetting the name of. soooo good. yum!

  10. oh I just remembered! it was “anko”. an anko croissant. so good I went back and got a few more. supposedly to give to my cousins back at the hotel. yeah, right! :)

  11. julia says:

    oh goodness. goosebumps indeed. and i like that sincere heart thing quite a lot too.

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