This week, I visited North America’s first sanctioned Japanese Shinto Shrine, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington (a suburb of Seattle). I was lead back to the Shinto spiritual nature — immersion into the beauty within the leaf of a delicate red lace maple tree, luminescent light green moss dripping down from tree branches in the world’s largest temperate rain forest ecoregion (as defined by World Wildlife Fund). This region is well known for its high amounts of rainfall (as much as 120 inches/year or 300 cm). Temperatures almost never reach below 50°F (10°C) or above 80°F (27°C), according to Wikipedia and the WWF. Today, this region’s temperature quite frequently exceeds both the higher and lower ranges.
The Shrine sits alongside a crystal clear glacier water flowing river. There were numerous stone lanterns throughout the Shrine estate, one showing the 12 Japanese zodiac signs carved around the octagonal stone (also originating from China) at the entrance. There is a path that leads into the temperate rain forest with babbling brooks feeding into the river below and glowing moss patches accenting the path. There you will find a place of peace where only the regenerative qualities of negative ions such as the sound of the rolling river and the silent, dense forest are present. Verandas, stone lanterns, and elaborate gates, influenced by Buddhism, were present in the Tsubaki Grand Shrine.
The grounds are sacred. It is surrounded by a fence made of wood called “tamagaki”. It had a main entrance called “sandō”, featuring a gate way flanked by posts of a gate called “torii”.
The physical significance of the shrine is a “honden”, which houses one or more “kami” (or god). However, this place is not intended to be a place of worship. It is used for storing sacred objects. The intention of a shrine is to dedicate a natural place of spiritual inspiration and worship.
I noticed something off about the Tsubaki Grand Shrine as I was reflecting on the visit. It came to me that most of the shrines I had visited in Japan were located on Buddhist temple grounds. My image of shrines are of the Japanese “jingū-ji”, or shinto temple. Imagine a Christian chapel inside the grounds of a Jewish Synagogue (or vice versa)! During the Nara Period (710-794), according to Wikipedia, it was believed that the temple could help guide the local kami to salvation. Japanese believe the kami, like people, also needed the salvation that only Buddhism could provide. Buddhist sūtras are recited to help guide the kami to satori (awakening, understanding).
While the spiritual learning of my Buddhist- Shinto ancestors continues, I see more and more clearly my own purpose and the vision or path the laid before me; a spiritual path of healthy, balanced living and healthy integration of self with the world around. Just as Shintoism enshrines the local natural deity, koto itself seeks to reflect the spirit of the natural deity in its music.