wooden statue of a tanuki

I clean my face of sweat and dust. Two priests. Father and son? Their office is air conditioned. I hand over my robe to be stamped. Red on white. I pay for the stamp. It's a good moment to ask, in polite words. 'If I clean will you let me stay for the night? I have a sleeping bag. All I need is a small space.' Very polite words. I practiced on the train. Speaking them again and again, until I could say them without reading.

They give me tea in their office and show me to a private room. The air conditioner vibrates. I lie on the grass mats and look at a carving of a bear from Hokkaido, the island in the north. Cold. Snowy. Minus in winter

In the dining hall is a row of twenty trays and over to one side a single place for me. The group invites me to join. I hear them in the corridor after dinner. 'But there's no need to give her money. Foreigners are wealthy.'

The priests come and invite me to drink beer with them. They ask to see my sketch books. A priest shows me a drawing. Huge. On a folding screen. It's a tanuki ink brush. A dog type, mole type animal. Furry. Standing upright holding a bottle. Alcohol. Enormous hairy balls. Someone who came to stay drew it. It's beautiful and joyous and I thank the priest.

In the morning, after the temple service and breakfast, they give me a new hat, bean cakes and apples.

At the shrine the worshippers ring the bell and clap twice.
There are 7 kinds of mushroom on the path.


Copyright Edwina Breitzke May 1997