From rain to temizuya to wa.
During my trip to Japan in February 2023 our photography group journeyed to the countryside to explore the historic station town of Narai-juku. During the Edo period, travelers stopped here for lodging and restaurants since it was at the halfway point between Tokyo and Kyoto.
It had been raining, but as soon as we exited the bus, the wind was blowing an absolute gale and the rain was bucketing down furiously. My umbrella immediately turned inside out, which was not exactly unexpected, but was quite unwelcome. I hoped that my broken umbrella wouldn’t symbolize how our time in the town would pan out.
The plan to explore the center of town on the historic Nakasendo Road became an exercise in walking (more or less wading) the very narrow boardwalks while hugging the period buildings in the hopes of staying somewhat dry. If I’m making this sound particularly awful, then I’m doing a good job!
We had scheduled an hour and a half for exploration of a five block long road which, even in good weather, was about an hour too long for me. So I broke off from the group and skulked along under the skimpy overhangs wondering what I was going to do with all that time. In typical Japanese custom, there were no handy benches on which to wait and daydream. However, I did find a narrow window ledge to lean against at one point so that I could adjust my coat zipper when, out of nowhere, an elderly Japanese gentleman appeared and held his umbrella protectively over my head. I thanked him with my best dōmo arigatōgozaimasu, which seemed to surprise him in a good way.
Sloshing up and down the street finally brought me to a temizuya which is a small open-sided covered pavilion where one can perform a symbolic purification before entering a Shinto shrine. In the center of this pavilion was a raised stone water pool, where visitors to the shrine could use wooden ladles to rinse their mouths and hands. Since the weather was so bad, I was the only one standing under the protective roof, which suited me just fine. Thankfully there was a wide flat stone edge around the pool at the perfect height for perching.
At this point, I hadn’t taken one photo in the town – not one! I could see the other photographers scurrying around trying to get some shots in the rain, but I had no desire to join them. Instead I started looking at the water in the pool. Then I noticed that the water was flowing from a spout. Then I saw that even though the water wasn’t flowing very hard, it was disturbing the surface of the pool. At that aha moment I pulled out my phone and started to take quick shots as the water hit the surface. Within 30 seconds I realized I was onto something. Interestingly, the images looked like charcoal drawings, not photos. The stream of water appeared to be quite strong and forceful in the images, splashing water and creating bubbles and other beautiful patterns. It was a sublime moment that deserved my full attention and made me sigh with pleasure – or as the Japanese say: mono no aware.
Within fifteen minutes or so, one-by-one, other group members joined me briefly under the pavilion roof. Of course, I quit shooting as soon as they showed up. They all looked at the pool, but not one of them took a photo, which seemed both strange and lucky at the same time. I had achieved wa (harmony) for the first time all day.
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