Omamori Of Amore
By Guy Murashige Sibilla
Aren’t we all searching for true love?” I rhetorically asked Shinshoku Saori Morikawa, the only female priestess of the six monks who reside at Keta Taisha shrine, in Hakui City, Japan. The answer to that question is what brought me here, as well as nearly a million Japanese annually who call upon the Shinto deity Okuninushi for a little shove toward love. In fact, “Keta Taisha Shrine Is For Lovers” would make a great bumper sticker.
The journey of trains, planes and buses to Keta Taisha shrine is itself a metaphor for the quest for true love: It can be a long and winding road. Or for web-walkers, ask anyone with a login name and password to eHarmony or Match.com. But at this shrine, the hopes and dreams of the lovelorn are dealt with through the intervention of a higher power.
I passed under the entrance gate and walked up to a miko, or shrine maiden, and asked if I might speak with a monk.
After she made several phone calls, I watched as a young woman came bounding down a series of steps leading from the shrine. This was how I met Shinshoku Morikawa. We exchanged introductions and talked as she led me back up to the wooden fenced-in compound of the shrine.
Shinshoku (priest) Morikawa explained that Keta Taisha shrine has been at this location north of 2,000 years. Even if none of the existing wooden structures are original, the site upon which the shrine rests is what makes it extraordinary. “This mountain is special for its healing powers,” she divulged while gazing into the ethereal woods behind the central structure. A little further to the rear of the compound stood a moss covered stone torii gate. “This is the forbidden forest,” she uttered while pointing into the emerald shadows, “because this is where the gods for good relationships reside.”
Shinshoku Morikawa explained that even when you come with the dream of finding true love, all dreams don’t come true right away. She then escorted me to an area where thousands and thousands of ema were left for Okuninushi on fences surrounding the shrine. Think of ema as 4-by-5-inch wooden message boards with love tweets scribbled on them.
The inscriptions on the ema often expressed private, intimate wishes for true love. Although it felt a lot like reading some else’s love letters, it was impossible to turn away without glancing at some. One message modestly asked: “Please help me meet someone I really like.” Another request seemed to require a little more doing: “Please help me find someone who will treat me well and wants to get married.” And one didn’t ask for much at all: “Please give me a boyfriend who is fun.”
The heart-shaped ema and the arrows piercing bull’s-eyes suggested that some symbols of love are universal.
Unlike the ema left at Keta Taisha shrine, you can purchase omamori of amore at a stand near the entrance to take away with you. The small fabric amulets are often adorned with flowers and gold thread and encase prayers for your wish for true love to be fulfilled. It is small enough to carry in your pocket, purse, or wallet. For about $5, less than the price of a Happy Meal, who can resist such a reasonable price for the chance at true love?
I bought five.
Any number of shrines across Japan can provide you with omamori to help you with an array of other wants. There are omamori to bring you prosperity. And happiness. And good health. And some for safe driving or bicycle riding. There is an omamori to protect your cat. Or for the canine crowd, to safeguard your dog. The list goes on and on.
As for me, the son of a Japanese mother and an Italian father, I came to Keta Taisha shrine on a serious, personal pilgrimage. So grave in fact that I bought one omamori that obligated the monks at Keta Taisha shrine to pray for me daily for one year. Does that seem too desperate?
My lessons in amore continued throughout the day with Shinshoku Morikawa. As part of my continuing adult education in the puzzling matters of love, she cupped her right hand and placed it on top of her left. While holding both of her hands together, she uttered, “en musubi.”
In Honolulu, we understand that a “musubi” is basically a “rice ball.” Shinshoku Morikawa explained it to me differently, saying that by “placing hands so” not only brings the hands together to shape rice but also intertwines them as love intertwines the heart. And I thought it meant “rice ball.”
By now, the afternoon sun was failing and the luminescent glow of the gold accents of the Keta Taisha shrine sparkled. That was my cue to prepare for my departure, even though I felt I still had much more to learn from Shinshoku Morikawa. I really didn’t want to leave this bubble of love, however, as we all know, some bubbles burst.
I have also learned after a lifetime of travel that one’s journey away from something is as important as the path toward it. To put it another way, a Japanese proverb suggests that when you have completed 95 percent of a journey, you are halfway there. That meant I had a long way to go, even if I had just arrived. So I took a deep breath, offered my melancholy goodbyes and began walking away from Keta Taisha shrine. Every once in a while though, I take out my omamori of amore just to feel the love.
Guy Murashige Sibilla is a Honolulu-based freelance journalist and photographer who has traveled extensively. His words and photographs, on occasion, have been published and sometimes recognized by various authorities as worthy of an award or two. His life continues to be a work in progress, as is his book of sonnets.
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