- Hiuchi-An: Wagashi Sweets and Tea Ceremony
- Sawanoi Sake and Ozawa Shuzo Co. Ltd Sake Brewery Tour
- Stand-Up Paddling in Tokyo: Shiromaru Lake and Odaiba Beach
- Tagikyo Waterfall Meditation and Shukubo Stay with Seizanso, Mitakesan
- Amazing Food Brands in JR East Tokyo Station Gransta
Having made the conscious decision to explore other religions and practices a few years ago, visiting Japan gave me an opportunity to experience Shinto, a religion that originated in Japan and is based on the belief in kami, or spirits, that inhabit the natural world, and tagikyo or waterfall meditation. The term “Shinto” is derived from the Chinese characters for “the way of the gods,” reflecting the religion’s focus on the worship of these divine entities.
Kami are often associated with natural phenomena such as mountains, rivers, and trees. Shrines are dedicated to these spirits, and followers of the religion offer prayers and offerings to honour them. Shinto emphasizes the importance of harmony with nature, and many of its rituals and practices are designed to promote this connection. Shinto also places great importance on the concept of purity with followers practising purification rituals before entering a shrine or participating in other religious activities.
Day 1: Travelling to Mitakesan (Mount Mitake)
Mount Mitake, or Mitakesan in Japanese, is a sacred mountain located in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park in Tokyo, Japan. The mountain and its surroundings have a long and rich history; I was informed that people had been coming to this mountain for 2,000 years, and this mountain is considered one of the most important sacred mountains in the region.
As Mitakesan is considered a sacred site of worship, numerous shrines and temples were built on the mountain over time. The most famous of these is the Musashi-Mitake Shrine, which dates back to the 10th century and is still an active place of worship today. Mitakesan is also popular with visitors who travel there to hike the mountain trails and experience the natural beauty and spiritual energy of the mountain. You can visit its waterfalls, admire the flora and fauna, and hike along paths flanked by steep slopes of ancient cedar trees.
Using the Navitime app, I first made my way to Mitake Station by train (there is a Holiday Rapid Okutama weekend train that runs on weekends or holidays to the area; you can use SUICA/PASMO cards to access the train platform, and do ensure you are on the right car as the train splits up into two at one of the stations).
I enjoyed a stand-up paddling tour at Shiromaru Lake in the morning and got a lift to Takimoto Cable Station from the nice SUP tour owner. I then boarded the Mitaketozan Railway car up the mountain to the Mitakesan Cable Station (you can purchase single or round trip tickets at Takimoto Station, or pay with your SUICA/PASMO card). Both Mitakesan Station and Takimoto Station each have a souvenir store you can purchase gifts at.
After enjoying the view from Mitake Daira Plaza just in front of Mitakesan Station, I had an udon lunch at a nearby restaurant and took a slow 10-minute walk to Seizanso, the shukubo lodging that I had booked by email earlier.
It was probably off-peak period for visitors and I had the privilege of having my own tatami room on the second floor that came with a cupboard, heater, TV, armchair and washbasin with soap and a sponge. A yukata, toothbrush, face towel, bedsheet and pillowcase were provided. The Wi-Fi password was pasted on the table and I had a cup of tea while settling into the accommodation. A teapot, teacup, teabags and a hot water flask were provided as well. A larger cupboard had a few mattresses, duvets and pillows (the room could accommodate three people).
Outside the room, there was a water closet each for men and women, with a large communal washbasin outside the toilets. The bath area with bathtub, shower facilities and toiletries were on the first floor (separate for men and women). Visitors only had to bring along a bath towel, a change of clothes, good hiking shoes and an open mind. It was very peaceful especially at the balcony where I could see the mountain ridge in the distance during the day, and city lights at night.
Tagikyo Waterfall Meditation
Tagikyo Waterfall Meditation involves a prayer followed by sitting or standing under a waterfall and focusing on the sound and energy of the rushing water.
Before the 30 minute walk to the waterfall that started at 3pm, the priest (Mr Yoshiaki Hashimoto) briefed me on the rituals that we would do as a group before we entered the waterfall, and after we had completed the tagikyo waterfall meditation. I was provided a bag with a white inner robe and waist belt, a white outer robe and waist belt, a white headband, and slippers. The priest shared that these were the clothes meant for women and that the double layers of robe are opaque, hence women need not wear any underclothes while wearing the robes.
After packing the clothes in my bag together with my own bath towel, our group set off from Seizanso. We walked a steep incline uphill until we reached the Musashi-Mitake Shrine. We bowed at the shrine and turned left to walk along a hiking path towards Nanayo Falls. When we were walking, the cool air and quiet serenity of the cedar forest cleansed away our worries, and we stopped for a while to observe a bear foraging for food.
We reached Tengu Rock and bowed. The Tengu Rock resembles the long nose of a tengu, which is a bird-like goblin in traditional folk tales, and is regarded as a guardian of mountains and forests. We descended a series of metal steps down a steep incline that ended at Nanayo Falls.
Yoshiaki-san showed me the ‘female changing area’, a location right next to the waterfall where females changed clothes (behind two large rocks in front of the waterfall, with two blue canvasses set up for privacy) and the men changed into their loincloths near the base of the staircase further away from the waterfall. After I had changed, I would holler to indicate to the group that I was ready and they would walk over to the waterfall.
Standing in a circle around the waterfall, Yoshiaki-san led the group in the ritual which was conducted in Japanese, and we did a series of arm movements with chants to pay our respects. One by one, we entered Nanayo Falls in our slippers to stand under the waterfall and pray with our hands clasped together. We then repeated the sequence (so each of us went under the waterfall twice), before we stood around the waterfall once more to close the tagikyo meditation with a closing ritual.
The water was very cold and would numb our body once we entered. Having the ice cold water from the waterfall splash over me was liberating. The falls, the forest, the mountain, had been around for so many years, watching animals and humans come and go. That sense of time, the length of time that humans can’t comprehend because our lives are so short, was a huge comfort. That all things shall pass, worries will come and go, life is short and precious like a flower in bloom, and we all return to the earth and ecosystem as dust and clouds.
The tagikyo experience reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words “The flower is made of non-flower elements. We can describe the flower as being full of everything. There is nothing that is not present in the flower. We see sunshine, we see the rain, we see clouds, we see the earth, and we also see time and space in the flower.
A flower, like everything else, is made entirely of non-flower elements. The whole cosmos has come together in order to help the flower manifest herself. The flower is full of everything except one thing: a separate self, a separate identity. The flower cannot be by herself alone. The flower has to inter-be with the sunshine, the cloud and everything in the cosmos. If we understand being in terms of inter-being, then we are much closer to the truth. Inter-being is not being and it is not non-being. Inter-being means being empty of a separate identity, empty of a separate self.”
The water in my body, which came from the tea I drank, had come from a water source, which was filled with water from rivers, streams, waterfalls, full of rainwater from the clouds, which were formed from condensation of water vapour in the air, that I had breathed out. I’m human, made from non-human elements like water from the clouds, carbon from food, protein from meat, oxygen from the air, where then does my soul and spirit come from?
Upon finishing the ritual, we changed back into our clothes and shoes, and walked back in the fading light to the shukubo. Immersing myself in a hot bath, I had a moment of solitude to process the tagikyo meditation and experience.
Meditation and Crystal Healing
Dinner was served and we each ate at separate tables seated on a tatami floor. I took the time to savour each dish, and give thanks to the ground which had provided the plants, and the sea that provided the fish.
Shortly after, the group met at the meditation room and practised two types of meditation followed by a crystal healing session. The steps below are excerpts from the meditation information provided by Seizanso.
Meditation 1: Tanden breathing
- Sit in a lotus position.
- Take a deep breath for 10 seconds and exhale.
- Breathe in through the nose and put the energy of the surrounding heavens and earth into your body so your skin breathes. Breathe into the tanden (located at the back, three fingers below the navel, where your energy gathers), and gather the energy of the heavens and earth into the tanden.
- Hold your breath for 3 seconds and imagine a glowing sphere within the tanden created by the fusion of the energy of the heavens and the earth, and your original energy.
- Exhale for 10 seconds.
- Continue for 15 minutes.
Meditation 2: Imagery meditation
- Sit in a lotus position.
- Breathe out slowly until you have completely exhaled.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose.
- Imagine the beautiful energy of the universe pouring down on you and fill your body with this energy, which activates all your cells. Your potential will bloom and you will be born into an ideal self that is closer to God.
- Continue to take long breaths for 20 minutes as you imagine this scene.
- Lie down on your back on cushions.
- The priest will ring the crystal bowls for 30 minutes.
- Feel the vibrations of the crystal bowls.
- A chime will sound; turn to one side and slowly sit up.
The first two meditations were good practices at nourishing my body with the energy of the heavens, earth and universe. Our daily lives suck up so much energy and we treat our bodies as workhorses without much time and effort to rest and recover. Sitting still was not an issue as I had been practising with apps such as Medito and Balance. But my foot (which I had injured when younger) fell asleep easily while in the lotus position.
Imagery meditation reminded me of a type of meditation I had been practising on and off, especially on the bus to work. I would give some love to different parts of my body as I meditate, and extend it to the person next to me, then the next few persons around me, the whole bus, the vehicles around the bus, the area the bus was driving through, the whole island, the whole region, the whole globe, the solar system, the Milky Way, the rest of the universe and all sentient beings within.
During the imagery meditation, I imagined a wheel in my tanden rotating in opposite directions as I breathed in and out. Beauty in, beauty out. Beauty in, amplified beauty out. To my surroundings, to the whole mountain and beyond.
Crystal healing was a very powerful experience. Lying on my back, I thought I would fall asleep (as I always do with prone positions during meditation like Shavasana after yoga sessions). However, the sound of the crystal bowls were so immersive, fluidly mesmerising, an ocean of music and vibrations encasing me, increasing the frequency of my energy. My mind was actively sensing and exploring the songs of the crystal bowl, and thoughts entered and left my head (I cannot remember exactly what I was thinking about, but it was about interactions with people and interactions with myself in my head). Half an hour passed like ten minutes, and the session ended. Getting up, I felt refreshed, cleansed and full of calm, positive vibrations.
We adjourned to our rooms to rest and prepare for the next day.
Day 2: Morning Tagikyo and meditation
The group left Seizanso at 6am, following the same route and ritual as the first day. It was dark but the sun was beginning to rise. The waterfall was colder than the day before, and even more numbing. But the first day’s experiences had prepared me for the cold.
After a hot bath, we had breakfast at separate tables with mixed bean rice, salmon and assorted rice dishes.
Our meditation was slightly different. This time, we did only one meditation followed by Crystal Healing.
Meditation: Energy flow
- Visualise yourself shining with beautiful energy in your tanden.
- Breathe in through your nose and absorb the energy of the heavens and earth with your whole body.
- As you exhale, push your stomach and let the energy flow out freely out of your body. When you put out good energy, good things will come and your luck will increase.
- Continue for 15 minutes.
As with the day before, the Crystal Healing was powerful and its effects reverberated through my body. Yoshiaki-san’s sound bath is loud and rich, and I’ve not been able to find an equivalent sound bath on YouTube as a reference.
After the Crystal Meditation, check out time was 11am which meant I had a full hour to rest in my room. However as I had an appointment in Tokyo, I checked out earlier to take the cable car back to Takimoto Station.
As I missed the bus from Takimoto to Mitake Station, I decided to indulge in an hour walk instead, admiring the 3D moss and flora, and the Tama River along the way to the train station.
Mitakesan is a beautiful place to visit, and I had an eye-opening experience at Seizanso with the guidance of Yoshiaki-san. I would highly recommend a shukubo stay and tagikyo experience to anyone open to understanding Shinto, and fit enough to hike and up and down for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can experience a shukubo stay and meditation with crystal healing without tagikyo if you have health concerns.
To learn more Seizanso and make a booking, visit its website.
To learn more about Ome and Mitakesan, visit this website for useful brochures.
Special thanks to Seizanso and Yoshiaki-san for the wonderful shukubo, tagikyo and meditation experience and above information.