Editor’s note: Members of the Galveston’s Sister City Program recently visited Niigata, Japan.

Elizabeth Anderson, Roderick Blake and I visited the beautiful Yahiko Shrine complex in Niigata prefecture.

We also drove to the top of Mount Yahiko for an amazing view of Niigata and the ocean.

Set at the base of beautiful Mount Yahiko is the Yahiko Shrine complex. This boasts the largest shrine gate, Torii, in Japan.

The gate was built in 1982 and stands about 100 feet above the roadway.

The shrine is traditional in style and houses the kami, or spirit, Ameno-Kaguyama-no-Mikoto.

This particular kami is said to have taught the people how to make salt from seawater.

It also taught the people fishing and rice cultivation.

As at most Shinto shrines, or Jinja, many come to visit. Local lore tells one not to visit with one’s significant other, for the kami is jealous and will break you up.

Plaques, or ema, for requests or notes of gratitude, much like milagros in the Mexican tradition, are hung at the entrance for the kami to read and bless.

Before entering the shrine, you wash your hands at the hand washing place, or Temizuya, with the dipper, Hishaku, provided.

Pour water over your left hand and let it fall outside the basin to the ground. Then you pour water over your right hand.

Pour water into your left hand and rinse your mouth. Do not spit back into the basin, but onto the ground instead.

Pour water over your left hand again. You let the water run back down the handle of the Hishaku as you place it back on the rack for others to use.

Upon entering the inner shrine gate, or tori, you bow slightly. You must avoid using the exact center of the gate area, as this is reserved for the kami.

When entering the Jinja area, you toss 45 yen in coins into the offertory box, Saisen Bako.

Forty-five is an auspicious number, but other offerings also are appreciated. You ring the bell by swinging the rope, the Suza.

Please do not pull on the rope, but gently pull it back and swing it into the bell.

Look toward the mirror, or Kagami, at the front of the inner shrine door and bow deeply two times.

Clap your hands twice. Pray with hands together. Bow once more to conclude your prayer and then move on.

Special ceremonies might be taking place, and others might be arranged in advance.

You might enjoy by watching through the amulet window, Juyosho, or you might contact the shrine staff in advance for an appointment.

Remember that Shinto is an ancient and respected practice within Japan.

It predates written language and expresses much of the connection between the Japanese people and their beautiful lands. Be respectful and quiet as you visit.

Guest column

Stephen Duncan is director of Fine Arts for Galveston Independent School District.

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