Soul. SJ 29/05


Thoughts after walking round Osorezan (Shimokita peninsula)
It would be hard not to be moved coming here and walking among small piles of stones along the riverbed  (Sai no Kawara), placed there by dead children trying to get across the river to the other side. Through the night, under the protection of Jizo, part Shinto Deity, adopted popular bodhisattva of Japanese Buddhism, the souls of children rebuild these whilst evil demons try and knock them back down.  Surrounding their stones, parents of dead children lay offerings of food & drink, and toys are left in the Octagon Shrine.

Emotionally and imaginatively it is hard to detach from the belief that souls could be trapped here and that many are repeatedly travelling from another world into the present and back again.  This reminds me of one of the principles of a recent Butoh workshop in which I was instructed to always be aware of the past and of looking behind: north, east, south, west.

Here, remembering the past is more connected to nurturing living beings than simply leaving respectful gestures like flowers. For example toys, food/drink and shoes/cloths are left for the souls to use and consume.

It’s this  kind of respect and care for their child’s soul, the child ghost, that makes me feel a connection between this earth we experience and that which we experience when one sense of us is lost (a literal sense such as hearing, sight or a person who you feel made up so much of who you are now).  Here, the souls of these children feel very much present and in places like Tono (another region of Tohuko celebrated for its folk beliefs, that we visited a couple of days later) a child ghost plays a pivotal role in a house, helping to preserve and maintain the home.

Trying to Sleep
Genuinely the lights flicker as I am writing this and I hear something or someone bang. It all feels unnerving. It might be just the people in the next room settling in. Maybe there are too many souls trapped outside our window, maybe my imagination is running wild, maybe the children are.  With no one to reason with, I silence myself as I attempt to fall asleep (or so I thought).

‘Let me go, if you want me to let you in!’ The fingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer. I seemed to keep them closed above a quarter of an hour; yet, the instant I listened again, there was the doleful cry moaning on! ‘Begone!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years.’ ‘It is twenty years,’ mourned the voice: ‘twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!’  (Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, Chapter 3)

        Maybe I should slide back the shutters and let them in.

I’m all too aware of the feeling that although there   is no one with me to speak to, I’m not alone.

Its morning now as I finish this entry and in the night I woke once again to the sounds of something or someone banging a constant rhythm.  Only I can’t grasp if it’s in this world or in my dreams (it could always be a place in between).


On the shore of Lake Usori, Osorezan