December is the Season of Volunteer Support for My Friend’s Shrine

The last month of 2018 has come and I am always surprised how the time fly by so quickly at the season of every year. It is also the season for me to have annual event in these several years, which is a volunteer support at the shrine where my friend devotes as Shinto priest. This is the 7th year since we have started to do so with my Onsen buddies. We always visit to his shrine on the 1st or 2nd weekend of every December and help preparing for New Year’s event of the shrine.

What is a purpose of our volunteer work at shrine?

My friend, Haru took over his family business of the Shinto shrine called “Kamowake Ikazuchi Shrine” in Tochigi Prefecture several years ago. And he used to work for a travel company as tour guide specialized in hot springs all over Japan for a while before that. He also belongs to our Onsen group, but he is no longer as free as before due to his current work and cannot travel together so often. But he has a great knowledge about hot springs all over Japan, so we prefer to travel with him at least once a year. In order to take him out from the shrine for our annual travel like “Good Luck Onsen Tour” at the end of every January when it is not a busy time for him, we have just started to help him on December when is the busiest time in a whole year toward preparation of New Year.

“Goshuin” is a seal and hand-writing stamp from the worshippers at the certain shrines/temples in Japan. We usually prepare for a specific notebook for “Goshuin” and can get it for 300-500 yen per each. It has been popular among people of all kind of generations to collect seals when they visit each shrines/temples. My friend’s shrine has started to provide several Goshuins with different designs based on Thunder God paintings.
My friend, Haru is trying many new things in these days such as holding seasonal festivals and local music events, craft classes and massage theraies by inviting instructors. He is challenging to invite more people enrich local area around his shrine. He was also very busy to write and provide Goshuin all day when we visited for the volunteers.

What we do as volunteer there?

Our volunteer work is to write down each name of parishioners on large envelopes and to pack the ornaments they ordered into it. The ornaments for New Year consist of several parts, and the most important one is an amulet provided by Ise Jingu, the master shrine of in the highest position among all shrines in Japan, and almost all parishioners order it. Then, there are other ornaments with the shapes of thunders such as “Heisoku” / “Shime” and some of special amulets such as “Inari Omamori”. Surprisingly, most of them are hand-made and we used to make some of them by ourselves according to my friend’s instruction before, however, he has been able to prepare for most of them by himself in recent years in advance. The orders of ornaments differ from person to person, so that we need to make each package without making mess and mistakes by checking along to the order list. Additionally, the beauty of appearance is also very important, so we have to pay close attention when we pack them.

We were beginners of the volunteer work some years ago, so made lots of mistakes and time consuming to complete the work. However, we have gradually been skillful according to repeating the same work for several years and devised to work efficiently and accurately by using our knowledge and experience at workplace. For instance, we made efficient working spaces by placing each ornament reachable from our seats and double checking the name and contents by different pair of  persons. It was a good memory for us to visit there overnight as we could not complete the work in a day. Now, we divide into 2 groups on Saturday and Sunday and can take over the work from the 1st group to the 2nd group very well.

By the way, we are planning to visit to several hot springs in Yamaguchi prefecture at the end of January in 2019 with him. He and our leader always make the tour plan in detail almost every year. I have participated in almost all tours and it is very enjoyable precious occasions for me because there are many unknown places where I can not reach just by myself and I am appreciated to their efforts for that very much. It may be impossible to continue to organize the tours for such a long time without their effort and our passion as Onsen lovers!  I hope we can meet again in Yamaguchi prefecture in good health and happiness.

There are different kinds of Omamori (Amulets) for visitors.

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