I have rung the bell to the Goddess of Paper twice and the bell to the ancestors of Echizen at the main town shrine thrice in the last week.
I live right next door to the Shrine for the Goddess of Paper. I went to a fall festival complete with a huge bonfire where I danced along with old villagers in costume.
The Goddess of Paper explains why Echizen Paper Village exists. Her shrine is the only shrine in Japan for paper and she is the reason 1500 years of traditional Japanese paper making has taken place in Echizen City.
My first morning in Echizen, after arriving at my home for the next two months from the bus stop, I was in awe that I was staying in a house right next door to the Shrine. The morning was foggy and cold and I abruptly woke up from a dream that I still cannot place. In other words I was tired and yet, my friend Rina picked me up and drove me toward the town explaining where everything was along the way and pointing out places of interest.
After waking up from my nap, Rina and I walked through the grounds to the temple where the Goddess is said to visit twice a year. I was instructed on proper praying etiquette. I rang the bell to announce that I was calling to the Goddess, bowed twice, clapped twice, said a prayer and then bowed again to complete the spiritual act.
Now, I haven’t been to a Catholic church in a while. Not since Easter, I think. In Istanbul, I went to a few Mosques to view them and prayed. I even found solace in the sounds of the Call to Prayer for Muslims and at times prayed in my own way. Now, I can add prayer at several shrines in Japan. While it is still prayer, praying to the Goddess and the ancestors seems different though. To me praying to the Goddess is an extreme act of faith.
The Goddess is said to live in the surrounding mountains which I do not doubt. In fact, I believe that the Goddess is a real spirit, yet she is a foreign one, one that I accept, but I have yet to experience a history with her and so to pray to her is like praying to an uncertain faith. I am aware that when I pray to my crucifix, I am also praying to an uncertain faith, but the Goddess seems different. See, where as Allah, Jehovah, and Jesus all require faith, I believe in the essence of a higher spiritual being regardless of what I, or you, or they may call it. I have at random times (often when I felt I needed more faith in my favor) called upon the Gods (channeling a more Native American and Greek outlook to the spirits), but I always return to my single higher spirit faith entity.
My decision to come to Japan to study paper making was largely based on a risk and high faith leap. I did not know beforehand that Echizen had a Paper Goddess, nor did I know that I would be living next door to her. However, as I told someone yesterday, I am a huge believer of signs and the idea that all around us are signs directing and guiding us letting us know what our gut already knows. The question is whether we choose to see and believe the signs or if we go a different road. There are no wrong or rights, but there is more self-awareness and confidence when following the signs and our gut.
Since arriving in Japan, I have been asked on many occasions why I am in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. I have also been asked my intent after I leave Japan and most importantly, why did I choose Echizen of all the paper villages in Japan?
My answers to each get easier and become more refined each time the questions are asked. As I explained just today to someone who asked, when I chose Echizen, I had no real clue that there was more than one paper village in Japan. I just knew that Rina contacted me in response to my query and she was open about the village and her passion for paper making.
Our communication between that initial email and today was two years ago and well, I believe the Goddess of Paper helped guide me to here and now. See, the other day in the car ride to Fukui City, Rina said to me, “I have faith in God and I believe he will put me on the right path.” I have always believed in God, but never that he would set me on the right path. See, I’ve always believed that I make the decisions that have set me on the right path, but I’ve always followed signs and my gut reaction proving that I have always believed in a higher faith.
When I met the Paper Goddess last Tuesday morning, I was reminded of another cold morning when I found my inner Goddess while training for my first marathon. She showed herself at 5 am on a snowy day as I ran the five mile loop from my apartment in Alexandria, Virginia to the Old Town Alexandria area and returned home. That Goddess would prove to be my best buddy during all four marathons that I completed and the encouragement necessary at miles 5, 10, 13, 15, 17, 21 and any where else she was necessary. She always brightly shined inside and said, “Girl, you’ve got this! We’ve got this!”
When I remembered my marathon buddy, I realized that no matter how hard the transition, the lack of language, I am in my home away from home. I am where I need to be right now. The Goddess brought me to her and her to me.
This trip, this journey is very much about learning papermaking, growing my business, but it is much more. It is also about me finding myself. I have felt lost the past three years. Even with a sense of direction, I’ve felt confused, unsure, and lacking in myself. Three things that I need not have felt, yet felt all the same.
I think my business will definitely prosper moving forward, but more importantly that I will prosper as I regain my confidence and footing in her home town. Below are pictures of the Goddess’s Shrine during the day.