Today I had the pleasure of exploring Shari; a small rural town situated in Eastern Hokkaido. It is the gateway to the UNESCO protected Shiretoko Peninsula and is located on Japan’s northernmost island.
Joining a small group of elementary school children and a fellow teacher on the tour, which was led by staff at the local Shiretoko Museum, I learned a lot about the town which is home to just under 12,000 people. And, as of April this year, it became home to one more. Me 🙂
I have recently relocated from Manchester, England, to live and work in the area as an Assistant Language Teacher, and so it was great to find out more about the place which will be my home.
One of our first stops was this beautiful Buddhist temple ( the biggest in the town) which is home to a community of monks. Services and funerals are held here, and my guide told me the bell (pictured below) is traditionally rung 108 times on December 31st. This is because it is believed that humans have a total of 108 bad habits. Therefore the tolling of the bell is a ritual and a way to leave those habits behind as we transition into the new year.
The community of monks here also give calligraphy lessons, as well as lead services and prayers.
Elsewhere on the tour, we visited Shari’s only Shinto shrine. Originally the shrine faced towards the sea, as mostly people came to visit it from the coast, travelling on ships to pay their respects. However with the creation of the railroad through the town, the shrine was repositioned to face south, as now people lived in the centre of the municipality. The repositioning 100 years ago represented a shift in the way of life in the area, and a move towards modernity with the introduction of the railway.
It is customary to bow deeply when passing through the first red entrance to the shrine, and then to bow twice, clap twice and bow deeply when you reach the innermost building.
Elsewhere in town (pictured below), we visited a memorial dedicated to the warriors from Aomori, who came to Shari in the Edo period to protect the town’s inhabitants from the Russian invasion. Sadly, due to malnutrition and disease 83 of the 100 warriors died. In memory of the warriors the people of Shari hold a yearly festival each July, called Neputa, to pay their respects and to ensure the soldiers sleep in peace.
Sadly the festival has been cancelled this year out of respect to those who passed away in an accident at sea in a tourist boat in Shiretoko in April.
I was also shown the old town hall, the oldest house in town, and the building which used to the movie theatre. Now, the closest cinema is located one and a half hours away in the city of Kitami.
When walking back to the musuem at the end of the tour, my lovely colleague showed me the rescue eagles that are located in one of Shari’s many parks and I was in awe of their majesty. Beautiful creatures – I think they are the largest birds (beside flamingoes) I’ve ever seen!
Elsewhere in the park (which unfortunately was rife with bugs that kept crawling all over us and making the children and me squeal), were a selection of flowers and plants, that according to my colleague and wonderful translator, are very rare at this time of year!
I’m happy to have learned about this beautiful town today, and hope to continue learning about this gorgeous place, its inhabitants and their traditions, as I live and work within the community.
Thanks for reading 🙂