Eight corners for “We Are One” groundbreaking

(Students Rebuild)

This week (the morning of Tuesday, July 17, in Japan, or 4PM Monday in San Francisco), the Kitakami “We Are One” Market and Youth Center broke ground. Participating in the ceremony were very honorable owner of the Market, Naomi Sato, the market’s architect Fumihiko Sasaki, two Shinto priests, several local contractors and members of the Architecture for Humanity Japan office (program manager Shogo, and design fellows Aki and Toru). It was an intimate affair.

The design fellows uploaded a five-minute synopsis video to YouTube, and watching it I was swiftly bewildered. I crossed the office to the “program side” and asked Hiromi to help me navigate the ceremony.

Karl: (@0:00): So. What are we looking at?
Hiromi: So the attendees are setting up the shrine right now. The rope marks it out, tied to four young bamboo trees.
Karl: The bamboo are the corners of the shrine?
Hiromi: Right.
Karl: What’s the significance of the umbrella?
Hiromi: It’s raining.
Karl (@0:30): What’s that building?
Hiromi: THAT is the temporary Kitakami market. They’re already selling some fruit and vegetables, but you can see it’s a small space.
Karl: No room for a youth center.
Hiromi: None at all. Soon as the permanent market and youth center are built, this will be taken down, and make more room for Ms. Saito’s vision.
Karl (@0:38): Here’s a Shinto priest.
Hiromi: Yes, that’s the assistant priest. He’s paying respects to the shrine to the God of the land, Ujigami. Here’s the head priest. (@1:07) Now they’re blessing the four corners.
Karl: Wait, where’d the bamboo go??
Hiromi: I mean the four corners of the SITE. The shrine is still there. The priests go to each corner and bless it with petals (or maybe paper petals here) and a tree branch.
Karl: Man that’s pretty. (@2:15) Who’s that?
Hiromi: That’s the market owner, Ms. Saito. She’s symbolically “breaking the ground.” (@2:33) Here comes Mr. Sasaki, the architect, who represents preparing the earth for construction.
(BOTH watch in silence)
Hiromi (@3:05): You can see part of the shrine there’s sake and fruit as an offering to sprits. Now everyone’s paying respects. The men in the jumpsuits are local contractors.
Karl: Mm. (BOTH watch in silence. @4:15) Woah, is that…?
Hiromi: That’s Shogo [the Japan team program manager].
Karl: Hey-cool! And I like his shoes.
Hiromi: He’s from Tokyo.
Karl: Ok, I understand the bowing–what’s the significance of clapping twice?
Hiromi: Good question. You know I haven’t lived in Japan for a long time…I can Google it…
Karl: Never mind.
Hiromi (@4:30): Ok now everyone’s gathered to hear a blessing from the priests, with saucers of sake. See there’s Aki on the right and Toru beside him [Japan team Design Fellows]. He’s wishing no injury or accident happen on the site, as well as successful reconstruction for our projects ahead. Ok, now he’s saying “drink up.”
Karl: That’s a nice touch…hm, the DFs are a little timid.
Hiromi: What can I say? They’ll have to get used to it!

Indeed, this ceremony will be one of many the Japan team will attend this year. Not only will other projects go into construction soon, but Hiromi tells me there are usually two traditional ceremonies per project. The second happens once the building is finished being framed (all the timber has been installed), and now should make a lot more sense!

Follow-up note from Hiromi
Ok, here’s the deal. When you pray to the Shinto god(s), you bow twice, clap twice, pray, and then bow one more time. You’re supposed to bow deeply to show your respect, for the god(s), you bow at 90 degrees. Clapping is to call attention of the god(s). Then pray. The last bow is to pay the last respect to the god(s).

Each shrine (like different schools of thought, or denomination) has a different number of bows and claps, but the government made all shrines switch to “two bows, two claps and one bow” in the late 1800s until after WWII. Crazy.


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