The temples in Nagasaki are similar to the Catholic’s in Portugal, in the way all religious buildings are similar. There is much pomp and decoration inside, a confusion of angles and joints in the rafters. The Japanese shrines, and in fact most public buildings, are wooden and carved in strange shapes. When inside the shrine, I saw many boses chanting, endlessly; other times, attendants carry themselves slowly through the buildings. There are lamps everywhere. Gold abounds.
I went with Gonçalvo Pinto to see some of the larger buildings. Our translator demanded we wash our hands in a small rock basin before we entered the grounds. We looked inside one of the wondrous shrines and came away amazed, again, at the wealth of this nation.
There are some places that foreigners and common Japanese alike cannot enter, but how is this different than any other sacred place? On the temple grounds, there is always movement in the shadows, goods being brought in and out, attendants sweeping the grounds. The religious visit through the day.
Worshippers approach the front of the temples, clap their hands together a few times, then bow. They burn a strong incense. I have not been able to speak with a Japanese about the meaning of this. Prayer looks the same in any language, but there is a reverence and repetition about it that I admire.
One of these temple complexes was especially beautiful. Carefully constructed, it reminds me of the artistry put into ship joining. The wooden buildings were set in the woods, closed up within hills. Our translator explained briefly that these temples worship a kami and the Buddha and are to be built together. The main temple itself is around the height of three men, covered with a packed straw hatch. The roof is somewhat like the thatch roofs Africans build on the Gold Coast, but of a thicker construction.
A bell hangs at the front, framed by a large twisted grass rope. We stood awhile, watching the comings and goings of Japanese and their priests. As we watched, an old woman came up, rang the bell, and offered a sort of prayer to this god. I very much wanted to draw some other details: the cloth banners hanging from various places, ornate windows framing the green forest. The wooden lattices in the front of the building made it hard to see inside, but I am promised the god is in there, nonetheless.
At least the Jesuits and the Shintos make the same promises.