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Trees and Mirrors

Imaizumi Tenmangū, in Iwatë Prefecture, was one of the many jinja devastated by the tsunami in March 2011. The jinja buildings were all washed away, leaving only the sacred tree, or shinboku, a great sugi (cedar). Unfortunately, the tree was poisoned by the salt in the seawater, and began dying, so that it had to be cut down. The trunk was left standing to the height reached by the tsunami, 4.5 m from the ground.

The November 29th issue of Jinja Shinpō had an article about the next stage of the jinja’s reconstruction. The sanctuaries have finally been rebuilt, and in late September the jinja held its first Reisai (annual grand festival) with the new buildings. The day before, the jinja was presented with a new treasure.

This was a makyō, or “magic mirror”. These are solid bronze mirrors with a design in relief on the back. The front looks smooth and polished, but when strong light is reflected off it onto a surface, the design on the back of the mirror can be seen in the pattern of the light. These mirrors were, according to Wikipedia, first made in Han dynasty China, and it took a long time for scientists to work out what was going on; it is, apparently, to do with microscopic variations on the front surface caused by the interaction of the manufacturing process with the relief on the back, which do interesting things to the reflected light.

This mirror was made for the jinja as the result of a crowdfunding campaign run by a magazine, and is supposed to be the largest such mirror in the world (at 33 cm across); apparently, it took a year to make. The image on the back, and thus also in the reflected light, is of the sacred tree in its glory years. The mirror will be displayed for the time being in the library that was set up in the jinja precincts after the tsunami.

The jinja also received a donated sanctuary building from a corporation, which was moving the sanctuaries off its premises due to rebuilding. (They may well be building new ones, because the old ones may simply not have fitted.) This building will be dedicated as “Ōsugi Jinja”, and will be a guardian for the old sacred tree. Although that tree died, there are a number of saplings growing up around the base, which are now being venerated as sacred trees themselves.

I can easily imagine the makyō becoming the goshintai for Ōsugi Jinja, but the priests may prefer to keep it on display; it is, after all, quite a spectacular treasure.

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