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Historic Kansai:Attractiveness of Kawabata can be seen in a New Year visit to shrine

By Junzo Tanaka
It is a natural course ofdevelopments for those who want to study Japanese and improve their grasp of the language to look for a chance to come in contact with the works of Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata. They can discover beautiful Japanese and a Japanese heart in his literature.
An American woman high school teacher whom I have been acquainted with for years is an ardent admirer of Kawabata and his novels 'Yukiguni' and 'Izuno Odoriko.' The English teacher in Osaka came to know and read his works following her New Year visit to Sumiyoshi Taisha (the Grand Shrine of Sumiyoshi) a few years ago with her Japanese friends.
Almost all Japanese usually appear to be apathetic about religion but they enthusiastically visit shrines on New Year's Day. They pray at nearby shrines for their safety throughout the year and pledge themselves to be diligent. This is why Japanese shrines are crowded during the New Year season. Many shrines also become date spots for young Japanese men and women.
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka is one of the oldest places of worship in Japan. It is well known as a shrine that draws many visitors. About 3 million people visit the shrine during the first three days of every New
Year, making it the top sacred place in Western Japan in terms of the number of visitors it receives. It also is the second- or third-ranked crowd drawing shrine in the nation during the New Year celebration. When my American teacher friend visited Sumiyoshi Taisha, she found a stone monument in the compound full of people. A paragraph from Kawabata's novel 'Sori-bashi' was carved into the monument. The inscribed passage written by Kawabata himself said: 'It is more frightful to cross down an arched bridge than to go up.' An arched bridge is called Taiko-bashi that is shaped like an arch and the one at Sumiyoshi Taisha is especially famous.
Referring to the shrine's Taiko-bashi, Kawabata's fiction features a very young boy and his mother, who are on their way to cross the bridge.
The mother orders him to go up the very steep incline alone, saying that she would tell him an 'important story' when he reaches the top. The boy tries very hard to walk upward. There are many small holes on the floor of the bridge so that those who cross the bridge can slip their clogs in and keep them from skidding down. The mother embraces the boy at the peak of the bridge and tells him the story she had promised. The story completely changed the life of the 5-year-old boy.
My friend felt she received a philosophical suggestion from the phrase on the stone monument. She was spellbound the moment she found Kawabata's book in her high school library. She thought his written language was beautiful and the combination of 'hiragana' and 'kanji' characters visually sophisticated. Although it took her several weeks to finish reading the book, she was drawn to its charm. Kawabata published 'Sori-bashi' in 1947, two years after the end of World War II. The book was regarded as a kind of autobiography. Not blessed with his blood relatives, he bore a shadow of loneliness. He was born in Osaka's Sumiyoshi Ward where the shrine is located. If you visit the shrine in the coming New Year, the first in the 21st century, you may discover something. Sori-bashi is an old structure that was mentioned even in books issued during the Kamakura period (from the 12th to 13th centuries). The holes were filled up with flat pieces of wood about 40 years ago because they were considered dangerous for people wearing shoes instead of clogs.