previously published on Need Supply Co.
Sei-jyaku is a quintessentially Japanese sentiment connoting poignant silence. Neither positive nor negative, it signifies willful inaction, a deeply restorative and brimming silence that is as life-giving as it is all-consuming and melancholic. It is what one feels when locking eyes with a stranger, when staring up at the surface while drifting underwater. It is what one feels when walking through a torii in Takachiho.
Nestled in the lush mountains of Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan, Takachiho is known as the “village of the gods.” Numerous jinja shrines dating back 1,200 years ago dot the region. Some are surrounded by thick cedar groves; others are found in damp caves. Many have played a crucial role in the inception of Japanese folklore and serve as the idyllic “sato”—or village—backdrop for the gods’ and goddess’ playful antics.
One such temple is Amanoiwato, where Amaterasu, the sun goddess, hid after being taunted by her brothers. This deprived the world of her life-giving light. To lure Amaterasu out of the cave, a group of gods and goddesses got together and held a banquet, complete with uproarious laughter and sake. This effectively lured the sun goddess out of the cave and restored life back into the region again. The divine spirits of Shintoism are just as human, if not more human than mortal beings. They are guided by neither conscience nor moral principle—they are, in essence, a diverse cast of id-driven sprites inhabiting and characterizing the prolific landscapes of Japan.
A rugged trail behind another shrine, aptly named Takachiho Shrine, winds down to the Takachiho Gorge. The path is densely forested with puddles of sunlight filtering in through the canopies above. The quiet burbling of water can be heard in the distance as the steep incline opens up into a clearing. To the right appears a beautifully marred gorge containing dark, strangely stagnant water. It sits in stark comparison to the gnarled igneous rock formations twisting and turning up the mountain face, scathed from the cruel passage of time.
A mile or two south along the gorge, the inky water becomes clearer and animated, with silver crests shimmering along the rugged basin. One eventually comes to Manai Falls, a thin, majestic waterfall descending the jagged precipice and feeding crystal clear life into the gorge below. A landmark full of contradictions, Takachiho Gorge cradles sojourners with a deep sense of spiritual fulfillment while leaving them bewildered by the poignant and crudely arbitrary narratives of nature.
Sei-jyaku, at its finest.