Written & Photographed September 1, 2015
As we made our way across the lengthy overpass, an almost deafening, whistling wind battered against us, struggling to throw my smartphone out of my hands. Just ahead, an old lady's cardigan flailed wildly behind her. Below us, the tide was beginning to rush in. Rippling waves quivered across the shallow water’s surface.
We paid a brief visit to two nearby shrines on Aichi prefecture’s mainland in the town of Gamagori, then my companion and I turned our attention toward the tiny island looming just off the coast and its long, almost formidable stone bridge.
The grey skies threatened rain.
We soon reached the entrance of Yaotomi Shrine on Takeshima. According to the map erected there, the compound of Yaotomi houses four other shrines which surround its main hall of worship. The primary shrine is dedicated to a syncretic goddess called Benzaiten in Buddhism and Ichikishima-hime-no-mikoto in Shinto.
A protector deity and goddess of eloquence, Benzaiten presides over and symbolizes that which flows, including water, time, speech, music and knowledge. The island was quite silent aside from the wind, but there certainly was a lot of water around.
Climbing up the stone steps and passing under more than a couple torii gates and past several toro lanterns, we were met with a purification fountain and miniature museum housing some eerie Noh masks. It was a haunting place with an almost ancient, spiritual ambiance reminiscent of an old tomb or forgotten fairy tale. The visitors ahead of us seemed to have disappeared.
A black butterfly fluttered nearby and seemed to follow us as we made our way through the path amidst statues of stone, banners, omikuji and trees. After a lengthy investigation of the architecture and decor, we emerged onto the other side of the island, descending toward the rocky shore below.
The surface of the stones and sand seemed to almost ripple and crawl. They were swarming with terrified critters not unlike the dreaded household ‘silverfish’ pest of North America. These unpleasant creatures varied in size; some like ants, others up to three centimetres in length, dark grey in colour. They were swift in their escape from our pounding feet. Small crabs could also be seen retreating into holes, and hiding in the narrow crevices between the rocks were tiny, colourful lizards, their black heads striped with yellow, their tails a vivid blue.
We made our way round the grey beach and back to the bridge. Once again, the screeching wind assaulted us, almost trying to pull us back to the haunted island and its surrounding bay. Closer to the mainland, the clouds began to retreat, and patches of clear blue sky peeked through. It felt as though we were returning from an ethereal, bygone realm to the real world.
The visit to Takeshima and Yaotomi Shrine was, for me, a special experience and I hope that one day I can return.