Autumn, Hokkaido. Japan’s northernmost province. The season’s turning is demarcated twofold up here, both by air which is one bite away from bringing snow, and the trees whose leaves are only one breezy tug away from falling to the ground. At the moment, however, the air is still not cold enough to hint at wearing gloves, and the leaves resist the winds which drive down the straight, gridded streets of Sapporo and out into the parks with their meandering lines of foliage. In these parks there is of course to be seen the third sign of autumn- the leaves. From what in the summer appears as a green backdrop to human life, they turn in this season into a gallery of fine works from red, through orange to yellow. Or rather: crimson, fire, and gold, as my eye and thoughts tell me. My eyes are haunted by the strange, yet seemingly quite human habit of reading the world through a prism of that which is not really there, but which could be there, should a human hand be the one to work its way into the design of nature. Prismatic fantastic.
Darkness becomes apparent already, just towards the mid-afternoon. Shadows which form under growing things become thicker-set, and advance over the grass and paths, joining more frequently both with one another and the moving shadows cast by walking people. The leaves, especially the yellowed ones, are thrust forward by the deepening shadows, and the eye of the human manufacturer sees gold on dark lacquer. Illuminations without lamps. The day is drawing to a close earlier now than it did a month, even a week ago, yet this does not bring quietness in movement, even as it brings lower gradation to the palette. The flow of people is steady; I am an ebb in the flow. Many other walkers are still out.
‘Still’! The early darkness contracts the perimeters of the clock as well as the ground.
The path along which I walk is broad and has a gentle slope upwards. On occasion it is built by long, wide steps, marked by wooden, sleeper-like edges and dirt-filled squares. The dirt has been compacted by many footfalls over time, but has a dusty top layer, made possible by drier weather. The color-laden branches of the trees move out and over the path in arcs. The suggestion of a ceiling. Due to the gentle twist of the path’s trajectory, each set of colours reveals itself only gradually as I advance. One by one the colours emerge from around the rolling corners, from behind the branches of the tree passed previously. A bright crimson acer is succeeded by a still-lime ginkgo, then the same species again, only this time, a little further along in the yellowing process, its thin leaves shaking a little from a small gust, one dispersed from somewhere higher above, making no breath upon a groundling such as me, a creature so low to the ground in respect to the trees’ emergent branches. I am still watching the leaves change, when a few more steps bring into view the grand structure of a torii, sliding in from the stage right of my view from behind orange and green curtains. There is something about this gradual revelation of the torii which gives a quieter impact than a straight path leading directly to the structure would have done, it is impressive by means of gradual apprehension. The wood of the gate is dark, like the still living trunks of some of the nearby trees. Although beautifully carved and finished, the torii, as a result of its colour and gradually-revealed appearance appears to have grown from its surroundings. This man-made, straight-lined gate denoting the entrance to a Shinto shrine and the beginning of the sacred, has nevertheless been positioned with design in mind, and has not in fact arisen from organic whimsy. The torii smoothly connects the human presence with natural place. Passing under this first gate, a human can’t help but read the space into which they enter in a different manner than the rest of the park.
White foxes with coloured bibs around their necks, growling with curled lips. They look out from the left and right sides of a shrine under the trees. Actually, their bodies are grey from the stone which houses their shapes, but I see the white of their fur and the glow of their eyes, now the gate has changed my interpretation of the space. I walk on, up the dirt path which keeps winding, until I reach the great gold-accented entrance to the main house of the shrine. A grand, paved entrance. Selfie sticks, chatter, laughter, hands being washed with cold water from a bamboo fountain. A guard in blue uniform: someone who is most likely never the conscious background subject of a selfie, stored on a travelling smartphone for all data eternity. Young couples in fine clothes with a baby walking along a flagstone path through pines to the right, towards the entrance, one step on each stone. Perhaps a tradition about to repeat itself, the details about which I am not aware. I read tradition in the faces of other people as I expect to see it here. I read a lot about the scene without talking to anyone, so ‘accuracy’ and ‘tentative’ have a place on the same seat here.
A space, marked as sacred by borders. Strange that by this demarcation, I assume that the air itself has a different quality. It seems necessary that the space is demarcated somehow, and yet, in the case of the torii, the enclosure is only suggested. For beside the first torii under which I pass, there is no other man-made structure to enclose the sacred area. Only woodland. Yet it seems impossible to avoid reading walls into the air. There must be walls: I seem intent on creating walls, borders, something to denote a change or passage. Otherwise why is there a gate? Yet the sacred is not contained here physically, only in this mental construction of mine. To ebb beyond the gate, around its circumference, and certainly through it’s doorless gap- yes, that is a possibility.