The sea off Japan's southeastern coast harbors the Meoto-Iwa, or "Wedded Rocks"--and a secret.
"Compassion is the
of the interdependence
of all things."
THE CONDUCTOR ANNOUNCED OUR ARRIVAL in crisp Japanese, and shouldering my backpack, I stepped into Futamiura Station. A light mist carried a whiff of soothing salt air, but my mind remained restless. Concerns about the rest of the trip and images my camera had already captured rippled through my consciousness, clamoring for attention.
I was traveling through Japan to photograph its wild and sacred places, on a quest to document serenity. I wanted to produce imagery that allowed viewers, even in the midst of hectic schedules and daily pressures, to pause and find their own sense of calm. But as I walked past shops and hotels, surrounded by hurried people, I began to doubt this stretch of well-developed shoreline in Ise-Shima National Park would afford me much tranquility.
I spotted a tall torii, or gate. The bright red pillars, topped by two crossbars, mark the entrance to the Meoto-Iwa Shinto shrine, where locals, tourists, and spiritual pilgrims come to reflect, pray, and view two elephantine boulders that protrude from the water.
According to Shinto legend, the "Wedded Rocks" are known as Izanagi and Izanami, the primal couple who gave birth to the Japanese islands. United by thick braided ropes called shimenawa, they reflect a permanent embrace between man, woman, and Earth. The shimenawa denote sacred space; Shinto monks replace the ropes, which weigh more than a ton, several times a year.
For the next three hours, I sat at the edge of Ise Bay and gazed at the rocks and the shifting sea, lulled by the waves at my feet. Boats passed through the harbor's swirling fog. As the sun's fading light warmed the scene, the din from town slowly evaporated. A stillness unfolded in me. I felt connected.
Through most of the day, Izanagi and Izanami appear independent, as if the shimenawa were all that connect them. But each receding tide reveals their true nature. Their separateness is an illusion. The two rocks are one, anchored by their fusion with the earth, which binds us all. —Jeffrey A. Davis