The moment I finished putting my tent up, the priest called me back offering to let me sleep at the shrine. Even though it was dark and the basket-bike had no lights, I immediately accepted. When else would I get a chance to chat with a wizard and sleep in a dragons` den?
(Shinto priests qualify as wizards because they wave wands)
Changes can be sudden and dramatic when travelling. At 6pm I was alone on a dark beach; at 7pm I was sitting in a brightly-lit kitchen while a wizard and his wife were preparing my dinner together. They both apologised for it being mere spaghetti.
The wife then drove to Mutsu to pick up the kids, the son from boat club and the daughter from grandma`s. The wizard and I were left together at the kitchen table, two sober strangers with nothing to do but talk. The conversation changed speed and direction rapidly. He told me about his interest in Toulouse-Lautrec, his passion for Formula One racing, and his favourite season, winter, when you can listen to the owls and stand in the snow and see the moon between the branches.
To be a priest, he told me, you need to know Japanese history, language and a bit of bushido. Bushido? Yes, bushido – samurai etiquette, like resting your hand on the table to reassure others you aren`t going to reach for your sword. I quickly corrected my posture.
The son announced news from school at the kitchen door: “A kid at school said he saw a foreigner riding a basket-bike today.” That foreigner was sat at his dining table eating spaghetti. The wizard encouraged the kids to ask me questions about the trip, a map appeared along with choux-cremes and coffee.
I was then granted first dip into the hot-tub, before being led to my quarters, the shrine office, a small tatami-mat room at the back of the building. The wizard fetched a futon from the loft and laid it out next to the low desk. A quick survey of the room revealed the tools of 21st century wizardry, a can of coffee, a pack of cigarettes and a clear plastic filing cabinet, the drawers labelled with the names of gods: Mountain, Sea, Fire, Dragon – it was the most heavily protected bedroom of the trip.