The Kiyotaki River runs through the mountains west of Kyoto. It is a sanctuary of coolness of a hot summer's day and so I went exploring the upper reaches of the river on this sweltry first of June. A narrow road cuts through the wooded ravine and leads to a waterfall known as Kuyanotaki 空也瀧. It was here that I had my first experience of takigyo or waterfall misogi 滝修行、this is a Shinto practice of ritual purification.
In the midst of the forest, a veil of water splashed down a craggy cliff; passing a red torii, we discovered a group of takigyo practitioners, the men were dressed in white robes and were performing some invocations & warm-up exercises. Then they began scrubbing a sacred boulder, it was engraved with kanji and wreathed with plaited ropes, 'shimenawa', symbolising the purity of the Shinto faith. Two women were preparing flowers to be offered to the various mossy stone statues, some which I recognised as the protector deity, Fudō Myō-ō as it was wielding a sword.
Near the cascading waters, a white-robed man made a few ritual claps, shouts and bows, and then waded into the pool and stood under the splatter of water with hands clasped in prayer and began chanting the heart sutra. This was my first time to see takigyo practiced and it was a fascinating sight. The man stood there for at least seven minutes continuously chanting, I could see he was being energised by the cold mountain water, receiving all the ki (vital energy) that fell from the sky and gathered in the river.
As it was a hot day I asked with enthusiasm if I may be allowed to enter the falls as a takigyo practitioner. Soon I was handed white robes which I donned in eager anticipation and then exchanged my flip-flops for a pair of white tabi. In a minute it was my turn to wade into the pool. I was not fearful of the torrent of water but held onto the rocks under the falls and let myself be splashed by the waterfall. I chanted the Kannon-sama chant with hands in gassho, while the water pelleted my head, shoulders and back. It was a truly exhilarating few minutes. The coldness and the force of the water was strong enough to be invigorating yet not painful.
On exiting the falls I felt purified; soon I was offered a cup of coffee and began chatting with some of the takigyo practitioners; one member had been visiting this waterfall shrine every month for the past twenty-five years and travelling all the way from Okayama prefecture. We shared a picnic lunch of onigiri, tofu, watermelon and strawberries. I promised under the falls that I would return for another 'misogi'.
June coolness -
veiled in a white cascade
my first 'misogi'