The Asahi  Shinbun     Weekend Beat                                                                                    July 28 2007

By MAYUMI SAITO staff Writer 

Ancient Waterfall ritual appeals to city slickers


"Once you're under the fall, hang in there for the first minutes. Your body should warm up. If you can't remain, raise your hand and we'll pull you out." Rie Miyake assistant director.

The Group washed their hands and necks with sake at a little shrine.
They prayed for safety as instructor Kunio Ichikawa chanted a mantra. 


About to step onto slippery rocks under a waterfall they would need all the help they could get. 
Next, the 10 participants, all dressed in dreamy white karate outfits, formed a circle and loosened up. 
Most were women. 

Assistant instructor Rie Miyake offered final instructions: 'Once you're under the fall, hang in there for the first minute.
Your body should warm up. 
If you can't remain, raise your hand and we'll pull you out." 
Yuhi-no-Taki (sunset waterfall) in Minami-Ashigara, Kanagawa Prefecture, looked especially cold as it poured off the mountain on a chilly day earlier this month. 
The group bowed to the fall. 
"Please take care of us," 
they said in unison.
In case the waterfall wasn't listening or in an evil mood, each person carried a bamboo pole.

They chanted and stepped into the pool near the fall, using the poles to maneuver over the rocks. 
After a minute in the basin, they approached the waterfall.

As it crashed down on their heads, each stabbed their pole into the water, using it as an anchor. 
"Keep your heads up," Miyake called.
Some flinched as the water cascaded over them.
But they held fast, standing under the bracing fall. 
Some stayed for 20 minutes, others for 30. 

"It was intimidating and painful at first," 25-year-old nurse Yukie Murakami said, but her voice was cheerful as 
she stepped out of the water. 
Her day at Yuhi-no-Taki-a 90-minute train ride plus a 15-minute bus ride from Tokyo-was her first experience with ascetic training. 
"But it wasn't bad. I feel refreshed," she said. 
"It was warm in the water once I got used to it. 
I didn't get cold until I got out." 
Hironori Shimizu, 32, was another first-timer. 
He said he was determined to find his limit, but he had to leave the water before the rest of the group. 
He ignored lchikawa and Miyake's warnings and returned to the waterfall repeatedly.
When the group finally pulled him out he was groggy ;his limit reached and exceeded.
"Now I realize that I'm still too weak ,"Shimizu said, as disappointment clouded his face.
Suffering from depression ,he took a leave of absence from his railway job in June.
He said too much pride ,"had interfered with his job.
He joined the group all the way from Aichi-prefecture hoping to "gain enough momentum to star tover.
Waterfall ablution can be traced back to ascetic training practiced by shingon-sect Buddhist monks in the Heian Period (794-ll85). 
It proliferated to other sects, incorporating elements of Zen, Japanese anjmism and Shintoism. 
Waterfall rituals have been conducted for centuries. 
Aside from monks, average folk seeking physical and spiritual training often brave waterfalls. 
Some devotees practice year-round. 
Although leader lchikawa, 56, uses traditional methods, including dressing participants in white clothing and chanting mantras while waving animistic sticks, he said his five-year-old group, Shonan Takigyo-no-kai (Shonan waterfall training society), has no religious mission. 
He promotes the waterfall ritual as a form of stress release, exercise and meditation.
The waterfall group is only one part of his training center LoveBody Shonan in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, established in 2002. 
The center offers an eclectic mix of activities, including diet and fasting camps, hiking, yoga, qigong exercise therapy and massage. 
"This is where tired people come to rest and rehabilitate," Ichikawa said. 
Wbile many of the predominantly women guests join the fasting camp to lose a little weight, others are in need of 
spiritual/psychological help. 
Quite a few participants suffer from depression, neurosis, anorexia or bulimia, according to Ichikawa. 

The waterfall excursion is the most popular of the center's offerings. 
Visitors may choose the waterfall ritual only or take part in many activities over a longer stay. 
The Shonan group's takigyo training takes place under either the 25-meter high Yuhi-no-Taki, or the 70-meter-high Shasui-no-Taki. 
Shasui means purification water in esoteric Buddhism. 
Both falls are located in a mountainous area in the Ashigara district. 
The center charges 5500 yen for the waterfall excursion and provides the karate outfits. 
Participants should bring gym shoes to wear in the water, a couple of towels and something to wear under the
karate outfits-either shorts and a T-shirt or a swimsuit. 
ASsistant leader Miyake, 27, said she was a stressed-out office worker when she first came to the center a year ago to take part in a detoxification/fasting program. 
She enjoyed her experience and stuck around, helping with the waterfall ritual and clerical work. 
"I don't know if it's because of the waterfall or with other factors combined. 
But I rarely catch cold nowadays," she said, adding that she wears a wetsuit when leading waterfall excursions in the winter. 
Miho Hiraide, 25, a native of Nagano Prefecture, has 
taken part in the waterfall ritual seven times.
"Things that are on my mind fade away one after another while I'm in the waterfall.
It serves as an emotional as well as a physical detox ," she said. 
She first arrived with Sumi Nasu, 43, for the waterfall ritual about a month ago. 
Nasu also described the waterfall ablution as a refreshing experience, 
adding that the water crashing down on her also provided an unusual body massage. 
Another participant,Yuji Maeda, 48, watched the waterfall ritual twice before trying it himself. 
Now, he is a regular throughout the seasons. 
He said he is convinced the waterfall stimulates the autonomic nerves throughout his body. 
Hoping to cure a skin allergy, Hiraide also took part in the two-week fasting camp. 
Participants drink vegetable juice and soy milk three times a day and munch on sour plums occasionally. 
Returning to her regular diet, Hiraide decided to remain at the center to relax for awhile. 
The rash she had on her hands appears to have vanished. 
She said she quit her temporary job in the construction industry in Nagano Prefecture in the spring. 
She now helps out at the center in exchange for room and board. 
"Most jobs are part of the daily grind. Here, every day is different with so many activities available.
These small excitements become a form of therapy." Ichikawa said. 
"People come and go. We don't force them to do anything. 
We offer tips when asked,
" Miyake said. "Those who want to sleep can stay in bed for three or four days. 
We don't pick on those snacking during fasting, either. 
Everyone can make their own plans here," 


The Shonan Takigyo-no-kai group takes part in a waterfall ritual at Yuhi-no-Takl in Minami-Ashigara in Kanagawa