Taoiseach out on his feet for sake of nation after a long flight
A five-hour delay did not stop Taoiseach Enda Kenny seeing the spiritual side of Japan
A few minutes’ drive from the noise and you step into a tranquil world of birdsong and contemplation, the scent of pine needles filling the air.
It’s a favourite place for weddings. Officials clear a special path for couples and their guests as they make their way to the ceremonies.
It was harvest festival yesterday. Children carried sheaves of rice stalks wrapped in paper.
In the large courtyard in front of the shrine people attach handwritten prayer requests on little wooden boards to a special stand.
The most sacred area is railed off. Inside is a huge ceremonial drum, like a large barrel on its side. There are doors with enormous, ornate hinges. Steps, with copper detailing on each riser, lead we knew not where.
But the spirits reside in the stillness of that space. People look through the rail and bow twice, clap their hands twice and bow twice again.
Enda was greeted by the deputy chief priest, Miyazaki Shigehiro. In the gathering twilight, he was guided in a procession around and inside the shrine, taking part in a “purification” ceremony in which a priest poured water over his hands. Then, to loud drumming, the Taoiseach was given a branch from the sacred tamagushi tree. He placed it on a wooden table. The drum sounded again.
“This forest was created by the heart of the people of Japan,” said Shigehiro.
“Thank you for visiting our shrine. I think you must be very tired. We are honoured to receive you here today . . . the spirits and the emperor will be watching over you when you’re here and protecting you and Ireland.”
After taking off their shoes, the delegation watched a short performance of traditional Shinto dance and music.
Enda was presented with a flask of sake. But not before he had been given a taste. The priest poured with pride: the emperor himself was fond of a drop and he would have served his rice wine from such a flask.
The Taoiseach raised the little dish to his lips and drank.
The priest looked on, anxiously.
Enda took a generous swig.
And he laughed: “More!”
But he didn’t. Just as well.
He looked absolutely out on his feet. Another snifter and he would have keeled over.
“Strength of the gods,” said the priest.
“A bit like sloe wine,” said Enda afterwards. He’ll probably bring some home with him.
But the question is: who will the Taoiseach give the sake to?
He refused to be drawn on his impending reshuffle.
Will he give the sake to Ruairi Quinn? Or will Pat Rabbitte get it?
By the way, the Taoiseach may have had a gruelling trip, but the hacks in steerage fared even worse.
Their luggage is in Shanghai.