The irony of the ruins that shall be preserved forever seems to be in stark contrast with the deeply engrained Japanese understanding of an impermanence of things, the circle of life, the passing of moments, most visibly embodied by the yearly cycle of the cherry blossoms and the constant rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine, which has been identically reconstructed every 20 years since the year 692.
Sixty-two times this wooden shrine has been rebuilt in an elaborate ceremony, with identical materials and unchanged ancient building techniques, on alternating adjacent plots of land. And every time, five years in advance, carpenters start preparing the hinoki cypress wood.
In many ways, the shrine seems to be the opposite of a monument. Monuments are usually built and erected with at least the intention to remain standing as long as possible, preferably crossing generations, offering a way to remember, commemorate, and hopefully to never forget. Yet the Ise Shrine serves the exact same purpose, literally being a vehicle by which generations can pass on to next generations.
Rebuilt forever as opposed to preserved forever, both serving the same goal.
One looks at the shrine, knowing at the same time it is not the same shrine. It is forever new and forever ancient at the same time, born and reborn time and again, from parent to child, from child to grandchild, from one generation to the next, a continuous, unbroken line. A deeper meaning preserved and passed on.
And then there is Japan’s geological and geographical reality, on the crossroads of ever shifting tectonic plates in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Every day could be our last one. The next one could be the big one.
Every year, fleeting cherry blossoms return, forever impermanent.