The True Weight of Things

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It was the only english sign in the whole place. It said:

< Omokaruishi >
This means heavy light rocks. If you felt this rock is light you will get your wish

The words had been printed on a sheet of paper, laminated and attached to the bottom of a wooden sign that said the same exact thing, except in Japanese. Next to the sign was a pair of egg-shaped rocks resting on stone pedestals that looked like giant candlestick holders. I watched as people walked up to the rocks, made an offering, put their hands together and made their wishes. Then they would lift one of these magical rocks, and come away from the experience with a secret and a smile.

The omokaruishi sit near the entrance of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. In Shinto, Inari is the god of rice and more generally the patron of agriculture, industry and commerce, which makes the Fushimi Inari shrine, the head shrine of Inari, a popular destination in Japan’s business-driven culture. Guarding the shrine are a pair of bronze kitsune (foxes) wearing protective red bibs:

Red Bibs, Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan

Foxes are considered Inari’s messengers, and thus closely associated with prosperity and worldly success. The kitsune also make for a playful twist on the traditional ema – wooden plaques on which people write their prayers and wishes and hang at shrines for the gods to receive:

Fox Wishes, Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan

And I haven’t even gotten to what is by far, the shrine’s most recognizable feature: the ten-thousand-plus orange torii:

Toriied Tunnel, Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan

A twin tunnel of smaller orange gates leads the way from the street entrance to the main shrine, which sits at the bottom of a small mountain. Thousands and thousands of larger gates line the stone steps up the mountain to numerous smaller shrines along the way. The torii are donated and inscribed by both businesses and individuals, grateful for their prosperity. If these gates look familiar, it might be because they were the original inspiration for The Gates in Central Park.

Mind you, everything I’ve described so far I only learned about afterwards, when I looked up the place on Wikipedia. At the time, there was nobody with me to explain what the torii meant and why there were so many of them. In fact, there was hardly anybody around at all as I traversed the mountain path, for I’d landed in Japan in the middle of their rainy season.

Every year, starting around the beginning of June, the majority of the country turns consistently overcast for a month and a half. The storms that day had been particularly bad—probably the worst I experienced over the course of my entire two-week trip. Pebble-sized droplets ricocheted off the orange gates; it sounded like I was surrounded by a bunch of people running their hands through big bowls of M&Ms.

It was late in the afternoon, and I was already exhaused from a day of walking around and visiting other temples. I was hungry, drenched in sweat and my socks were wet from the rain. I had also foolishly decided to bring my laptop with me that day, thinking I could find a place to sit and get a little bit of work done. I really felt those extra pounds as I hiked up the mountain. My mind bounced back and forth, trying to decide whether I was being stubborn for not stopping and turning back around, or if I was giving up too early by not climbing all the way to the top.

And then I thought about the omokaruishi.

I’m not a very superstitious person, but I’m a believer in making wishes. Anything that gets you to pause and think about what your dreams and goals is a good thing in my book. And what I love about the omokaruishi is that they’re actually about more than just your wishes; they’re about your expectations too.

The rock is a test: if you approach it expecting it to be light, then you’ll get caught off guard, maybe even become discouraged, when you discover its real weight. If, however, you approach the rock expecting it to be heavy, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the ease with which you can lift it. And if you’re the kind of person who takes on new challenges in life prepared for their heaviness, then maybe that’s the kind of person that wishes come true for.

Another great thing about the omokaruishi is that even if you understand it’s really an expectations game, it’s a different experience when you go and lift the rock. When you feel the weight of it in your hands, it reveals what you actually believe, rather than what you think you believe. The omokaruishi are indeed magical rocks, but not the kind where a genie comes out of a lamp and grants your wish. Instead, it’s the kind that shows you who you really are. And I think that’s the best kind of magic.