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Sunday, March 18, 2007

WEEK3

UNSEEN FORCES

Flaky or fact? Are 'power spots' wacky ... or what?


Staff writer

After minus-ion bottled water to transform your entire being, and natto (fermented soybeans) that was claimed to effortlessly turn chubbies into model specimens, "power spots" look to be taking their turn at the pinnacle of Japan's ever-fleeting (but ever-marketable) fascination with the slightly otherworldly.

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Clairvoyant Reika Akatsuki, the author of "Tokyo Power Spot Guide," gestures toward the Imperial Palace, which she says is the most important "power spot" in Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Hit any bookshop these days and you'll find any number of tomes extolling places to go to get extra energy -- locales as esoteric as shrines, mountains and parks. But unlike those books identifying power spots far distant from Tokyo, like the Hieizan "holy mountain" in Kyoto, "Tokyo Power Spot Guide" reveals such supercharged sites right in the belly of the metropolis.

"This book tells you about secret spots where working men and women in Tokyo can recharge themselves even during lunch breaks," said self-described clairvoyant Reika Akatsuki, who penned this work.

"Once you have this book in your hands, you should first visit the Imperial Palace and feel the energy of the capital's biggest power spot. You will be surprised how much you are affected," she declared.

To make her analysis crystal clear, she explained that while the amount of "active energy" that can be felt in most parts of Tokyo is reaches just 5 cm up from the ground, it is as much as 120 cm up there in the Imperial Palace. She added that she acquired her skill to detect this "through training."

After graduating from the faculty of architecture at Chiba University, Akatsuki, now 37, had planned to work in urban planning. But a professor specializing in iconology influenced her and made her want to research Shintoism, which led to her visiting all the major shrines in Japan. That acted, she said, as a sort of aesthetic training that gave her special spiritual abilities.

She said the "power" of a site derives either from the place itself or from the spirits of people who frequent it, especially if those people are happy and positive.

"Some other power spots in Tokyo are, for example, Meiji Shrine, which has a lot of energy from the trees where gods live; Ginza, where the pride of people who sell and buy high-quality goods exerts positive power; and Omotesando, where the power to do creative things creates positive energy," she said.

Power spots typically have a strong element of fire, so wet land or places with poor drainage portend bad luck -- but even such places can be lucky if certain conditions are met, she said.

"Urayasu (in Chiba Prefecture) is fundamentally not a good-luck location because it's on land reclaimed from the sea," she said by way of example. "But Disneyland that's built on it gives it positive energy from the fun feeling that people have there."

Likewise, Omotesando used to be regarded as a bad-luck locality, she said, because of many graveyards built there. But when Meiji Shrine was constructed in 1920, foreigners began developing the area -- which Japanese had been reluctant to do.

"Because foreigners have a stronger and more distinct spirit," Akatsuki asserted, "they are not affected by Japan's negative spirit. And as more people began to frequent the area, its whole fortune rose."

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"Big Plate" (left) and "Mini Plate," which cost 10,000 yen and 6,000 yen respectively and can, the maker claims, transmit forces through their Internet images. PHOTOS COURTESY OF TAKAHARA CO. LTD.

Akatsuki said that Tokyo Daijingu shrine in Chiyoda Ward near JR Iidabashi Station -- which is said to bring luck to families -- is a good place for women to visit before marrying. However, jealous people or those who do not wish other people's happiness should not visit or marry at shrines like Hie Jinja near Nagatacho, which enshrines a god who helps cooperative people. Likewise, people who are against the Imperial Family would be better off not going to the Imperial Palace, she said, as gods can sense those who are hostile.

However, she said that it's important to "take it easy" when trying out these power spots. "This book is just suggestions about places you can go to refresh yourselves. Please relax and try," she urged readers.

The popularity of power spots seems to be spreading in different areas. Noriko Abe, a PR staffer at tour agent Kinki Nippon Tourist Co., said that group tours to power spots are becoming increasingly popular.

"We have one that takes people on a 10-day pilgrimage walk from Tokyo to Ise Jingu [one of Japan's most important Shinto shrines, in Mie Prefecture]. There are also tours that go to world-famous power spots like Stonehenge in England and Sedona in Arizona -- with the most popular being Australia's Ayers Rock."

Although Akatsuki offers little proof as to why the spots she identifies have power, ancient Japanese are similarly said to have built shrines and other important constructions at points where they felt "something" -- whether a "holy spirit" or "special power" emanating from the ground.

These days, though they don't include prominent scholars or professors in their number, there are some in Japan who seriously research such things.

One is freelance writer Kazunari Uchida, 46, who writes on his Web site called "Leyline Hunting" that these mystical "power lines" most commonly associated with southern England and sites like Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Avebury and Canterbury, also exist in Japan.

"I have always liked nature and mountain climbing and felt 'something' at some places, though I couldn't say what," he said.

But Uchida, being a logical person who wants to take a scientific approach, took his global positioning system (GPS) and digital map to try to find numerical evidence in his homeland.

"As a result, I was surprised to find that many of the holy places and lines that have been talked about since ancient times are pretty much laid out in straight lines. I don't think I'll ever be able to say what, but I think there must be something running underground."

Among those ley lines he has researched are the Taiyo no Michi (The Way of the Sun) connecting Hase Temple, Kunitsu Shrine and Mount Miwa in Nara Prefecture, as well as Goraikou no Michi (The Way of the First Morning Sunlight) connecting Kazusa Ichinomiya Shrine in Chiba Prefecture, Samukawa Shrine in Kanagawa Prefecture, the peak of Mount Fuji, Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture . . . and on as far as Izumo Shrine in Shimane Prefecture.

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Author Reika Akatsuki identifies "power spots" on a map of Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

In a similar vein -- which some say relates to volcanic mountains or active faults -- Hou-hou Kojima, a spiritual healer who operates a blog about good fortune, claims there is also a power line coming down from Mount Fuji straight to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, which explains why both places have such special force.

Like many other feng shui followers, Kojima calls this line a "dragon vein" -- with the Imperial Palace being a "dragon hole," meaning somewhere the dragon's energy accumulates. Other feng shui followers also say that the electrical voltage at dragon holes is higher than other places, and that this is a demonstrable fact.

Although Akatsuki certainly appears sincere in her approach to such ephemeral matters, while others might be said by some skeptics to be peddling mere hocus-pocus, there are those who do very nicely from offering the mystical in a tangible and handy form.

One man in Kanagawa Prefecture bordering Tokyo to the south, for instance, sells "power spots" on the Internet.

"I started selling these portable power spots because when I tried, I could make them," said Shigeo Takahara, the 42-year-old managing director of Takahara Co. Ltd.

He said he first became interested in "qi" (spiritual energy) about five years ago, and as he took lessons he got the idea that if he made portable metal plates with qi in them, they may sell.

"It's a company secret how I inject energy into the plates," he said. "But I also programmed them, by casting a spell, so that the power will not burst through to upstairs neighbors. It's good energy, but it would be an unasked-for favor if it did that."

His Web site claims that if you stand over a power plate that's placed on the floor, a strong energy flow is felt through the body. In the last five years, he has made several million yen selling his 8-cm-diameter "big" brass plates for 10,000 yen, and his 5-cm-diameter "mini" copper ones for 6,000 yen.

But he said he is not just blindly trying to make money.

"We never said that the plates cause miracles, or make people happy. But some people buy them hoping they'll be instantly happy. To such people, I say they must make their own efforts, and I sometimes even discourage them from buying."

While power spots may resonate with some such as Takahara's customers, others still find the whole thing rather odd -- to say the least.

Tatsuya Yumiyama, a professor of religious sociology at Taisho University in Tokyo, is one who warns against the trend to believe in dubious things.

"Human beings have always sought for the feeling of being connected with something that surpasses them. Traditionally, such feeling was acquired through religion, but in the modern world it can be obtained by other means," he said, citing Zen meditation, yoga and other spiritual activities.

He noted that some researchers maintain that a boom in "irrational things" occurs at each staging post on a country's route through economic growth -- with the last major boom in Japan having been right after the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s.

However, because of atrocities by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult (currently called Aleph) -- notably the 1995 sarin nerve-gas attack on Tokyo's subway -- that boom abruptly ceased as people became afraid of being associated with things smacking of the occult.

"Spirituality booms may be something that just comes and goes in this consumer-driven society," Yumiyama explained, "but we must beware of people's trend to embrace dubious things now that memories of Aum have faded.

"We must bear in mind our experience with Aum -- that the will to seek healing and spirituality, once taken the wrong way, can lead to major and ferocious errors."



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