Every day, an old married couple watches the sunset from a tranquil coastal spot at Ise in Japan’s southern Mie prefecture. Connected to one another by a rope woven from rice straw, husband and wife sit quietly as the sun dips from view. Every morning, when day breaks, the couple can be found in exactly the same spot—still tied together, still standing sentinel.
The rocklike stoicism of this couple makes sense when you consider that they are, quite literally, rocks. In the Shinto religion—the faith of choice for the majority of Japan—spirits known as kami are believed to inhabit people, places, and objects in the natural world. The two rocks at Ise, known collectively as Meoto Iwa (the wedded rocks), represent Izanagi and Izanami, the married deities who created Japan and kami, according to Shinto mythology.
The larger rock, about 30 feet tall, embodies Izanagi, the male, while the smaller rock, standing around 12 feet, is the female Izanami. The rope that bonds them in matrimony is a shimenawa, a sacred Shinto object often placed over shrines and gates to ward off evil spirits. The rope uniting the Meoto Iwa frays fast due to the wind and waves, and must be replaced three times per year.
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