Down the hill and across the street there is a large and significant shrine. Stella and I pass through it almost daily, a shortcut on our way to the park. The air is always a couple degrees cooler there. Groves of ancient trees form arches overhead, and I can smell dew settling on the lawns, the only grass for miles. Gravel, carefully pulled by rake into clean, straight lines, crunches under my bike tires as we pass.
Stella and I went for a stroll on Saturday evening. The shrine is busy on the weekend. Weddings, ceremonies, festivals, and flea markets are hosted here. This particular Saturday, a Kendo lesson was underway. As we approached, we could hear the twap thwap of bamboo swords as teenagers and children, some no older than 6, were gracefully springing forward on bare feet and whapping each other on the heads.
I thought Stella might be frightened by these strange figures, dressed in armor and wielding weapons. But she was enthralled. She stood still for five minutes. And then signed "baby, baby," as she pointed to the smallest warriors and then tried to wriggle out of my grasp and join the fray.
We met a pair of twin girls, five years old. They marched through the lawns with Stella, chanting "ichi ni ichi ni" as encouragement. Their father, glancing back from his lesson, smiled at us. Soon the sun was setting, so we said good bye and the girls each gave Stella a small, green acorn.