TINIAN — I’ve seen the sign on the fork of the road lots of times before, a crudely made piece of wood painted with the words “Tinian Shrine” with an arrow pointing to a rough road leading to a thick shrubbery.
The huge potholes in the road are a big turnoff especially if you are not driving a four-wheel-drive or if you are not that adventurous. I had been out exploring and photographing the historical sites of Tinian with visiting photographer and professor Dirk Spennemann from Australia one day a couple of weeks back and the Tinian Shrine was not in our itinerary.
But then, we had an unspoken agreement to “follow the roads and no questions asked until we get there” so off we went.
Spennemann drove all the up to the top of the Carolinas Heights Subdivision, deftly avoiding the huge potholes and the soft portions on the road leading up, and stopped at a dead end. Or so we thought when we saw another crudely built sign with an arrow pointing to oh, miracles — a single lane dirt road almost obscured by the thick shrubbery. Hesitant to drive further, my companion said we’d have to walk the rest of the way up.
I was not interested to walk because I was getting tired and my brain was attempting to shut off any minute after working at the computer for the whole night, added to the heat of the 3 p.m. sun blazing down on us and we didn’t even have a drop of water to quench our thirst, my flimsy sandals already gave out from our earlier trek to the North Field that morning so that I had to tie the straps to my toenails, all this added to our heavy cameras and bags.
Spennemann finally gave in and taking on a “whatever” stance, took the wheel again. Luckily, the road widened when we were already some meters deep into the bushes and we drove on and up until we reached our destination.
There, nestled amid more shrubbery and green foliage is a wide torii gate and a long flight of slippery, moss-covered stone steps leading up to a stone-built inner shrine at the top. The shrine was deserted so we had the place to ourselves.
Unpacking our gear, we started working and forgot everything else. For the next hour or so, only the clicking of the shutters broke the deafening silence, save for the occasional chirping of birds and crickets.
Although we were just about a couple of miles away from the center of Tinian, I couldn’t shake off the uneasy feeling that we were in another world and were being observed by unseen beings.
I stood still for a few seconds when I reached the small cement house at the top, shrugging off my uneasiness as I glared back at the pair of glaring stone dragons that acted as guards at the entrance of the inner shrine. I learned that the small house was already renovated and renovated after termites the original wood and copper roof.
It was not hard to imagine how Japanese people left offerings in this abandoned Japanese shrine with. An air of solemnity ruled the place and you get the feeling of being intruders and it felt like a sacrilege to touch anything or to even make a slight noise to break the silence.
The small Shinto shrines at the side of the long stairway showed signs of neglect, with several of its smaller stone monuments left shattered around.
The Sumiyoshi Shinto Shrine or popularly known as the Tinian Shrine is one spot that you should not miss on any visit to this island.