U was disappointed we weren't able to get our shrine stamp books stamped, so when we were back in Hamamatsu six months later, over new year's, we went back with the hope of finding a priest to sign and stamp our books.
Again we found a slight widening in the road in which to park, and walked a short distance to the shrine. The difference in the shrine, however, was... well, since it was just past midnight the differences were more than just night and day! The path to the shrine was lined by tables, there was a tent with a gas stove where a few older men were warming their hands against the cold night air, and a group of middle aged women and men stood around a gas ring with a steaming pan of amazake.
U accepted a china cup of the ghastly sweet sake-like (alcohol free) drink and pronounced it delicious. A beaming man thanked U for the compliment, telling us he ran the sake store just down the hill. As we chatted with the rather tipsy man U asked him whether the shrine had a regular priest, and if would be possible to get stamps in our books. We were told to go to the sake store the day after next, and our new friend would help us out.
Two days later we pulled up to the sake store and I was more than a little uncertain - there was a very good chance the friendly owner had been too tipsy to remember the promise. As soon as we walked into the store, however, we were ushered into the back room. A quick glance around the room convinced me my worries had been unnecessary. Just about every free space was littered with scraps of paper covered with brush strokes with the shrine name and date, somebody had been feverishly practicing their brushmanship!
Although I'm not sure that the shrine stamp originally contained a line about a certain type of herb sake being Ieyasu's favourite, the resulting stamp and signature are ones that U and I will treasure and remember for many many years. And U's family enjoyed the herb sake omiyage we brought them, so I guess Ieyasu had good taste!
Look carefully above the hand-washing fount...
Its a nemuri-neko!
(See, Rurousha, I told you it wasn't just at Nikko! sorry I made you wait so long for proof!)