Meiji Jingu

Third day was also a very fulfilling day. I was expected to be the “leader/expert” person, but my limited knowledge about Shinto left me clueless. First, I would like to indicate that I had a wonderful, veggie filled day with the best noodles I have had in a long time. I love subsidized university cafeterias and cheap cabbage. 

I am so glad that Selinger-sensei has such a wonderful friend as Noto-san, who brought her very lovely friends to give us the experience of a lifetime. Continuing my musings on theater and religion (specifically rituals), we got to observe a Shinto ceremony, highly ritualized filled with familiar technical aspects such as music, dance, and lighting. I was miserably underdressed for the occasion but could not take my eyes off of the “stage.” Every step was carefully rehearsed. There were two audiences instead of the usual one. We, the worshippers, and the kami. The stage is the bridge connecting the two, a liminal space! Because of Meiji’s relatively recent construction, the hall included dimming electric lights and lovely air conditioning (much needed for my overheating exhaustion). There is the constant theme of purification and cleansing, reflected in the neat and tidy outfits of the priests. Even more significantly, Noto-san referred to the attire of the priests as “costumes.” Not simply clothes, but costumes, a word that highly signifies to me an additional layer of reality. Selinger-sensei mentioned Victor Turner 

My original project focused on the interfaith collaborative efforts in response to the triple (or more) disaster. Noto-San’s lecture had frequent references to Shinto’s relationship with other religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity. She had no reservations about going to church or temple, even as the daughter of a Shinto priest because Shinto is not a religion, in her definition. The shrine hosts multiple houses for the main kami but also “apartments” for the relatives and guests of the kami. This transactional practice has allowed Shinto to constantly evolve and to adapt. For example, the “shrine” of the Yokohama baseball pitcher not only shows the deification/reverance of individuals but also the ability to reinterpret religion as needed. Furthermore, the book of myth mentioned by Noto-san was created as “myth” but served as the legitimizing factor for the imperial family. Lastly, another interesting point (that differed from our discussions/readings) is the “ritualizing” of objects, 御神体。We talked about wrapping paper around a stone to mark the stone as kami. My understanding Noto-san’s explanation is that the stone is wrapped in order to garner kami presence. This takes away authority and manipulation/power from the human and returns it to the natural world. 

The kind Tanaka-san also gave us a detailed tour of the restricted sacred grounds of Meiji Jingu. I am not well-versed in botany or forestry, so please read Julian’s wonderful notes/observations/reflections about that. 

I wish my Japanese were better so I can ask Noto-san random questions and get to know her life better. Hopefully, she comes to visit Maine in the future and at that time, I can speak my thoughts well. 

6/1 Integrating Shinto in Japanese Life

Since we watched a documentary about the amazing forest of Meiji Shrine on our prep day 5, I have been looking forward to visiting Meiji Shrine and its 不思議な forest, which were created almost 100 years ago. Thanks to Selinger-sensei’s friend Noto-san, we had a wonderful lecture in the morning and an insider’s special experience with the ritual in Meiji Shrine. I was most impressed by the integration of Shinto in the daily life of the Japanese as well as the beautiful integration of Meiji Shrine in the city of Tokyo.

Despite the other great parts of Noto-san’s lecture on what is Shinto and how to worship in a shrine, it especially interested me how Shinto very well engages Japanese people in daily activities. According to Noto-san, Japanese people go to Shinto shrines, Buddhism temples, as well as Christian churches under different occasions–they have no problem having rituals of multiple religions (if ignoring the question whether Shinto is a religion). Interestingly, Shinto shrines are usually related to good things like birth, festivals, and sometimes weddings, while Buddhism temples are most commonly related to funerals, and people also go to churches for weddings. Religions work well together in Japan, and I think it is partly because Shinto is lowering itself to people’s daily life, both physically and spiritually (I am using the terms very loosely here).

As Noto-san introduced, the definition of Kami (the figure of worship) by Motoori Norinaga(本居宣長) is that “whatever seemed strikingly impressive possessed the quality of excellence and virtue, and inspired a feeling of awe” can be called kami. This definition is basically saying everything in our life can be worth of worship. From this perspective, Shinto is embedding worshipping and rituals into people’s daily lives, and this could be shown by the small Shinto shrine Japanese people usually keep at home. The values of Shinto create a welcoming environment for Shinto followers to participate in rituals of other faith systems/religions, such as Buddhism. On the other hand, the setting and construction of Meiji Shrine is incredible in bringing people into the Shrine and practicing Shinto.

We were also super lucky to get a chance to see the ritual of praying. The prayer was done by a priest, who read/sang the wishes of people coming to the Kami-sama and we got to see the sacred dancing, which was supposed to be provided for the kami-sama. Everything at the ritual was oriented at Kami; on our way out of the ritual hall, we were served a small saké dish of sake, which was served to kami and then shared to us, meaning we were receiving the sake as a gift from the kami. (I might be wrong about this)

As mentioned before, by the definition by Motoori, everything can be a kami. It was no wonder that many places and things in the shrine were “wrapped” by white paper straws and ropes: camphor trees outside of the hall and the rice field supplying rice that was given to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, for example. While surrounding kami by ropes is an act of establishing human contact and connection with kamis, the whole shrine can be seen as an act of creating human contact with Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, as the shrine and the outter guarding forest was manmade.