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.