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. 

Author: Gerlin Leu '19

Hello readers! I am Gerlin, an Asian Studies major focusing on religion in South (and Southeast) Asia (although thinking about pursuing academic studies about food culture and power.) I have been studying Japanese for two years now. My original plan was to look at religious NPO's collaborative efforts after 3/11 and how that has redefined the role of religion in society. I am currently also very obsessed with the theories of subaltern and postcolonialism, so these themes will echo through my posts. I enjoy taking photos and talking in person (more than blogging). じゃ、よろしくお願いします。