Monday, March 21, 2011

Shintoism and Japan Today

"Human beings have the potential to become Kami." --The Essence of Shinto: Japan's Spiritual Heart by Motohisa Yamakage
In the Shinto mind there are many, many symbols of heaven here in earth. Armed with no other knowledge, the casual observer while traveling in Japan may remark upon the many shrines. There are about 80,000 Torii-gated Shinto shrines in Japan. They are located throughout the countryside and in towns and cities as well. Passers-by may spontaneously pause at these little edifices for prayer and reflection, taking a moment of their busy, modern day. A few of the best known: Ise Jingu Shrine, the most sacred site of Japanese Shintoism, as it enshrines the ancestry of the Japanese Imperial family. It may be said to represent the 'grander' side of things. Shrines to the Imperial family, both old and modern, serve to strengthen the state and its core symbol, the heavenly-descended Emperor.

 Ise Jingu and Yasukuni Jinja
stand as products of the modernizing influence of revolution. Ise Jingu resulted from a Chinese led coup in a seventh-century palace that altered an earlier style of loosely affiliated clan-ship into the more centralized style of the Chinese invader. Yasukuni Jinja was a result of the Meiji Revolution. Built in 1869, its original name was Kyoto Shokonsha. Today it is best known as a memorial to World War II.
Increased contacts with the West  prompted the evolution of Japanese society into a more Westernized military-industrial complex over time. While the result of  the Meiji Revolution was the restoration of the Emperor, he no longer ruled singularly or directly.

 Ise Jingu Shrine, while emphasizing the Imperial ideals within Shintoism, composed of the inner and outer buildings, Naiku and Gekku, focuses upon a remarkable ritual symbolizing the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, from whom the Emperor is traditionally thought to have descent; so it is with great importance of place many Japanese regard this shrine, an essential element of beauty. Curiously, both Naiku and Gekku portions of the Shrine are completely taken apart every 20 years, then identically rebuilt on adjacent sites. This has been going on for almost 1,500 years; it will again  occur in 2013.

Author Motohisa Yamakage writes in The Essence of Shinto, "the union of the sacred and the mundane is a distinctive feature of Shinto... Shinto is found in our relationship and interdependence with Kami... Shinto is the path with which we seek to realize ourselves fully as human beings by acquiring the noble characteristics of Kami... but we must first become attuned to Kami... the essence of Shinto..."

He writes further that in the modern, consumer world values such as the intangibles of spirit, selflessness and sacrifice are increasingly lacking. He makes reference primarily to the 'invisible' world, the world that may be felt but not seen. Many disregard, or actively disbelieve what they cannot see before them. Simply put, as a point of reference: can we believe in the winds that bring rain, though we do not see them? We may only feel the wind. So what is wind? What is Shinto or Kami? Yamakage challenges his reader to find the unseen, the Spirit in the modern world today. He writes of a lack, a hunger to reconnect with these spiritual values within a living, breathing Shintoism.

No comments: