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Recently in Japanese Religion Category

Alot of what you read on SaruDama deals with Japanese notions of religion or superstition, particularly in terms of what you would call the "supernatural". This is probably due to the fact that my years in Japan were permeated with the realization (and sense) that the entire island-Nation is blanketed with a palpable, ancient spirituality. No matter where I went, from the heart of Tokyo to snowy Tohoku, I found shrines, weather-worn idols, holy places and ancient markers.

Much of what you see on SaruDama actually stems from my own exploration and fascination of very real facets of daily Japanese superstition. A prominent clergy from the Asian community in Chicago once smilingly told me that via SaruDama I had become an "evangelist" of the Japanese occult. I think that's a bit too simplistic, but I understand how it might appear to some to be true.

But there is much more to the picture here than merely meets the eye. Lest you think I am romanticizing things or merely seeing what I wish to see, let me share with you the following.

The indigenous religion of Japan is Shinto (神道), the "Way of the Gods". The central text of Shinto is the Kojiki (古事記), which outlines the ancient mythology whereby Japan's ancestral gods and lands were born. If you've ever taken a course in World Religions, you know how crucial myths are to any culture. Core myths explain why we do what we do; why we live like we live. For example, the Judaeo-Christian Creation story explains such things as why humans differ qualitatively from animals, why there is evil and death in the world, and why we get weekends off from work to sit around watching Japanese movies. Similarly, the Japanese creation story, contained in the Kojiki provides the central ancient explanation as to why Japanese do what Japanese do, etc.

It should be no surprise that contemporary publications of the Kojiki include manga versions aimed at educating and entertaining Japanese youth (and cartoon-loving gaijin). The following are scans of a manga version I picked up in Ikebukuro.

Taizo-In Temple, a Zen temple, was founded by Hatano Shigemichi, a daimyo of Izumo Province. Shigemichi was a Zen convert of the third Superintendent Priest, Muin Soin in the 11th year of the Oei Era (1404 AD). Taizo-In is the oldest among the 40 temples at Myoshinji, a large temple complex in the heart of Kyoto City. It contains beautiful Japanese gardens, traditional Zen stone gardens, the Dragon King Falls, ponds, several sculptures of Buddha, and various temple buildings.

Here's a truly remarkable sight I encountered in Ueno, Tokyo. This entire Buddhist shrine is dedicated to the departed souls of children. Notice how the foremost Jizo Buddha and all the smaller decorated Guzo Buddhas are holding "wind mill" child toys. This place made a lasting impression upon me.

Look closely for an ancient depiction of an enduring (modern) proverb:


Here are a few (non-digital, scanned) photos I took of the Toshogu Temple in Nikko. Forgive me for the quality of these pics, but I took these with a disposal camera purchased on locale.

Ryoan-Ji Temple is famous for its simple rock garden consisting of only white sand and fifteen rocks. The garden was created at the end of the 15th century and is widely regarded as a masterpieces of Japanese culture.

The rock garden measures 30 meters from east to west and 10 meters from north to south. In contrast to the times, this zen garden is markedly different from the elaborate gardens of the aristrocracy of the era. Thus the garden boasts NO visible life, only its fifteen rocks and white sand.


Genre: Shinto Origins of the Universe

The Kojiki refers to the primary Shinto text outlining the religion's Creation Myth and its vast Cosmology. The Kojiki, though often understood to be a stand-alone text, is actually found within the more expansive Nihongi ("Chronicles [of ancient] Japan") which traces the lineage of Emperor Jimmu back through divine origins and to the very creation of the natural world. The written texts of the Nihongi and Kojiki were completed by 720 AD.

The following is an English translation of the the Kojiki:

Kamakura Dai Butsu
[Great Buddha of Kamakura]

This enormous bronze monument depicting Amida Buddha was originally cast in 1252. It weighs over 93 tons, stands nearly 44 feet (13.35 m) high and was originally housed within a much grander wooden temple. In 1498, a large tsumami swept the wooden temple away, leaving only the bronze Amida, which to this day remains an outdoor monument.

Believe me: If you are ever in that neighborhood, it will be well worth your time to check out the sheer scale of this contemplative behemoth.

Here are a couple pics I took:

Kinkaku-Ji Temple, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavillion, is perhaps the most well-known temple in Japan due its truly brilliant appearance. The official name of this temple is Rokuon-Ji. For about a decade starting in 1220 this immediate region was the villa of Kitsune Saionji. Around 1397 AD, Yoshimitsu, the 3rd Shogun of Ashikaga developed Kinkaku into its current design. After Yoshimitsu's death, Kinkaku was made into a Zen temple according to his will. The Kinkaku building and the gardens remain exactly as they were then.

Kinkaku-Ji Temple consists of three types of architecture. The 1st floor is Shinden-zukuri, the palace style. The 2nd floor is Buke-zukuri, the style of samurai houses. The 3rd floor is Karayo, the style of Zen temples. Both the 2nd and 3rd floors are covered with gold-leaf on Japanese lacquer. On the roof sits a golden Chinese phoenix. The temple complex contains two large ponds and several islands, as well as several shrines, including Fudodo shrine wherein the stone sculpture of Fudo-myoo is enshrined as a guardian.

Here are a few (non-digital, scanned) photos I took of Sensoji Shrine in Akakusa Tokyo. Forgive me for the quality of these pics, but I took these with a disposal camera purchased on locale.

Here are a few (non-digital, scanned) photos I took of Meiji Shrine. Forgive me for the quality of these pics, but I took these with a disposal camera purchased on locale.

Here are a few (non-digital, scanned) photos I took of Hoboji Temple in Niiza, Saitama.

I home-stayed in Niiza (a suburb of Tokyo) for a while and had the the *rare* honor (for a gaijin) of ringing the Hoboji Temple Bell. Yes, I am the blurred soul in the pic below. (Alas. This is what inevitably happens when you hand your camera to a stranger when you wish to capture a key moment.) The resulting sound, of course, was greater than any visual depiction.

Some folk tales of the Japanese point toward a particular event or ghoulish monster which the reader, if lucky, shall never truly encounter. There are other tales, however, which are aimed at explaining phenomena that we mortals cannot possibly escape, and the following tale is precisely of this sort.

Perhaps more theological than superstitious this tale was contained in a "fragment" of a text happened upon by Lafcadio Hearn. The force of the tale is undeniable even to contemporary readers who are indebted to him for preserving it for Western audiences in his 1898 collection entitled In Ghostly Japan.

Ninna-Ji Temple was founded by the 59th emperor of Japan, Uda, in the fourth year of the Ninna Era (888 AD). It was formerly called the Old Imperial Palace of Omuro because it once served as a residence for the ex-emperor. The temple is now known as the headquarters of the Omuro School of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. The nationally renowned Omuro School of Flower Arrangement is also housed on the temple complex. The temple contains over 600 treasures including sculptures, paintings, calligraphy, lacquered works, and ceramics. The uniquely low-branched cherry trees, known as Omuro Cherry, are also considered a temple treasure, especially when they are in full bloom in the spring.

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