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.
There is a rather well-known Japanese Christian pastor in northern Japan named Jun Takimoto whose father had been a famous and fiery preacher in Japan as well. The Christian population in Japan is dismally small due in great part to the country's overwhelming majority of Shinto and Buddhist adherents and the vast numbers of religiously apathetic young people of the current generation. Thus Japanese Christian pastors are themselves a very VERY small minority of society, and as such are generally not timid creatures.
Takimoto who, for reasons you will see below, is on the "charismatic" end of the denominational spectrum. His church has grown significantly in the past decades through what he and the congregants deem "spiritual warfare", a strong belief that the God of Christianity enables them to war against evil spirits and demons. Stories of his personal experiences have spread throughout Japan's Christian population, and his definition of "spiritual warfare" is becoming increasingly recognized.
What is noteworthy about this pastor and his perspective is that he adamantly believes Japan's ancient spirituality is real and must be taken into account when attempting to spread (a spiritual) Christianity. The following are translated excerpts from a book he published years back telling the story of his own encounters with Japan's spiritualism.
The pastor's church, Shinshiro Church is located in Shitagahara, next to a large forested mountain which he would frequently climb seeking isolation during his prayers. One evening, while praying, he had his first spiritual encounter there, remarkably with an ancient Japanese god. This experience eventually led to the beginning of the ministry I mentioned above. Pastor Takimoto writes:
I had a somewhat vague impression that there were demons working behind the problems that we were experiencing at the church at that time. Without thinking much about it, from the top of the mountain, I prayed "In the name of Jesus, demons leave the church!" It was about 2:00 AM in the morning. The instant I made the declaration, I felt chills running down my spine. At the same time, whether it was real or a vision, I don't know, but a Tengu, a Japanese mythological figure with a red face and a long nose, wearing a mountaineering ascetic's clothes, appeared right before my eyes. It was a frightening enough experience to make my hair stand on end. I hurried down the mountain and went back home.
Once this pastor became convinced that much of japan's ancient traditions represent actual spiritual realities, he began investigating the history of the mountain, his town and the broader local region. The following is an account of what he discovered and subsequently came to believe.
Even though the city of Shinshiro was created according to God's plan at the time of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the city is currently controlled by demons. When did things change? If you research the history of the city of Shinshiro, you will discover that one incident is strongly related to this fact.
The area around Shinshiro Church is an old battlefield where the historically famous Battle of Shitaragahara occurred. If you drive about ten minutes east of the church, you will find a train station named "Nagashino jo" (Nagashino Castle). The castle located in front of this station is where this battle started. The castle is located on elevated ground between two rivers, the Toyogawa and the Kansagawa -- an appropriate place for constructing a fortress. The castle was constructed by the troops of the Takeda army. It later was captured by Tokugawa's troops. The Takeda camp began fighting to take the castle back. They surrounded it and attempted to cut off Tokugawa's food supply.
During the fighting, a brave general named Torii Suneemon slipped through a tight siege line and crossed the river at night He ran over 60 kilometers (95 miles) to Okazaki Castle to get help from Tokugawa leyasu, and arranged for reinforcements to come help. On his way back to Nagashino Castle he was captured and taken to the opposite bank of the river where he could see the castle. He was ordered to face the besieged soldiers and shout, "Reinforcements won't be coming." Torii Suneemon didn't bend to the enemy's threats. After shouting to the castle, "Reinforcements will be here in two or three days," he was crucified by lance thrusts. There is a station called "Torii" on the Japan Railways lida Line, which is where this incident occurred.
The scene of the fight finally moved to Shitaragahara, near Shinshiro Church and it became a direct battle between the united armies of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu and Takeda Katsuyori's cavalry. In this battle, the united armies were the first to use rifles on a large scale in Japan. The rifles at the time were matchlocks; gunpowder had to be stuffed into them and they had to be re-lit after every shell that was fired. The cavalry of the Takeda army was the strongest in the land at the time, and they calculated that they could attack the enemy's camp even in the short time that it would take them to re load their rifles.
Oda Nobunaga was a clever man, and he divided the matchlock corps into three teams, hitting the Takeda army in a three tier pattern. This strategy was successful; Takeda's side was severely damaged, and it is said that in the span of nine hours, he lost 10,000 of his 15,000 soldiers. The battle started at 6:00 in the morning and had already been decided by 3:00 in the afternoon. Takeda's army had lost. In the end, in this struggle of nine hours, a total of 16,000 soldiers died on both sides, and the Takedas were defeated. With this battle Takeda Katsuyori declined in power, and a new era, the era of Oda Nobunaga, began.
Oda Nobunaga didn't participate in the actual fighting in the Battle of Shitaragahara. He was watching everything from the top of a hill. The one who actually fought on the front lines was Tokugawa Ieyasu. At the time, Tokugawa was a very famous general, but due to his victory in this battle, he gradually gained power, and every Japanese person knows that he is the one who finally subjugated a unified nation of Japan under his control and ushered in the 265 year long Tokugawa (Edo) Era. If, hypothetically, Takeda had won at the Battle of Shitaragahara, the history of Japan certainly would have been much different.
Under Tokugawa, the Great Purge against the Kirishitan (early Japanese Catholics) was promulgated in 1614, and the largest persecution of Christians in the history of the Japanese church took place. This eventually led to the closing of the country, a dark era that lasted over 200 years.
Could the resulting persecution of Christianity and the great impeding of the spread of evangelism simply all be called one of the coincidences of history? The spread of the gospel at the time in Japan was astonishing; it is said that there were 750,000 Kirishitan nationwide. This is an incredible number when thought of in terms of the population at the time. If evangelism had continued, there would have been enough power there to make Japan into a Christian nation in not too much time at all. The powers of darkness, however, were definitely not happy with this movement. You could say that in order to stop it, the powers of darkness used the sins that were committed in history as their footholds to invade the region and the country.
It can be said that in Shinshiro it is mainly through the sin of murder (due to the blood that was shed during the Battle of Shitaragahara) and through the sin of heavy idolatry (which began in order to placate any vengefulness of the supposed spirits of the slain soldiers) that the region was given over to demons.
Before the Battle of Shitaragahara, this area was peaceful farming land. It became wrapped up in an incident that shook history, changing into a place that is bound by the spirit of death. The people who live in this area fear death and the vengefulness of the dead. They busy themselves with keeping the spirits of the soldiers who died in the battle pacified. Tokugawa Ieyasu himself had his own daughter marry into a family in Shinshiro and built a shrine specifically for this purpose. Almost all of the shrines and temples that exist in Shinshiro today were built in connection to the Battle of Shitaragahara and are intended to comfort the spirits of the dead. The various festivals that are held in each of the four seasons are all held to placate the grudges that the dead hold. There is also a "Battle Festival," an event which is held by the entire town every year. Most of the elementary and junior high schools in Shinshiro are involved in this event. The students make samurai armor and helmets during class and put them an as they re-enact the march of the soldiers. The main point of the festival is clearly stated as being the "placation of the spirits of the dead," so Christians don't participate in it. (Emphasis mine)
So, the pastor isolates the Battle of Shitaragahara as the region's primary spiritual turning point in history. (As someone who knows a little bit about theology, let me point out that this historical-geographical connection with spirituality is quite unique -- causing this pastor's message to really stand out once it spread. He's not talking in terms of merely a "haunted house", he's talking about a haunted geographical region!) To further support this notion he notes the following "coincidence" as they started their official mission to target local shrines for "spiritual warfare":
Spiritual warfare started among us early in the morning on July 9, 1992. The shrines to which we were led to battle in prayer that day were all shrines that had an especially strong connection to the Battle of Shitaragahara. We didn't have any idea, however, that these things were all connected. In the historical literature, the Battle of Shitaragahara is recorded as having started on May 21, 1575 (the third year of the Japanese Tensho Era).
Two years after spiritual warfare started, I happened to find out that the date May 21st is according to the old Japanese calendar, the lunar calendar. If you change that date into the solar calendar, it is -- believe it or not -- July 9th. We started our spiritual warfare prayers at 6:00 a.m..; the Battle of Shitaragahara began in the "hour of the rabbit," in other words, 6:00 a.m.
In addition, right before spiritual warfare started, we began the series of late night prayer meetings that were originally intended to run for a week on June 29th -- the first day of the Battle of Nagashino, the fight that led to the Battle of Shitaragahara. Truly the Lord wanted to redeem these dates. He chose these dates and started the battles Himself. As spiritual warfare in Shinshiro progressed, we felt somehow that the fight was against the spirits of the dead. When we found out, however, that the dates and times fit perfectly with each other, we felt a deep sense of awe before the Lord. We looked into the difference between the lunar calendar dates and the solar calendar dates and discovered this reality because we had doubts about why the Shitaragahara Battle Festival was held every year in July. (Emphasis mine)
Note how he believes they are engaged in spriritual warfare against the "spirits of the dead". In other words, they are warring against the spirits of dead samurai who were killed on the Shitaragahara battle field. Now before you simply conclude this guy is a kook, please note that the region's primary local Shinto and Buddhist festival, the "Shitaragahara Battle Festival" is aimed at "placating the spirits of the dead samurai". Thus this is not some nutty perspective this pastor arrived at after a scary visit from a Tengu, this is precisely what the local population has believed for nearly 500 years -- that ghosts of dead samurai literally haunt the region.
With that in mind, here's an experience the pastor's young daughter had one dark night when home alone:
That day, our daughter couldn't attend the wedding (with the parents) because of school, so she was at home by herself. When we got back late at night, she wasn't there. She had gone to her grandparents' house next door. The next day was Sunday, so I was working in the church office, getting ready for the service. I got an emergency phone call from my wife, telling me to get back home right away. When I went back, wondering what had happened, our daughter was talking to my wife with a serious expression on her face.
After she had come home from school, she started relaxing right away and was watching TV. On a certain talk show, they were discussing samurai marches. The instant the screen changed to a picture of an actual samurai march she felt an evil presence and went to change the channel. What happened then was that a can of soda that she had set right in front of her, still half full, began moving at the same pace as the samurai march across the level surface of the table. It moved slowly for about 50 centimeters (20 inches). She was surprised and felt the work of a demon disguised as a samurai, so she fought in prayer. There was nobody at home, though, and she had the creeps, so she went to her grandparents' house.
So why am I telling you all this? Simply to help you understand better the degree to which all this ancient lore and superstition truly permeate the country. And YES, even rational, contemporary souls (heck, even Christian pastors!) believe in it and react to it.
A few years back, a Japanese friend of mine had become extremely interested in Jun Takimoto's view of the world and was seriously thinking about subscribing to it. I invited a member of the Shinsiro Church over to my house, along with my friend, to discuss the matter. My guest from Shinshiro was a Caucasian girl who had lived several years in Japan and whose Japanese husband, also a member of Takimoto's church and an ardent believer in his theology, was a student at a nearby seminary. Upon her arrival, this gal looked out the window, saw Lake Michigan, and then informed me that it was a bad omen to live so close to a large body of water. With a very serious look on her face, she told me that the spirits of the dead are attracted to and inhabit the waters; And not just spirits of unfortunate drunks who unwittingly took a long walk off a short pier, but also the "spirits of Native Americans killed by settlers". It was obvious that as this girl looked out on the Lake, in her mind's eye she imagined hundreds, maybe thousands of haunting, agitated ghosts congregating around the water. She then warned me that my house was highly susceptible to intrusion by these ghoulies and that only intense prayer and holy oil on the doors would protect me.
I remained polite and kept a straight face, despite the fact my mind was shouting "Oh REALLY?!?". Although there was never any "Chicago massacre" of Native Americans, this creepy girl's impressionable mind relentlessly sought a parallel to Takimoto's belief in "dead samurai" and was convinced that similar bloodshed occurred on the nearby shores of Lake Michigan.
THIS, my friends, is why Japan has a gazillion ghost stories.
Sweet dreams. And don't go near the water!!