image Spirituality in Japan

Myokenzan: modern meets traditional architecture

My Osakan landlord told me that Japanese people have their wedding at a Shinto shrine and funeral at a Buddhist temple. It’s not often so much identification with a religion as a tradition or perhaps utilitarian spiritual access. Of course there are those that prescribe to other older or newer cults and sects.

Shinto: Japan’s original spiritual expression.

Torii mark the locations of Shinto shrines. Shrines can be made to one or more kami (spirit / god) which represent forces of change in the world. There are kami for mountains, natural disasters, even influential people or corporations.
After passing under the torii, one must rinse their hands and mouths using the bamboo spoon at the fountain. Walk up the stones to the shrine itself, toss in a 5yen coin (odd numbers are better) and clap twice and ring the bell to get the kami’s attention. Bow deeply and say your prayer. Clap twice again and you’re on your way to the secondary shrines behind the main shrine or continue on your walk.

Buddhism: Myoshin-ji Kyoto Zazen temple stay.

Zazen literally means “seated meditation.” Back up straight, legs in lotus position, one open palm in the other with thumb tips touching, staring one meter ahead, breathing slowly through the nose. The monks stalk slowly down the aisles of weekender monks, long batton in ready to strike position. He steps in front of me. I bow to show I am ready to receive. He turns to me and bows in return. I cross my arms in bowed position and receive WHACK WHACK just right of my spine and WHACK WHACK just left of my spine. The strikes relieve the tension built up from hours of sitting. Like a quick and painful massage.
Living as a monk for 48 hours at Myoshin-ji temple requires diligence. At meal times we reach and crowd together begging to fill our bowls. My hands slide audibly out of prayer position to show that I have received enough. I eat everything in the delicious meal except for one piece of radish which I use as a sponge in the hot water that I pour from bowl to bowl until I drink it and leave each bowl clean and rinsed.


Shugendo: Shinto and Buddhism merged and outlawed, practiced in secret, and still strong in Dewasanzan.

Ainu: the first nations of the north.

At the Ainu cultural center in Shiraoi, a painting on the wall depicts the ritual of sending a bear’s spirit back to the spirit world. Releasing it from the earthly form it is trapped in. It is a slow, painful experience that the community participates in.

Jehovah’s witness: lunch

I had lunch with a sweet little Jehovah’s Witness lady. She told me about the online resources I could access. I asked her if someone could be Buddhist and JW. I asked her what she thought about the afterlife. She told me that all of the answers to the questions I had could be found in the online database.

The One True Buddha: dinner and prayer

Meriah and I were looking at a map in Odawara station. Two lovely ladies approached and offered to help us find a place to get some vegetarian curry. As we walked we were invited to join them for prayer after dinner. Chanting is the way to attain true happiness. After dinner we were asked if we had any lucky charms or things we had purchased at a temple. When Meriah found a prayer note she received at Dewasanzan the ladies asked her to throw it away. They needed to be ensured that it had no power. We got into their car and she drove us to her house. They asked if we believed that there is only one true Buddha of Japan.
Her son jumped up into her arms with a big hug as we entered the home. We received a beaded necklace and a book of prayers. It was hard to keep up with the pace of the chanting while reading from the Japanese prayer book, but I do enjoy the relief of facial muscle relaxation during chanting or toning.

They wanted to pray again together two days later. We just happened to be on our way to the airport to fly out of the country.


One comment

  1. I also visited the Tomb of Jesus in Shingō, Aomori prefecture. He is buried beside his brother on top of a hill. I couldn’t tell if the locals took it seriously, but some said it wasn’t true. They sell garlic icecream at the giftshop/museum nearby.


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