Some words about Japanese culture

Monday, September 18, 2006

articles from Sep.12 to Sep. 16

About Shinto, Japanese domestic religion, part 2, Sep. 16
What's the difference between Shinto and Buddhism?

Roughly speaking, Shinto is a religion of worshiping the nature and ancestor. On the other hand, Gods of Buddhism can solve their personal trouble or annoyance, they think.

A shrine is a place to worship Gods of Shinto. People go there to thank Gods for the rich nature because Japanese in those days lived by cultivating fields and rice paddies, not by hunting and whether or not they were able to live was largely up to the weather condition.

Japanese also worship their ancestor as they brought lands into cultivation. Thanks to them, they can grow crops in the lands.

(Note that some Gods of Shinto are for making money, making them clever and heal their diseases. But some of them were made for commercial purpose, in Edo period, 400 years ago.)

Where do the Gods live?

Shrines has more trees than temples partly because the Gods of Shinto are thought to live in the big trees, big stones and mountains. The Gods like the evergreen trees, like sakaki tree, cedar and pine. That's because the green all year round means that the power of the Gods will last forever. The rich green in shrine also makes it more sacred.

About Shinto, Japanese domestic religion, part 1, Sep. 15
Japanese go to shrine to pray at New Year's Day, have a wedding ceremony at a church, hold a funeral at a temple, hold a Halloween party and dress a tree at the Christmas season. Most Japanese naturally do the different religious rite partly because they are happy to take in many kinds of foreign thoughts and custom. This tendency is quite connected with Shinto, Japanese traditional religion. Now, I will explain Shinto briefly.

Shinto is more peaceful and inclusive than Christianity, Judaism and Islam because Shinto have never done the religious war and have naturally coexisted with the Buddhism. Shinto has many kinds of Gods and people pray to each God, up to the situation. They thank God of sun in a sunny day, and God of rain in a rainy day to make the crop grow well. In an earthquake, they pray to God of earth. Shinto has accepted the diversity and coexistence.

About the purity, on Sep. 14
Japanese seem to be clean-loving.

For example, homemakers in Japan used to make every part of house clean, wiping out the floor, the sink, the bath and the toilette. People in temples or shrines sweep up in the precinct and clean the floor inside the building every day before opening. When I was an elementary school student, we used to clean every part of buildings in school, from the floor and the ground to the street in front of the school after lunch. Japanese traditional restaurants are the same as homemakers and monks, and they sprinkle water around the building and on the approach to the building, roji, to look clean and get it cool before opening. All the people except businesspersons tend to do the cleaning every day in Japan.

Three reasons why they love the cleaning. At first, some Gods of Shinto, Japanese native religion, love the purity and dislike the dirtiness because the dirtiness is strongly connected with the sin for Gods. Secondly, cleaning is regarded as one of the religious austerities in Zen school, which is one of Buddhism sects and came from China. The tea ceremony brought in Zen lessons in Muromachi era, about 500 years ago, and some lessons in Zen sect have been prevailing among the public through the tea ceremony. Thirdly, it connects with Japanese sense of beauties, less and smaller. The more sophisticated things are, the less and smaller they are. The tendency can be connected with the cleaning.

The three elements let Japanese love the purity.

About the eternity, on Sep. 13
Japanese think the eternity as variable things, not as the stability. They think that all the things in the world will change as time goes by.

For example, the first sentence of "the tale of Heike", one of the most famous classics story in Japan, is the following:

Gion Shouja no kane no koe
Syogyo mujo no hibiki ari...

Those means that all the things will change and have gone down eventually, as the same as one of the most important principle of the Buddhism.

Several seasons in Japan come in cycle: as spring comes, many flowers come out. As autumn comes, leaves fall down. And as the next spring....

The eternity is the endless cycle for Japanese.

About nature, on Sep. 12
Japanese have loved the surrounding nature partly because its change of seasons attract them very much.

Japan has much water and forests, and its looking changes throughout the years: the pink hue of cherry trees in spring, the verdant green of moss and forest in summer, the yellow and red of maple trees in autumn and the white of snow in winter.

They has made the most of beauty, first of all, unlike Chinese goodness and Western truth, perhaps because of the rich nature.

By the way, Japanese wooden house was designed to avoid the humidity and swelter in mid summer, and not to get them hurt the house. So the houses are very open and can get a good breeze, quite unlike reinforced concrete buildings now. The houses have many openings, divided by the pillars, on the outer walls and on the opening are set up a sliding door, called fusuma or akari-shoji. Just sliding the doors can get in a comfortable air.

The open house has another effect. You can see better the outside from the inside of the house because of the openness and the opening can link the inside to the outside. The big opening in a house partly drove people improve the garden.

The garden seemed to be originally designed to savour the beauties of the nature fully.


  • At 10/31/2007 11:53 AM, Blogger Princess Haiku said…

    This is very beautifully written and I would enjoy reading your book someday. Perhaps if it is published it will be translated into English. Will you include your photographs in it as well?

    The ancient Druids in Europe worshiped trees and had great reverence for nature. Spiritual lifestyles that are balanced and not dogmatic are better for the earth. Too many people die in the name of religious fanaticism.


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