Mount Ontake erupts injuring at least 8 people and stranding hundreds

posted in: Gifu, Nagano, Nature | 0
Dense fumes are spewed out from several spots on the slope of Mt. Ontake as the volcano erupts in central Japan, Sept. 27, 2014.
Dense fumes are spewed out from several spots on the slope of Mt. Ontake as the volcano erupts in central Japan, Sept. 27, 2014.

UPDATE (via NHK) – 8:39 pm – Tokyo time – 9/27/14

One of the highest volcanoes in Japan has erupted.

Mount Ontake erupted shortly before noon on Saturday.

Police say 6 people were injured. Two of them have fractured bones. One, a woman in her 40s, suffered serious injuries to her legs after she was hit by flying rocks.

Three others are missing and are believed buried under volcanic ash. A 4th person who was buried under ash was later rescued but remains unconscious.

About 80 police are searching for other people who may still be on the mountain and may be injured.

Mount Ontake is located between Nagano and Gifu prefectures. It lasted erupted 7 years ago.

Previously reported

TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese volcano erupted on Saturday, injuring at least eight people, leaving more than 250 people stranded near the peak and forcing aircraft to divert their routes, officials and media said.

A thick, grey cloud of ash rose into the sky above Mount Ontake and a witness said small rocks were being hurled into the air along with the ash. The number of injured was expected to rise, an official said.

“It was like thunder,” a woman told broadcaster NHK. “I heard boom, boom, then everything went dark.”

The Meteorological Agency said the volcano, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures 200 km (125 miles) west of Tokyo, erupted just before midday and sent ash down the mountain’s south slope for more than three km (2 miles). There was no sign of lava from the TV footage.

“Seven people were lightly injured and one person suffered serious injuries as a result of the eruption,” Makoto Hasegawa, of the Nagano prefecture fire department, told Reuters.

“Planes are diverting their flying routes to avoid the ash.”

NHK quoted police as saying more than 250 people were stranded near the top of the mountain, which last erupted in 2007, and rescue workers were on their way.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Antoni Slodkowski, Mari Saito; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Beautiful Day in Nagatoro, Japan

Day trip to Nagatoro

Lucky, we had the chance to visit the stone tatami mats along the river running through Nagatoro. Our first stop though was a walk from the station up to the Kodosan mountain jinja where we spent a leisurely hour or three enjoying the shrine in it’s eternal beauty and also hiking around the hills and mountains above Nagatoro.

Trains from Tokyo on the Seibu-Chichibu line can take you to the sleepy mountain village in less than two hours.

I went to Meiji shrine for prayer, peace and love feeling

posted in: Shinto, Spirtual Places, Tokyo | 0

Standing at the Gates of Peace and Love

It was a beautiful day in Tokyo today so after some business meetings we left Harajuku and made our way to the Meiji shrine or Meiji jingu in Japanese. It is an expansive and beautiful place.The trees and tori, towering over us, are amazing. The birds and flowers are blooming and all in all it is a beautiful place to be.

Spiritual enclave of the Emperor Meiji dynasty
Tori entrance, Meiji shrine, Tokyo

We entered by the main gate and before us was the massive tori in the photo above. It was a little funny to me there was actually a sign telling people they are welcome to come and pray but no other funny business is allowed. If you know why they have this sign please leave a comment and start a discussion. I am curious about it. By the way. Please forgive my poor cell phone images. Next time I will try to do better.

Spiritual enclave of the Emperor Meiji dynasty
Tori entrance, Meiji shrine, Tokyo

We followed the winding path, seeing visitors from all over the world coming and going. People from the U.S. and France, Russia. I even met a couple from India. Of course there were many Japanese there and also Taiwanese, Koreans and Chinese.  It was beautiful to see people from all over Asia and the world in such a peaceful setting. It gave me hope for a future world filled with peace rather than a world filled with war and tyranny.

Spiritual enclave of the Emperor Meiji dynasty
Tori entrance, Meiji shrine, Tokyo

We prayed and I immediately felt better. Like a new day awakening before me. We stopped and looked at the offerings Meiji shrine offers to its visitors. Various Meiji charms, talisman and fortunes.

Follow the Way of Empress Shoken

After discussing with Usagi, I decided to take a poem that is written by Emperor Meiji or Empress Shoken as my spiritual guide for the day.

A priestess hands you a wooden cylinder that contains long narrow sticks, each with a number on it. The number correlates to the poem you will get. You shake the cylinder and in a moment a stick pops out. The priestess read the number, in my case 6 and she gave me the poem. Mine was written by Empress Shoken.

Ever downward water flows,

But mirrors lofty mountains;

How fitting that our heart also

Be humble, but reflect high aims

Empress Shoken

In Japanese kanji the poem reads:

Takayama no kageo utushite yuku mizu no

Hikiki ni tsukuo kokoro tomogana

A Meiji jingu priest offers a further interpretation:

A down-flowing stream still reflects the

image of the highest peaks above.

Let your heart, in a similar manner, be humble but reflect high ideals.

It is a beautiful poem that reflects ideals everyone, everywhere should try to maintain. Imagine our world if people lived by this creed. It would be a beautiful place to raise our children, safe from all the problems people face today. With the Empress’ words we can make our own lives a better place and better hopefully for our friends and family. I am thinking to send this post to Barack Obama and Vladamir Putin and all the members of the United Nations and ask them to please consider their people when making their decisions. Our world leaders seem to have forgotten their own peoples. Instead they think of money and their own financial gains.

When you come to Tokyo take a few hours to explore Meiji Jingu. You can find more information Here.


Chichibu Shibazakura flowers bring beauty to visitors this spring

posted in: Chichibu, Spring | 0

This week we visited Hitsuji Yama Park in Saitama’s town of Chichibu.  Chichibu is world famous for their annual Shibazakura flowers which when planted by local townspeople across a small valley create an amazing site to see.

Town sign for Chichibu Shibazakura

Shibazakura create a blanket of color that is breath-taking to witness.



Surrounding walking trails, sakura trees, a lake and picnicking areas make Hitsujiyama park a certain destination for families, singles, friends and lovers.


We were excited to see so many younger people visiting Hitsujiyama, taking photos, sharing food and drinks and enjoying the beautiful sakura in full bloom.




Special events will happen at the park throughout the spring and summer. A small arcade has been set up featuring food, drinks (tea and alcohol) and farm fresh products from local shops and farms. The local shops present great fare at very reasonable prices. No price gouging going on here.

There are also some very cute sheep on exhibition, always a visitor favorite.



Kids love em and also an agricultural exhibit which features the small trees, Morus, or commonly known as Mulberries provide food for (蚕 )  silk worms. I never knew that (蚕 )  silk worms are entirely dependent upon humans for food, habitat and pro-creation.


Silk worms, or (蚕 )  in Japanese are featured since Chichibu has a long history, going back hundreds of years as a textile hub for some of the finest textiles in Japan.


Chichibu offers an excellent website to guide visitors through the area. For ease and convenience of use the site is available in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean. Click here to visit.


The park address: Hitsujiyama kouen, Hitsujiyama park



Chichibu’s taiyaki Negishi is a tradition to savor

posted in: Chichibu, Food | 0

Negishi (family and place name) has been around for more than 40 years and could go back a lot longer. However, our family experience with them only goes back to the 1970’s. Photos of the current owner’s family are displayed in the shop. It reminds me of old bakeries back in the United States run by families for generation after generation. Negishi is not a chain, it is a family shop and you can tell, or rather smell the difference, the moment you walk through the doors.

Negishi Taiyaki, Chichibu, Saitama
Negishi Taiyaki, Chichibu, Saitama

 Taiyaki Negishi and the art of Chichibu red bean paste treats

Still run by the same family, Negishi offers fresh taiyaki made daily the old fashioned way, on fish shaped griddles over raw-fire heat (gas stoves). Regular customers come into the shop throughout the day to pick up pre-packaged orders. Walk-ins, like us, are also treated to freshly made, made-to-order taiyaki. It only takes a few minutes until the shop is filled with the sweet smell of taiyaki being made on the griddle. It is a moment to savor if you love Japanese food. It is a moment to savor if you love good food in general.

Taikyaki griddle at Taiyaki Negishi

There is a very special little shop in the city of Chichibu (Saitama prefecture) that makes a delicious Japanese treat called taiyaki. Taiyaki are usually fish shaped pancake dough treats with a filling inside usually made of red beans ground into a paste.

Taiyaki being made at Negishi taiyaki
Taiyaki being made at Negishi taiyaki

Taiyaki can also be made with custards. My favorite is red bean paste but I also love chocolate custards that have been gently toasted. Oishii! (Delicious!)The taste of red beans in this paste form is gently sweet, not over-powering. It is a mix of vegetable and fruit marmalade kind of taste without the sticky sugar of jellies and jams. It is a paste. It is readily enjoyed with hot or cold teas or juices and is a great addition to a picnic if you are hiking or taking a walking tour of this beautiful mountain town.

Here, Madame Negishi prepares fresh taiyaki for some very happy customers.

Negishi Taiyaki makes fresh taiyaki every day.
Negishi Taiyaki makes fresh taiyaki every day.

When you visit Chichibu be sure to put Negishi taiyaki on your list of places to visit. It is only a few minutes walk from the train station and various temples and shrines can be found on the way.

Negishi Taiyaki-ya




1 Chome-6-4 Kamimachi

Negishi Taiyaki-ya

Chichibu, Saitama, Japan
TEL 0494-24-2138




Tasting the Essence of Hanami Season in Tokyo

posted in: Bars, Entertainment, Spring, Tokyo | 0

It’s a bit rainy today but the forecast is for clearing skies around Tokyo for the weekend. Sakura are blooming like mad and maybe now is the perfect time for a Hanami Party with friends and lovers.

Hanabi is popular Bar in Meguro
View from Hanabi tables

We’ve done a little research and have discovered a few pubs, bars and meeting places that are perfect for the Hanami season. Bar Hanabi in Nakameguro is a great place. You can find them at 2-16-11 Aobadai, Meguru-ku, tel. 03-5456-4404. Once you are in Meguro you can find Hanabi on a beautifully cherry blossom lined street. Their website is ( )

Hanabi is popular Bar in Meguro
Inside Hanabi Bar

Hanabi offers party rental facilities are tables for intimate groups and couples. What I like the most, besides the great food, is that there are more than 100 varieties of cocktails.  So great food and drinks in a beautiful little place with an amazing view.

Hanabi Bar offers perfect mix of dood and cocktails
Delicious food available

Meguro is a beautiful city and perfect for watching Sakura or Hanami. At night the lanterns that line the river give a special beauty to the sakura lined walkways and streets that wind through the area. Hanabi offers perfect viewing opportunity to enjoy all of it. Doubt me? Just take a look.

Sakura watching on the Meguro gawa

The street around Hanabi, perfect for Hanami season.

Hanami season in Meguro

Enjoy the soft glow of the lanterns at night. Best idea is to come in the afternoon and watch the changing colors as the sun sets over Meguro. This Hanami season enjoy the sakura from different and new places around Tokyo.

Hanami season in Meguro
View from hanabi

Delicious and Juicy and Sweet, these are Amaou strawberries from Hakata City

posted in: Food, Fukuoka | 0

Japan is a bountiful land of fresh fruit and vegetables

Ever want to taste a bit of heaven on earth? If you come to Japan in springtime it pays to find and taste Amaou strawberries.  I remember strawberries tasting like this when I was a child in the states.  And not since then. In the summers we would go to farms in the rural areas around my hometown where farmers allow you to pick fruit and vegetables from their fields.  This is something you can also do in Japan today.

Another beautiful place, not too far from Tokyo is in Saitama prefecture. Chichibu is known for it’s easy access to nature, for wonderful monthly festivals and for the amazing fruits and vegetables grown in the area. My wife’s parents farm a small mountain top and prepare some of the most delicious meals you can imagine from their hard labor. Here is an excellent source for finding a farm that suits your needs.  You can expect much joy and happiness and a full tummy after your very own harvest is complete.


Amaou strawberries, fresh from Fukuoka prefecture
Amaou strawberries, fresh from Fukuoka prefecture

However, these special strawberries came to our local market and when my wife saw them her eyes lit up like a child on Christmas morning. We bought a package of fresh Amaou from Hakata City and on the way home tried to decide how we would have them. Greed won in the end and we simply devoured them fresh at the following morning’s breakfast.

Don’t forget to bookmark us, share with your friends and make a comment or two to share your own strawberry picking experiences in Japan. Please share your love for the Amaou.

Sakura in full bloom in Tokyo

posted in: Rivers, Spring, Tokyo | 0

First Sakura – 2014

Spring has finally come to this cold place. Families are out and about, children run and play and enjoy the warm sun and the air is filled with the sweet smell of sakura trees blooming and showing their flowers for the first time since last spring.

Sakura trees blooming in Tokyo spring 2014

Usagi and I spent the day strolling through the neighborhoods of Asakusa and Akihabara, visiting shrines and temples and praying for Japan and for our families.

Sakura trees blooming in Tokyo spring 2014

This is my first time to be in Japan during a glorious spring.  I have usually come to stay in the fall and winter and could never understand fully, the attraction for Japanese and for visitors from around the world, the draw, the need to see and bathe in the beauty that are sakura.

Sakura trees blooming in Tokyo spring 2014

We spent part of the afternoon, after visiting the Imato (maneki-neko) shrine in Asakusa we walked across busy streets and crowded passage ways until we made our way to the Sumida gawa (Sumida river). The trees you see here line the river in a park that stretches on for miles. The photo above shows the world famous Tokyo SkyTree which is just on the other side of the Sumida.

Because we know not everyone can be here who wishes to be we have made some nice wall papers for your computer as a gift of friendship and love to visitors to our site. Please download them and enjoy them. If you like them, please share them with your friends and family.

Free Wallpapers of the Tokyo Sakura season – 2014







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Misao Okawa has the yamato spirit at the ripe old age of 116

posted in: Aging / Longevity, Health, Okinawa, Sushi | 0

Misao Okawa IS Yamato Spirit.  For years I have been fascinated by Japan. For many reasons such as Samurai, cuisine, beautiful women, clothing, fashion and tech. But as I grow older I am more and more interested in health and diet as it relates to aging.  Misao is a prime example of why I am here. Because she is here.

Over the next years, one of our key topics at Yamato Spirit will be the discussion of health food leading to a healthy and long life. Simple ways, simple and delicious foods we an all enjoy that are good for our bodies and good for a long life.  –KAM

From Yahoo–

“Seeking advice on how to live a long time? You could do a lot worse than Misao Okawa. The Japanese woman will celebrate her 116th birthday on Wednesday.”

 Misao Okawa featured at

“Okawa (pictured above, celebrating her 115th birthday in 2013) spoke to the U.K. Telegraph about her secrets for longevity. Those hoping for an obscure secret trick (“Always jump on one foot at exactly 3:43 a.m. while playing the banjo”) are in for a disappointment. Okawa attributes her incredible life span to getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and taking a nap as needed.

She told the paper, “Eat and sleep and you will live a long time. You have to learn to relax.”

Easier said than done, of course, but when advice on living a long life comes from the world’s oldest person, it’s worth heeding. Okawa, born in 1898 and great-great-grandmother to six, eats sushi “at least once every month,” Tomohito Okada, head of the retirement home where Okawa has lived for the past 18 years, told the Telegraph.

When asked by the Telegraph about her happiest and saddest moments, she spoke about her 1919 marriage to her husband and the birth of her three children. Her husband passed away in 1931. Her surviving children are 94 and 92, according to the Telegraph.

Okawa became the world’s oldest living person last year when the previous title holder, Jiroemon Kimura, passed away at the age of 116.”

Today is Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival) – Hello Kitty Invites You!

posted in: Festivals, Hinamatsuri | 0

Today is Hinamatsuri. I love to live in Japan.  Free to seek out and learn about a new world very foreign to my home country. One of the things I look forward to are the monthly festivals.  “Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival)” is held on March 3rd. This is a day to pray for young girl’s growth and happiness. It is also called “Momo no sekku (Peach Festival)” because of the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar.

Everywhere you go you can find displays like this one.  The cool thing is because we are moving into 2014 there are also many new variations and many new displays created by the young girl’s whose day it is.  A cool way to connect kids to their culture and their past and more importantly, their future. It’s a day off from school for most children so many are out and about, shopping, going to special events, joining friends for the cinema or parties. It feels safe, nice and good. It’s a good thing to see coming from such a violence filled country as my own.



Hello Kitty is Watching You on Hinamatsuri Day!

While we were out shopping today I discovered this little gem.  Hello Kitty is everywhere and at 0.00% alcohol and the calories of a coke you can have a nice refreshing sparkling plum flavored drink.  Hello Kitty is always more girl.




What is Shinto?

posted in: Shinto | 0

hinto torii gate
The role of Shinto in Japanese culture (Past, Present and Future)

Speaker: UMEDA Yoshimi – Director General, International Shinto Foundation, Japan

I am truly grateful to have been invited to this, the First International Sun & Tao Conference, held at the prestigious Korea University.  I also feel greatly honoured to have been given the opportunity to make a keynote speech.  I understand from the information on the present conference that its objectives may be summarized as follows: In the 21st Century, major advances in transport and communications have allowed circulation of information and human and material exchange to proceed on a global scale, and we are witnessing the globalization of our civilization.  In spite of this, obstacles to mutual cultural understanding between East and West are still all too apparent.  In order to eliminate these tangible and intangible barriers, an interdisciplinary approach to the indigenous cultures of East Asia is needed.  Following this theme, I should like to describe the role of Shinto in the indigenous culture of Japan, and hope to share the understandings and criticisms of the participants here

I should like to begin with a brief account of Shinto.  Shinto is Japan’s indigenous religion.  It is an ethnic religion which has continued from ancient times in Japan to the present; it permeates all aspects of the life and culture of the Japanese people, and, moreover, it has the power to accept foreign culture and transform it into something Japanese.  In origin it is a complex of ancient folk belief and rituals, a basically animistic religion that perceives the presence of deities or of the sacred in animals, in plants, and even in things which have no life, such as rocks and waterfalls.  Its roots go back to the distant past.  A large number of artifacts discovered at sites dating from the Jōmon period, said to have ended about 200 BCE, are thought to have had some magical significance.

In early Japan diverse local practices were observed, but these did not constitute a religious system; in the various regions there were groups of ritualists, abstainers and taboo experts, diviners and reciters of tradition.  These centered on fertility rites and purification rites. Seasonal festivals observed in the various regions, ancestral cults and reverence towards supernatural forces were linked with legends of the creation of the Japanese islands and the descent of deities to populate them.

Shinto would thus appear to be a Japanese form of religious practice which enjoyed close ties with people’s everyday lives in the past, and continues to do so to the present day.  Shinto has no founder, and no scripture corresponding to the Bible of Christianity or the Qur’an of Islam, and it does not have an organized or systematized religious community.  Therefore it has even been said by some that Shinto is not a religion.  Although shrines do have worshippers, known as ujiko, these are not the same as what is normally understood by “believers” or “church members”.  Shinto has little theology or congregational worship.  Its unifying concept and object of worship is expressed by the word kami or kamigami.  In the modern period this term came to be translated into English as “god”, and therefore even now kami tends to be confused with the God of monotheism, which leads to misunderstandings.

The ancient beliefs were given the name “Shinto” only when faced with competition from the newly-imported Buddhist religion, which reached Japan in 538.  That is, in order to distinguish traditional Japanese forms of belief from Buddhism, a word having connections with Chinese Taoism was sought and employed to convey the meaning “the way of kami” (“Shinto” is written with two Chinese characters: the first, shin, is used to write the native Japanese word kami, meaning “divinity” or “numinous entity”, and the second character, , is used to write the native word michi, meaning “way”).

The term “Shinto” first appears in the historical chronicle Nihon Shoki compiled in 720 CE, where it refers to religious observances, kami and shrines, but not until the 12th century was it used as it is today, to denote a body of religious doctrines.

Cultural imports from China flowed into ancient Japan on a huge scale, mostly via the Korean Peninsula, and it is not at all surprising that elements relating to Taoism were included among these.

Various Taoist elements can be seen in the shrines and temples of Japan, but a structure of Taoist temples or monasteries such as is seen in China did not take shape.  In connection with the question of the position of Taoism in Japan, I should like here to introduce the definition of Kubo Noritada, a leading scholar of Taoism in Japan.  According to this rather long definition, Taoism is “a religion of this-worldly benefits, whose chief aim is perpetual youth and longevity, which took the form of a religion after the Buddhist model in appearance and organization, centering on ancient ideas of the immortals and miscellaneous ancient popular beliefs, to which have been added the philosophy of the Taoist thinkers, the I Ching, yin-yang and five elements theory, together with theories of chen wei prophecy, medicine, and astrology, along with shamanistic beliefs”.

Such Taoistic elements interacted with Medieval Shinto and Buddhism to give rise to distinctive Japanese belief systems including shugendō mountain asceticism, feng shui divination and onmyōdō occultism.

Since then, for centuries, Shinto and other forms of belief developed in various ways.  Shinto’s relation with Buddhism in particular was at one time such that kami and buddhas merged together as objects of faith with the establishment of Ryōbu Shintō (Dual Shinto), and throughout the country shrines and Buddhist temples coexisted. In the early modern period, there arose Restoration Shinto (Fukko Shintō), which saw the myths recorded in the Kojiki (712) and the Nihon Shoki (720) as being linked to historical events, and this was the background of those who exalted the emperor as a descendant of Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Heaven-illuminating Great Goddess.

Shinto Shrine small

(2) The emergence of State Shinto and the establishment of overseas shrines

In the 19th century there came a crucial turning point in Shinto history.  From the 1860s, when the feudal system that had developed over more than 200 years of national isolation was coming to an end, Japan embarked on a period of “enlightenment and progress” with the aim of modernizing the country.  The rulers of Japan, observing in Europe and America a different civilization and different values from their own, thought it necessary that Japan should have a spiritual standard, and focused their attention on Shinto as the traditional faith of the nation, which deeply permeated the everyday life of the people.  They began by separating shrines from Buddhist temples, and proceeded to regulate and integrate the shrines and put them under state control.  This was the birth of “State Shinto”.

It should be noted that the designation “State Shinto” did not exist from the beginning.  Following Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945, when the General Headquarters of the Supreme Command for Allied Powers (GHQ), led by the U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, began to govern Japan, among the various policies adopted and implemented by the occupation, a “Shinto Directive” was promulgated, which ordered the removal of shrines from state involvement, and this directive used the name “State Shinto” to refer to Shinto.  Originally, the official ceremonial of the nation had been devised on the basis of the Shinto tradition of worship of the Imperial ancestor, and this gave to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 the superficial appearance of a return to the Age of the Gods.  Thus, Shinto came to be defined not as a religion, but as patriotic ritual incumbent on all Japanese people.

During the same period, religions such as Tenrikyō, Konkokyō and Kurozumikyō, which emerged from a number of popular religious movements, spread widely throughout the country, and secured permission to conduct missionary activities.  One of these, Oomoto, which preached a message of world renewal, became known not only in Japan but also overseas, and was severely persecuted by the then Japanese government for its unique activities which were regarded as antagonistic to the state and treasonous against the Emperor.

Under the slogan, fukoku kyōhei (“enrich the country, strengthen the military”), Meiji Japan began overseas expansion.  Emigration to North and South America and to Hawaii began, and many Japanese took up residence in China, Korea and the countries of Southeast Asia.  Accompanying this movement of people, shrines both large and small were built in various places.  It is said that these kaigai jinja or “overseas shrines” reached as many as 600 in number.  During the period between about 1915 and 1945, it was said that “wherever there are Japanese people, there is a Shinto shrine”.  Many of these shrines were built as a spiritual support for the Japanese immigrants, but others were specially created as a tool of government for the purpose of instilling the concept of colonial rule and Japanese statehood.  The “Chōsen Jingū” and “Fuyo Jingū” in Korea are examples of these.

In 1945, following Japan’s defeat in World War II, “State Shinto” was disestablished, and under the new Religious Corporations Law, Shinto was divided into “Shrine Shinto” and “Denominational Shinto”.  At the present time, there are in Japan about 100,000 Shinto shrines, of which over 80,000 belong to the Jinja Honchō or “Association of Shinto Shrines”.  Many of the Denominational Shinto organizations revived their activities, and in addition hundreds of new religious movements sprang up throughout the country, basing themselves on the fundamental teachings and practices of Shinto and Buddhism.

As a Japanese, I am ashamed that actions that are not any part of original Shinto were carried out in neighboring countries in the name of Shinto by State Shinto, a creation of state policy, in the 80 years of its existence.

(3) The role of religion in the everyday life of the Japanese people

I should now like to turn to the Japanese people’s ways of thinking about and relating to religion.  If you ask a Japanese person, “What is your religion?” you will likely not get an immediate answer.  This has led people to say that the Japanese are non-religious, but actually it is because in Japan all religions coexist.  As I mentioned earlier, Shinto is an ethnic Japanese faith which has continued from ancient times to the present, but during this time, in the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Common Era, Confucianism and Taoism came to Japan and began to adapt themselves to the life of the people.  Next, in the 6th century Buddhism arrived, and in order to distinguish the traditional faith of Japan from these, the word Shinto came into being.  Christianity reached the shores of Japan in the 16th century.

The Christian missionaries were surprised to see Japanese people worshipping at both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  One missionary wrote in a report which he sent back to his home country that “In Japan there are two religions, Shinto and Buddhism.  These have mutually influenced each other over many years, and blended in with the life of the people.  The Japanese worship idols that they call hotoke (Buddha), and revere an invisible presence that they call kami.  They feel nothing strange in visiting Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.”  Feeling Buddha and kami to be the same and worshipping them alike was something that followers of monotheistic Christianity could not understand.

This peculiar Japanese religious coexistence was made possible by its basis in Shinto with its worship of myriads of kami.  Originally Shinto had a tolerance and a respect for the marebito or “visitor” deity, and a nature which permitted acculturation through contact with foreign cultures.  To use the metaphor of the human body, the Japanese were able to ingest and absorb nutrition from new foods based on ingredients from abroad as well as foods traditionally produced by the Japanese themselves.

In Japan, matters relating to religious organizations are dealt with by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, which every year publishes statistics relating to Japanese religions in the Religion Yearbook.  According to this, the total number of incorporated religious institutions is 182,985, of which 84,996, or 46.4%, are Shinto, 42.9% are Buddhist, 8.4% are “others” and 2.3% are Christian.  The total number of believers or members of all these institutions is 213,826,700, of whom 50.3% belong to Shinto organizations, 44.0% to Buddhist, 4.7% to “others” and 1.0% to Christian organizations.  As you will no doubt have noticed, although the recent population of Japan is a little over 120 million, the total number of believers of religious organizations registered with the Agency for Cultural Affairs is over 213 million, in other words the religious population is nearly twice the actual population of Japan.  How can such a situation come about?  The reason is that a single Japanese person can be registered with more than one religious organization.  As well as being an ujiko or Shinto shrine parishioner, he or she may also be a danka or parishioner of a Buddhist temple and even a member of a new religion at the same time without causing any surprise.  Although it seems that such multiple membership is not allowed in the Christian groups, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples raise no objections to double or even triple affiliation.  The reason why the question “what is your religion?” does not elicit the immediate reply “my religion is this” is to be found in these circumstances.  I am curious as to the situation in the case of Korea or China.

In any case, as is shown by the statistics in the Religion Yearbook, the Shinto religions have the greatest influence on the religious life of the Japanese people.

I should now like, using PowerPoint, to present some of the various events in “Life Cycle of Japanese People with Rituals and Ceremonies”.   [Slides]

What can Shinto contribute to a World Culture of Peace?

I should like to conclude today’s talk with a consideration of the significance of Shinto in the modern age and its prospects for the future.

The eminent American environmentalist and author of The Dream of the Earth and The Universe Story Dr. Thomas Berry sent the following message to the International Shinto Foundation’s workshop on “Shinto and the Environment” held in New York in 1997:

The universal lesson of Shinto is that the way to the world of the sacred is through the place of our dwelling.  The primary virtue of Shinto is its utter simplicity, its immediacy with the natural world in its primordial reality and its enduring value.  The Japanese heritage now finds a resonance throughout the Earth.  Through a renewed communion with these powers under the inspiration of the Shinto tradition the larger human community might attain that increase in the energy, the guidance and the healing that are among its present needs.

The Shinto faith can be defined as “polytheistic”.  As mentioned above it is somewhat misleading to translate the term kami as “God” or “gods”, which invites confusion with the idea of the monotheistic creator God.  We recommend use of the word kami as it is, translating it as “deity” or “deities” when explanation is needed.

Shinto is not pantheism, since, although all things of this world are recognized as having a spiritual nature, not all of them are worshipped as kami.  Those which are singled out for worship as kami include only those demonstrating superlative divine attributes of wisdom or strength, surpassing the capacity of humans.  Shinto recognizes no absolute or omniscient and omnipotent god, but worships yao-yorozu-no-kami (ever-increasing myriads of deities), each one receiving the worship due to its own unique divine attributes.

The word “nature” can be considered to have two meanings: one is evident in such expressions as “the world of nature”, while the other can be expressed as “the essential quality making up the character of every existence”.  It goes without saying that when the word “nature” is used in the context of environmental issues, it is the former sense, namely the “world of nature”, which is intended.  But it must be kept in mind that this concept itself is very recent to Japan, the result of Western ideas which Japanese first encountered in the mid-nineteenth century.  Until that time, the only sense given to the word “nature” was the second of these two meanings, namely the “essential character” of any existence.  When earlier Japanese wanted to speak of the natural world, they instead used specific expressions such as “heaven and earth”, or “all things”, or again “mountains, rivers, grasses and trees”.

The wish of Shinto, Japan’s national faith tradition, passed down since the days of our ancient ancestors, has been to live with nature, to make our mind the mind of our ancestors, and to live in peace with other people.  The Japanese people have long believed that we find peace of mind by living in harmony with nature, that we find spiritual support by revering the traditions passed down since ancestral days, and that we can find a better way of life by respecting the bonds linking one person to another.

The world has undergone far-reaching development as a result of modern scientific advances, and that progress continues unabated around the world.  That same development, however, simultaneously signals an advancing crisis brought on by the continuing destruction of the world’s natural environment.  We must respond urgently to this global crisis by first reviewing the relationship between nature and humankind, bringing the accumulated store of human knowledge to bear on the issue of how we can stop our continuing march toward ruin.

Originally, the Japanese people’s view of nature was one of awe and respect, revering mountains, forests, rivers and seas as the realm of the kami.  That attitude was no doubt in part the result of Japan’s verdant environment, blessed with surrounding seas, a relatively temperate climate, and four clear seasons, but in any case, the Japanese viewed nature not as an adversary to be subdued, but rather as a sacred space overflowing with the blessings of the kami, and towards which they were to act with restraint.  Recently, more and more scholars have come to consider Japan’s culture historically, expressing its various aspects in such terms as “culture of the forest”, “culture of the sea”, or “culture of farming”, but it should be noted that at the root of them all is the Japanese belief in kami.

Responses to issues of environmental conservation occasionally show a tendency to become excessively divided into specialties and sub-specialties.  In that sense, the all-encompassing nature of Shinto, namely its polytheistic recognition of relativistic values, may express the ability to comprehensively harmonize and reconcile the insights and abilities of diverse people around the world.  That is the kind of role I would like to see Shinto play in this issue.  And the time for such a commonality of purpose, one surpassing the narrow interests of individual religions, is the present.  Let us work urgently for the growth of just such a movement to protect our Earth, and pass on an even better environment to our children.

We are deeply concerned about the widening gap between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots, throughout the world.  We are also alarmed at the crisis threatening the true value of religion arising from persistent discord among religious organizations. In accordance with the declaration of the year 2009 as the United Nations “International Year of Reconciliation”, we at the International Shinto Foundation, believing in the necessity of open dialogue between the peoples of the world, wish together with others to consider ways of enabling this reconciliation.

Next, to make our planet sustainable in the coming new age, we would like to propose to those linked by the East Asian teachings of Sun and Tao a shift in our principles of behaviour from those of “shallow ecology” to those of “deep ecology”.  Shallow ecology means overcoming nature and modifying the natural environment for the convenience of human beings.  This concept sees nature from the viewpoint of monotheism.  By contrast, deep ecology treats human beings as part of nature, and regards nature as humanity’s companion, as its own flesh and blood.  This is the East Asian philosophy of Sun and Tao, that is, the way of thinking of indigenous popular religion or faith.

Shinto is an authentic Japanese ethnic religion which is likely to be regarded as being acceptable only to Japanese people, but at the same time it is fully endowed with universal factors which can be readily accepted and adopted on a worldwide level.  What however remains consistent across all religions of the world is that their universality should increasingly begin to address the major issues we all face as we have moved into a new millennium.  These many issues include the continuing occurrence of inter-religious conflicts and wars, worries over our changing ecology, the relationship between scientific technology and ourselves, and questions over what role and form communities and politics should take.  It is the answers to these questions that form the major challenges to religious thought today.

When we look at the religious movements in the world today we find two distinctly different phenomena.  On the one hand we see many disputes and troubles among the many religions and sects.  On the other hand, however, we see people actively and genuinely trying to pave a new path of understanding, cooperation and mutual enlightenment by means of their different religions.  And these groups of people are becoming more and more numerous, which is indeed very encouraging for all of us.  The spirit of harmony contained within Shinto will, I believe, be of much value in this regard.

To learn more about Shinto, the original “nature religion” of Japan, please continue here.

EXHIBITION Rebirth: Recent Work by pop artist Mariko Mori

posted in: Fine Arts, Kaigai | 0
I am very excited to see this new exhibition by the marvelous Japanese pop artist, Mariko Mori.
Iconic Japanese pop artist Mariko Mori
Rebirth: Recent Work by Mariko Mori
 An icon of 1990s Japanese pop art, the visionary artist Mariko Mori has always transformed herself effortlessly and faster than anyone else into the future. Japan Society Gallery presents her latest countenance in this major solo exhibition, Rebirth, as a significant artistic statement by Mori. The entire gallery space is transformed into Mori’s world through 35 sculptures, drawings, photographs, sound and video works, strung together into a narrative of birth, death and rebirth—a continuous circle of life force that the artist observes on a cosmic scale. Journey through space, time and consciousness in this immersive installation.
For more information and to get tickets, visit the Japan Society of New York
Friday, October 11 — Sunday, January 12
Japanese pop artist icon Mariko Mori
Mariko Mori at the Japan Society of New York
From Ms. Mori’s wiki
Mariko Mori was born in Tokyo in 1967. Mori’s father is an inventor and real estate tycoon, and her mother is a Historian of European Art. While studying at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo in the late 1980s, Mori worked as a fashion model. It was at that time that she had her first exhibitions. In 1989, she moved to London to study at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and studied there until 1992.[1] After graduating, she moved to New York City and she participated in the Independent Study program at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Mariko Mori now resides in New York and Tokyo.