Sunday, December 7, 2014

Shintoism in Japan - Shrine Experience

Here in Japan one of the most common belief systems is that of Shintoism. I am sure that many people (including myself) are curious about what this belief system entails. As I am here longer in this country I am sure that I will have more time to study this Japanese philosophy of life in greater detail since it is at the center of Japanese understanding of life. Recently, Katie and I were able to have some first hand encounters with Shintoism by going to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo during Japan’s “Labor Thanksgiving Day”. Some of you may have seen the pictures on Katie’s facebook page. We went to Yoyogi park because of its close location, free attendance, and close proximity to Harajuku street (popular area in Tokyo). Unbeknownst to me is that within Yoyogi Park is the Meiji Shrine, which is a large shrine that apparently dedicated to the ‘deified spirits’ of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The Meiji era in Japan was considered to be one of the most vital times in this country’s history, so this shrine is very well beloved. In 1920 this shrine was constructed for the purpose of enshrining their souls. I do not entirely know what this entails.

We decided to check out the shrine and to learn about Shintoism since it is one of the main world views that Japanese are taught to view reality through. However, Katie and I do not endorse entering any shrines as a practice since they are places of heavy spiritual oppression as will be described later. Those of you who are not Christians reading this blog please understand that this is not some kind of light-hearted cultural exchange. The reality is, is that heavy spiritual oppression exists in this land of which I will later describe. Most Japanese are in bondage to actual spirits or a form of spiritual oppression, and it is no laughing matter. Many rituals are actually inviting spirits to abide with them and their children. Katie and I are here in Japan also for the ministry of reconciliation of Japanese people to God through the sharing of the gospel. ( 2 Timothy 2:24-26 ) The Bible indicates that the *god of this world* blinds the minds of unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6) Before I continue know that this is the Christian prospective according to the scriptures.

Before entering the shrine areas we walked through some large ‘Torii’ gates. From what I understand these gates are to mark the entry into ‘holy places’ as considered in Shintoism, with each gate entered through signifying an increased level holiness before actual shrine entry.



(Torii Gate)


After entering through the first Torii gate we came across a large area with barrels of wine as well as barrels of sake. The inscriptions on these barrels indicated that they were dedicated to the ‘deified spirits’ of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken from various people around the world. In Shintoism there are thousands of gods which are mostly various people of the past that have been ‘deified’ and worshiped. This is essentially ancestor worship. This article quote from a Japanese blog website describes Shintoism:

“Shinto is a loose collection of faiths without any written commandments or creed. It is conveyed by ritual, practice, and behavior rather than by word. The following linguistic description of Shinto is, therefore, at best an external analysis rather than “Shinto doctrine” since Shinto avoids linguistic definition to the extent that other religions avoid idolatry.

An infinite number of gods or spirits are revered in Shinto, but at the supreme level in the Shinto cosmology is the unity of nature from which all things are born. Humans depend upon the spirits, which are features of nature (such as mountains, waterfalls, trees and the sun) and our human ancestors. The spirits depend upon humans and by being enshrined and how revered they come to be.”

It is no wonder then on this national holiday that many people came to the Meiji shrine for various reasons which I will show later. Before entering the shrine a small building on the side was dedicated to a purification ceremony.



Purification 


The idea is apparently to remove evil and pollution with water so that one may enter the shrine for a form of worship. (Japanese have a different idea of sin/pollution than Western-thinking people. I will speak on this on another blog.) Obviously many people were rinsing out their mouths and fingers before entry into the shrine, since they believe in this act for purification. I could not help but notice that this ritual was much like that of ancient Israel before entering the temple. I will allude to this later in another post with an interesting link about Japan and Ancient Israel.

On the outside of the shrine exists some small booths that sell items that are akin to talismans, charms, and items that are apparently endowed with blessings to increase certain attributes in life. (luck, fortune, health, etc.) After paying your homage in the shrine you can come out and purchase some of these things for yourself. They are roughly eight dollars or more a piece. I could not help but see similarities between this and that of hearing of pre-reformation Catholicism in which icons as well as relics were purchased and believed to be endowed with certain real-life benefits.


Spiritual Items for Purchase


Before we entered the shrine area for pictures I could sense the ominous spirit of the whole matter of being in this area within my soul, but it was not until I had entered the shrine itself that I could feel the heavy spiritual pressure not of God. It was quite intense, like a feeling of utter emptiness and doubt.


Shrine Entry



Shrine main area inside


I would like to say that the design of the shrine is impressive. The craftsmanship is really something to write home about.

Within this shrine is a tree that contains prayers. You can pay to have your ‘prayer requests’ posted for the Shinto priests to dedicate when they do their rituals. I also learned that offerings are required in the shrine lest the spirits become angry and bestow you with misfortune! I witnessed many people tossing coins into a box in the main area. Apparently money, gifts, food, and flowers can be offered.


Prayer Tree and Prayers on Cards



Shinto Prayer Request Cards


While in the shrine we witnessed a lot of activity going on. Many people were getting married, many children were being dedicated in ceremonies, and many people were generally involved in spiritual activities in the shrine. The weddings appeared to be very serious and solemn occasions!


Wedding Ceremony in Temple


Apparently at certain ages Japanese children are dedicated through various ceremonies. (link) This is one of the reasons why many believe that Christians are few in this land. Hearing the gong during the ceremony was particularly ominous.


Child Dedication far inside



Large Drum used as part of ceremony


One of the side buildings which contained some golden tablets had a particular ominous sense of spiritual heaviness about it, and I could only bare to withstand it for a short period of time enough to get a picture.


Golden Tablets


At this point we took a few pictures and were glad to leave the area. Once exiting out of the side Torii gate I could feel the some of the spiritual heaviness disappear. Even writing about it now brings back a certain sense of spiritual oppression. After having been to this shrine I am certainly thankful that as I child that I was not dedicated to strange spirits on multiple occasions. This is all the more reason why it is such a major event when a Japanese person becomes a born-again Christian. They are often essentially rejecting a lifetime of deeply ingrained pressures to conform to Shintoism, spiritual oppression, as well as the apparent shame of their ancestors and family for their decision. This is a lot of pressure to bare, but all the more reason why becoming a born-again Christian is an amazing miracle for a Japanese person! The power of God is really supernatural to enable a person to go against so much of what they have been taught! This is also a good reason to pray for Japan. Newly born-again Christians have a lot to learn and must make some incredible sacrifices to remove the Shinto influences from their homes and lives over a long period of time. Though an advantage in this country is that it is quite clear what separation from the world means when becoming a Christian! Please continue to pray and comment. God Bless.