Home Asian News How Japanese women saved Shinto - Diplomat

How Japanese women saved Shinto – Diplomat


In front of the giant torii, the entrance to the Shinto shrines of Japan, most visitors are overwhelmed with astonishment. These mysterious places of worship seem to conceal the utmost secrets within their interiors.

What exactly is Shinto, Japan’s indigenous religion honored by these temples? Very few people can give a satisfactory answer.

Even less is perhaps aware of how important a role women play in the Shinto tradition to this day.

In the view of Ohoshi Matsuri, a sacred festival, I have the privilege – unique to foreigners – to stay for a week in the house next to the ancient Tsumori Jingu Shrine in Kumamoto, one of the The oldest temple in the region It is located on the island of Kyushu, a land of volcanoes and natural hot springs.

Name of the priest of the temple (click) is Kai-san and he has been guarding the sacred house for over 30 years.

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“Shinto is such a part of Japanese life that many people don’t even realize they have a religion,” he said when I asked about its meaning, so much so that people, right away. Even local people, it is difficult to determine. .

Its gods? Wind, lightning, sky. They range from Mount Fuji to large sugi tree. Kai-san assured me that “in the land of 8 million gods (yaoyorozu in Japanese) they come in all shapes and forms. “

In one of the most extreme examples, the sex-life awakening deity is located in Chiba, and is a phallic trunk with all the details of a surreal modern sculpture.

At the beginning of the last century, religion and state worship were indistinguishable entities that embodied the Emperor. Today, many people wonder to what extent Shintoism still influences current politics.

It has a “small” effect, “and is only for things that really threaten the tradition,” replied Kai-san.

In short, the Shinto hierarchy makes no calls against abortion or corpse (a common practice among other faiths) because these concepts are simply too modern. . Unlike Christianity, Shinto faiths do not live by beliefs and dogmas. The priestly hierarchy finds meaning and direction in tradition.

But when discussion erupted, as happened two years ago after Emperor Akihito abdicated, over the possibility of a woman sitting on the Chrysanthemum throne, the Shinto authorities felt that the tradition was being challenge. We will see this dispute recur in the coming years. Traditionally, the royal succession followed the male lineage, but according to scholars, the Japanese Constitution itself had nothing to prohibit women from ascending the throne.

Such objections are somewhat ironic, since Shinto itself owes much to women for its modern perseverance. After postwar reforms aimed at separating the state from religion, the Shinto priests ordered nothing revolutionary: They allowed women to function. It has never happened before.

Newness is dictated by a practical need. Priests, who were able to count on a normal salary – in fact, they were ordinary civil servants, considered the state religion of the Shinto religion – suddenly found themselves with no income. import. They had to recreate a profession for themselves. Some become shokunin (craftsmen) and other teachers. Some even filled the positions of blue-collar workers in the booming construction industry at the time.

So who is left to “guard” the sacred houses? Women. Some were wives of previous priests and some were their daughters, while others approached the profession again.

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“It was truly revolutionary, if we thought that the resistance from part of the hierarchy back then was significant,” Kai-san said. “Let’s look at how Catholics today still strongly oppose the ordination of women.”

It is said that women are “filthy”, not suitable to be a priest. The ancient taboo about menstruation, “devil soul”, was quite lively at the time.

Immediately after the war, many religious people, and perhaps some still to this day, refused services if they saw women perform Mass instead of men.

Just like in the West, women are far from fully liberated after World War II. Among elders today, many still have the stubborn habit of calling their wives kanai, literally “indoors” – as if it was unnecessary to honor them by using a certain name.

Without the kanai, however, the fate of Modern Shinto would have been very different.

“Women are still involved in the management of temples while performing heavy house chores and taking care of children,” pointed out Kai-san. “If that hadn’t happened then many temples would have gone extinct today, and the Shinto itself is probably a faint flashback of the past.”

That is not difficult to imagine. Currently, due to Japan’s birth rate, many temples have been abandoned for the past few years.

What do Shinto priests actually do? Identifying the guuji as the person in charge of running the functions at a Shinto shrine was not flawed. For example, Kai-san had to drum, stamp in notebooks, write prayers by hand, bless car, clean up. dogs (sacred area) chopping bamboo, neohouzeaua, even taking souvenir photos for visiting families.

And how much does all this work earn him? “It all depends on suggestions made by devout people,” he said. A portion of the donated money goes to the burial treasury, which is essentially the administrative office located in each province.

Each temple agency updates information about different priests – not via email or digital device, but in a classical way, through newspapers and magazines.

There are currently 80,000 Shinto shrines, one in every 1,500 people in Japan. That is expected to decline due to a downward demographic trend, as the temples will be merged with neighboring temples. But they will not enter secular use, unlike the destroyed churches in the West, which have been converted into hotels or pubs. If the legal registration of protected areas expires, they will be abandoned and no one will dare to touch them; they are still sacred places.

As mikoshiIt was often called the “house of the gods” that the priest showed me with great care. It was a heavy wooden palanquin that was safely parked in the most discreet place of the temple.

What does it carry?

“It is a god. In the form of a mirror, but it depends on the area, ”said Kai-san. “Chances are, many years ago it was a stone or even a tree branch. No one really knows for sure. ”

But we know for sure that the local sacred festival, the Ohoshi Matsuri, has been going on for over 600 years. This festival involved a crowd of local young people carrying mikoshi around the neighborhood on their shoulders, shouting “ kamisama (gods) have arrived! Then the deity, sheltered by thick curtains and between the dances and sounds of flutes and drums, will be transported to the next town. Here it will protect its inhabitants for another year before it will be passed on to the next village, so keep traditions and beliefs alive.

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And it is very likely that this would not happen to this day without the essential contribution of the very women entrusted to live their lives under the anonymous kanai name.

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