Rebuilding in Fukushima

Rebuilding in Fukushima

It is now over eight and a half years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and rebuilding is still in progress across the affected region of Japan. The longest delay has been in Fukushima Prefecture, where the accident at the nuclear reactor meant that work on rebuilding could not even start for years in some areas, and there are still areas close to the reactor that are closed due to radioactive contamination, and likely to remain so for many years…

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The Traditional Religion of Japan

The Traditional Religion of Japan

Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan. As is normal with real-world situations, every single word (even “is”, “the”, and “of”) in that sentence is controversial, and potentially misleading, but it is still the best place to start. I believe that Shinto is best thought of as a religion, but that word tends to create an inaccurate image. Shinto does not have a founder. It also does not really have sacred texts; the oldest collections of Shinto legends are eighth…

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Kami of Sport?

Kami of Sport?

A couple of weeks ago, one of the regular opinion columns in Jinja Shinpō was extremely thought-provoking. Japan has fifty or so jinja enshrining soldiers and other people associated with the military who have died on active service since the mid-nineteenth century. Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo is by far the most famous (and controversial), and I wrote a whole essay about it for my Patreon. However, almost every prefecture has its own jinja, called a Gokoku Jinja, “Country-Protecting Jinja”, enshrining…

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Signs of Environmental Awareness

Signs of Environmental Awareness

The editorial in the August 12th issue of Jinja Shinpō (I’m catching up, slowly) was about “Oceanic Pollution and the Role of Jinja People”. That’s a direct translation of the title. The content started from the G20 Osaka Summit, at which one of the main topics was plastic pollution in the ocean, and how it should be reduced. The editorial outlined the problem, accurately, and the necessary actions, while also noting why plastics were so widely used. It wrapped this…

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Female Trainee Priests

Female Trainee Priests

A few weeks ago (July 22nd — I am a bit behind at the moment), Jinja Shinpō devoted its entire back page to female priests. The main article was a round-table discussion between five young women training at Kokugakuin University to be priests, with another article interviewing a fairly recent graduate (seven years ago) who is now the chief priest of a jinja in Saga Prefecture. (Saga Prefecture and other parts of northern Kyushu suffered from record-breaking rain as I…

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The Nature of Kegarë

The Nature of Kegarë

Kegarë is a central concept in Shinto, and is normally translated as “impurity”. This is not a bad translation, but it is also not quite right. Sometimes, kegarë is referred to as “tsumikegarë”, which is translated as “sin and impurity”. This is also not quite right. The first point to make is that “impurity” is a better translation than “sin”. Traditionally, for example, childbirth attached a great deal of kegarë to the mother, but childbirth was certainly not regarded as…

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Keta Taisha

Keta Taisha

Earlier this week, I went with my daughter to visit Keta Taisha, in Ishikawa Prefecture on the west coast of Japan. That part of the prefecture is a peninsula, the Noto Peninsula, and until the administrative reforms of the late nineteenth century, it was Noto Province (Noto no Kuni). Keta Taisha was the Ichi-no-Miya, or First Jinja, of that Province. Ichi-no-Miya was not a formal designation, and arose from a local consensus as to the most important jinja in the…

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Kamikakushi & Kamikakurë

Kamikakushi & Kamikakurë

“Kamikakushi” means “hidden by the kami”, and could be translated “Spirited Away”. Indeed, the Japanese title of the Miyazaki anime called “Spirited Away” in English is “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi”: “Sen and Chihiro’s Kamikakushi”. Historically, it was thought that people who entered particular sacred areas, such as forests or mountains, might be taken away by the kami. Very occasionally, they might reappear years later. The oldest legend clearly referring to this idea is that of Urashima Tarō, a story…

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Okinagatarashihimë

Okinagatarashihimë

Okinagatarashihimë is one of the most widely revered kami in Japan, but very few people even within the country have so much as heard her name. She is one of the three Hachiman kami, and one of the two (with Hondawakë) who are enshrined in almost all Hachiman jinja — the remaining kami is very variable. Okinagatarashihimë is also known as Jingū Kōgō, and Japanese legend, particularly in the Nihonshoki, records her as the wife of one Tennō and the…

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Female Shinto Priests

Female Shinto Priests

A couple of days ago, I was having a conversation with a professor of Shinto Studies at Kokugakuin University, and the subject of female priests came up. His speciality is the period 1868 to 1945 (a clearly distinct period of Japanese history), and what he had to say was interesting. Apparently, in the late nineteenth century, there were female priests at some jinja. This happened because, with the separation of Shinto and Buddhism, many Buddhist clergy who had managed jinja…

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