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David Chart

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 century, and almost nobody within Shinto believes that they are… Read More »The Traditional Religion of Japan

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 the war dead from that prefecture. (Tokyo does not have… Read More »Kami of Sport?

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 up by saying that Japanese people were, in general, insufficiently… Read More »Signs of Environmental Awareness

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 was writing this earlier in the week. It seems, from… Read More »Female Trainee Priests

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 a sin; indeed, it was the primary function of a… Read More »The Nature of Kegarë

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 area. Thus, there are some provinces where there are several… Read More »Keta Taisha