Jinja - The attraction of Shinto
I consider myself a lover of Japanese shrines (神社- Jinja). Every time I come back to Japan, I can never resist myself visiting there to no purpose. Nothing more than walking around to calm my mind...
Maybe this strange love comes from some Japanese anime which are possible know by all who learn Japanese like "Inuyasha" (犬夜叉), "Kamisama Kiss" (神様はじめました), “Spirited Away” （千と千尋の神隠かみかくし）and others.
Closely related to Jinja, we cannot forget to talk about Shinto - an ancient tradition which continues to exist till now in Japan. It is way too impossible to cover everything scientifically about Shinto in only one article. In Japan, there are even published books specializing in the study of Shinto. Therefore, I just go through a few points only in this article (or else, you will fall asleep reading this article).
Jinja - Solemn and quiet
The number of Jinja across Japan is estimated at 81,000 (based on data in 2018) which are more than the number of convenience stores and temples around the country. You can easily come across a Jinja on your way. I once rented a hotel room in Kabukicho (though I did not know why I chose such a crowded street to rent a room?) then wandered off the streets - which were crowded with people. Accidentally I discovered a small Jinja - quiet but solemn and serene, in a noisy area. At that time, I suddenly felt like I had found a gem in the stone.
This is what Jinja is about. Not a kind of a large showy architecture, sometimes it is just a place nestled in a bustling busy street. Perhaps it is why I always find my incomprehensible peace in Jinja, isn't it?
Whenever I'm here, I feel like I am training my own self hard enough to always remember two things: be myself and stay strong no matter how life is throwing rocks at me. Just like the way of Jinja still quietly exist, stand upright and be away from the hustle and bustle outside. To me, sometimes I come to Jinja not to pray but likely to calm myself down, to take a deep breath and keep moving forward. I guess I'm one of a few who is finding inner peace in the spiritual shrines :)))
The origin of Shinto
In the past, Japanese people mainly relied on agriculture for living. Besides the gifts that nature offers such as majestic mountains, immense forests or romantic waterfalls,... there were also natural disasters such as storms, droughts and so on. For that reason, Japanese people have a strong belief that everything in nature has been ruled by the Gods, as a way to explain the natural phenomena.
The Gods are spirits of all things in nature. There are great Gods such as the Gods of the water, the mountains, the sun, the moon, and also the Gods of small things like animals and plants. That is why in Japan, there is a saying called 八百万の神 - Yaoyorozu no Kami (Eight Million Gods). It is said in the past the Gods were not living in Jinja as today but just in an altar people built and supposed it as the residence of the Gods.
Things changed over time and one day they realized that it was not very convenient for prayers. They decided to build Jinja - the house of the Gods where people could easily come and pray. Nowadays, if you go to countryside areas in Japan sometimes you see the rocks or trees decorated with Shimenawa rope, which are the residence of the Gods. They look very simple but have the same meaning as Jinja.
The beliefs of Shinto
The beliefs of Shinto are the appreciation for nature and mutual assistance among humans. If you notice, you will find that Japanese people will always attach the prefix O（お）or Go（ご）to nouns such as お米 (Rice), ご飯 (Cooked rice), ご食事 (Meal),... This is the way to show their respect and gratitude for the gifts of nature.
The beliefs of Shinto have influenced the Japanese way of life. It is not an exaggeration to say the principles of their "Dou" culture are mainly formed based on the spirits of Shinto such as 茶道 (Sadou), 生花 (Kadou), 剣道 (Kendou), 柔道 (Judou),etc. Shinto is so special, so unique and so Japanese, isn't it?
Shinto also does not have sutras, sermons or rigid principles. It is nothing more than a "spirit" in every Japanese’s mind. In their daily lives, you may find there are many Shinto-related occasions such as Hatsumode (初詣) - the first Jinja visit of the New Year, or Shichigosan (七五三) - a festival to celebrate and pray for boys and girls, or Setsubun (節分) - a bean-throwing festival to drive demons, or the most important occasion of a girl's life - a marriage ceremony, they are all celebrated in Jinja.
In the new year, all members of my friend's company always come to the Jinja near the office to hold a ceremony for a successful business year. They call it a "ceremony" but it is very simple, just like a habit in their daily activities.
It is also different from other religions in the world such as Buddhism, Catholicism,...which worship only one supreme God, Shinto worships many different Gods since they believe God is in everything. Each Jinja is considered to be the house of a certain God. It can be the God of natural phenomena, the God of learning, the God of prosperous business, for easy births, or it can be the God of love,...
Izumo - The Land of The Gods
Legend has it that in October of the lunar calendar, gods all over the country gather to Izumo no Kuni (Now Kuni in Japanese means a country, but in the past, Kuni was known as a province. Izumo no Kuni is now a place in eastern Shimane which is a very popular travel destination).
At the Jinja in Izumo no Kuni, people often hold Kamiarisai festivals (神在祭) to welcome the gods while the Jinja in other areas hold Karasadesai (神等去出祭) to the gods to Izumo no kuni for a gathering. During this time, the Gods in other places considered as being "away from home". If you ever read the anime "Kamisama Kiss", you may know about this tradition.
If you are interested in this tradition, you can find some Izumo no Kuni Tours! Going there on the days of the festival, you are able to experience and learn more about the Japanese Shinto culture. (When I read “Kamisama Kiss, I thought it was fictional, now I know it is real. haha_)
The article is quite long so I pause it here! In the following part, I will write about the etiquette in Jinja so that even Japanese people will be amazed and wonder why a foreigner like you can behave 100% like a local!
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