What exactly is happening spiritually in Japan? Is there something that we Westerners can learn from Japan?
As I have for at least half my life now, I’ve been researching religion in all forms. I’m no stranger to the ideas of religion and the golden thread that is present within all major and minor beliefs. But despite whatever you and I think of religion here in the West, Japan has a very flexible and moveable reins which the Japanese can move when it comes any changing tides in their country, be it political or natural. The major religions of Japan are Shinto and Buddhism, but there is also small signs of Confucian, Taoism, Hindu, Islam, Christianity and Catholicism (only about %1 follows Christ in Japan).
Politics and Religion in Japan
Disappearing Buddha in Japan
Instead of 7 days and 7 nights of creating the world it’s said in Shinto that after the creation of Heaven and Earth two kami (gods) were instructed to create a series of islands which soon became known as the land of the rising sun! These two kami were Izanagi and Izanami, and as they stirred the oceans the islands of Japan started to form.
But, beyond mystical kami that were instructed to create islands, this religion of Shinto has been said to be actively being practiced since the Joman period (14,000 – 300 BC). It’s very likely as religion does in Japan, it changed it’s mask to fit with the times at hand. In 600-800 AD written text begun to appear speaking about Shinto and the Imperial Family and the rites they took while practicing Shinto. But what exactly is Shinto?
Shinto can be best explained as a similar belief that the American Indians (or the Ainu People) have/had. Everything has a place, has an energy or a kami/god. Instead of just praying to one god as Westerners are so use to doing, Japan and the Shinto religion takes praise to all sorts of gods. You can find all sorts of these Shinto shrines across Japan, in fact there is said to be somewhere around 80,000 shrines in Japan, many simple shrines in the middle of a forest or near a river.
Buddhism in Japan is also a very affluent religion as well. It said to have arrived around in the 600’s AD in Japan and at first was rejected, soon there after it was accepted, but a great tragedy happened soon after, and it was said that the kami were rejecting this new belief, but even despite this horrible beginning, Buddhism took root in Japan and soon intertwined with Shinto. Many shrines across Japan have both Buddhism and Shinto rituals, statues, architecture and priests within the same compound. Although during the beginning of the Meiji Period (1869) Shinto was claimed to be the ‘State Religion’ in Japan and Buddhism was attacked and soon many newer shrines of Shinto would no longer collaborate with Buddhism ideology or effigies inside the shrine, although still the Japanese people carried Buddhism along any how despite the efforts of a group attempting to wither it away slowly.
Japanese people tend not to have titles when it comes to religious affiliation, instead it’s quite natural to mold into whatever is happening around them, be it Buddhist in nature or Shinto, the Japanese culture is mixed with both sides of this religious coin through private worship to popular festivals. But besides getting into the extreme details of these different religions and the whose who, I’m going to break down my beliefs that surround these ideas and how they became so popular in Japanese culture and maintain themselves, and perhaps it will sound spiritual to you, if it does, it’s meant to as I feel there is something bigger happening then meets the eye with these beliefs.
The more I research about these people the more I realize that these communities of belief were created long ago, and for a very long time in Japanese history they fulfilled a purpose of bringing people together in the search for meaning in life (and still do). Life is fragile and we all have had the feeling of a more powerful energy present in our lives, it’s natural that religion of any kind arrives because of this universal feeling everyone has had at one time in their life, but these two beliefs (Shinto and Buddhism) merged so well that it’s easy to see that a destiny or fate pulled these two paths together and is the reason they are so hard to separate after being interwoven.
Between cleansing rituals of the Shinto and becoming one with all in Buddhism, there is a infinity that surrounds the soul when one is cleansed and then given an idea of that all is one and that appreciation is a main key factor of health, wealth and joy in ones life. I’m personally one who has played with both sides of these ideas and I’ve come to say both of these beliefs have drawn a line of science and belief into itself.
For example there is a new age belief called ‘The Law of Attraction‘ which is being constantly activated as the Japanese people practice these beliefs and ideas in their life. The LOA is simply what you think about and believe is what comes about (which is even taught in Christian scripture) and I truly know for a fact the mass practice of these beliefs are creating some miraculous results that are affecting the world, be it seen as good or bad, these results are furthering the evolution of man kind.
Japanese people can be said to be some of the most healthy people in the world for many reasons beyond just their highly nutritious eating habits. It’s the idea of being cleansed, being purified, being apart of All, having compassion for others, as ‘others’ are really just them, you or I anyway. Beyond just the ideas of religion or spirituality, I truly believe that these are meant to help keep the Japanese people sane and healthy (It’s Like a Massive Placebo Effect if you Will). What I mean by that is that, we humans are naturally hunter and gathers, it’s a fact, and with that we are meant to only live in tribes of maybe 100 people at any given time. The Japanese people live in a place where all their human instincts are telling them something is off. So being able to practice these beliefs and use festivals of these ideologies to instead overcome the over thinking of the mind and to come together as a community is another socially evolved resolution to the crowding of the people of Japan.
I truly believe that there is a collective mind that humanity draws from and I don’t think that these ideas came together by accident. Inside all of this something was created inside their society because of religion in their lives. This, I believe is transferred as a quiet serenity towards the life that was given to them, a peacefulness and appreciation and respect for others in the very same small spaces they find themselves at times. I truly feel that if something like Shinto and Buddhism were not apart of the Japanese culture, they would have been much more aggressive then they have been, not just with other countries but within their own country, between each person. Now, don’t get the wrong idea here, I’m not saying the Japanese are completely free of human faults, in fact there is quite a few still left obviously, but I’m attempting to point out, these subtle customs that were past down throughout history from father to son or mother to daughter that has created a more cooperative society that instead works more so through synergy.
From hierarchical family customs, to how children in school are treated and taught to how the State of Japan supports so many different festivals and events to bring one another together. These are all benefits of these two beliefs that have been so dominate in Japanese everyday life. I can say with great clarity that if these beliefs were to not have fallen in the lap of Japan, Japan would look and feel very much different then it does today, and I firmly believe it would not be a civilized society like it has become, I do not believe it would have ever had a period of restoration or economic growth without these underlying ideas from Shinto and Buddhism.
The world of Japan without compassion, appreciation and respect would be a very disorganized place!
So thank Buddhism and Shinto for the best parts of Japan! And although the political scene of Japan is being manipulated through these religion (as is not uncommon for the rest of the world either), I certainly feel there is more good happening because of these beliefs then anything the government could ever do to subjugate the public into something that would be harmful. As said before there is something higher then the words of man directing the influence of the world and Japan is no stranger to that idea/fact.
Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō) is Japan’s most northern region island and it’s closest prefecture neighbor is Aomori which is at the very northern part of the island of Honshu. Hokkaido was first ‘stolen’ from the Ainu people and made as a Japanese land mass in 1869 right after the beginning of the Meiji period.
It’s hard to describe the history and the current state of what Hokkaido is without explaining who first lived on this northern island of Japan before even the Japanese themselves occupied the land of what is now known as Japan. The Ainu people were the indigenous people that first inhabited the lands of Japan.
They are said to have come over from Russia long time ago when a frozen mass connected the island and Russia, and their ancestry has been said to stem back to the Jomon period, which is basically early man kind. I strongly recommend learning about the Ainu people, click here to learn more about Hokkaido the Ainu and where it’s been.
Hokkaido has been known as several names throughout history. Ezo, Yezo, Yeso and Yesso. It’s their second largest island of Japan and of course the most northern area of Japan before you get to the Kuril Islands and Russia. Hokkaido is separated from the island of Honshu of Japan by the Tsugaru Strait, but the two islands are now connected by an underwater railway called the Seikan Tunnel.
The main capital of Hokkaido is Sapporo, although there are several large cities in Hokkaido this is the only one that is ordinance-designated by the Japanese government. The Meiji period government had a tough decision to make when they came to renaming Hokkaido which was called Ezochi then.
They had a few choices when it came to renaming the island. They had Kaihokudo and Hokkaido, they of course decided to name the island Hokkaido, but they decided to write the kanji in a way to compromise between similar names then like Tokaido. But according to the Matsuura, the name Hokkaido was brought up because the Ainu people called the region Kai.
The food in Hokkaido is said to be some of the best seafood in the world. But the residents of Hokkaido have been able to manage growing crops on soil that’s been said to be hard to grow on because of all the activity with the volcanoes and the huge amount of volcanic ash that is in the area. But Hokkaido is known for garlic, potato’s and Japan’s largest grow area of corn.
It’s said that the seafood is so good though, that if you have any desire or liking of seafood, you should visit Hokkaido at least once in your life!
Hokkaido has a good amount of Earthquakes every year and also has active volcanoes such as:
But not everything in Hokkaido is a snowy mass or a volcano. The spring, summer and fall times of Hokkaido have a lot of beauty in them as well. In fact many come to Hokkaido during the summer months to come see the flower farms.
There are over 80 different flower farms or flower lands in Hokkaido that you can visit. Because of the unique summers Hokkaido has by not being too hot or too cold, it’s perfect for growing flowers, and because of this, Hokkaido has a huge tourist industry based solely off of Hokkaido’s flowers, and when the trees start to change in September for a festival called Momijigari. Click here to see the different Flower Lands in Hokkaido.
The wildlife in Hokkaido is extremely rugged being that it’s one of the roughest areas during the winter in the world. But, besides this rough wilderness it has more brown bear in the world then anywhere else in Asia. But it’s also known to have large amount deer and red crown crane that still live on the island. Some mountains will incur up to 400 inches of snow fall during the year and because of this Hokkaido is known for it’s snow sports.
Since it’s roots are in the winter, it’s not surprising to note that Hokkaido hosts several different festival during the Winter but host some famous Spring, Summer and Fall festivals as well:
|Sapporo Snow Festival||Asahikawa Snow Festival||Sounkyo Ice Festival|
|Chitose-Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival||Obihiro Ice Festival||Otaru Yukiakari no Michi (Snow Gleaming)|
|Showashinzan International Yukigassan (Snowball Fight)||Sounkyo Hyobaku (Ice Waterfall) Festival)||Otofuke Tokachigawa Swan Festival Sairinka|
|Abashiri Okotsk Drift Ice Festival||Lake Akan Ice Festival “Fuyu-hanabi” (Winter Fireworks)||Mombetsu Drift Ice Festival|
|Sapporo Lilac Festival||Hakodate Goryokaku Festival||Matsumae Cherry Blossom Festival|
|Non Key Land Moss Phlox Festival||Yosakoi Soran Festival||Hokkaido Shrine Festival|
|Sapporo Summer Festival||Pacific Music Festival||Otaru Ushio Festival|
|Lake Shikotsu Lake Water Festival||Hokkai Heso (Belly Button) Festival||Shiretoko Shari Neputa|
|Noboribetsu Hell Festival||Esashi Ubagami Daijingu Togyo Festival||Furano Wine Festival|
|Nemuro Crab Festival||Autumn Wine Festival||Momijigari (Leaf Watching)|
|Marimo Festival||Sapporo White Illumination||Hakodate Christmas Fantasy Festival|
Click here to learn more about these festivals.
Hina Matsuri is a thousand year old festival that basically celebrates the development and happiness of younger girls. It can be called several different things: Girl’s day, Peach Festival (momo no sekku), Doll Festival, Pink Day and most likely many other things I’m sure I’m unaware of.
On March 3rd every year Japan celebrates a tradition called Hina Matsuri and/or the Doll Festival. It’s when families celebrate the development of their young girls. This is also called the peach festival. It usually starts around Feb 14th to March 3rd, during these days dolls will be decorated and it’s popular to eat a sushi called chirashi sushi which is a vinegar rice with mixed ingredients, it’s also normal to drink clam soup on the actual day of the festival.
During the period of the festival there is praying for better and good health. People will pray to the gods and offer goods and human shaped dolls which are created from paper and bamboo, these are created to symbolize their misfortunes and are then tossed into the river or oceans. Since the dolls are/were substitutes to bear misfortune, they were a luxury during the beginning of the Edo period which then transformed into the traditions that the Japanese celebrate today.
Families now days will have stands to show off these effigies (dolls) to purge evil and promote health and good luck, but it’s custom to keep them up from Mid February till the end of Hina Matsuri, but it’s said that if they keep them up after Hina Matsuri that the young girls will marry or give birth later in life. So it’s custom to keep them up for only until the end of Hina Matsuri.
These customs come from ancient Chinese belief using these dolls. The Chinese belief is said that you can transfer misfortune to these dolls and in order to remove it from your body, you simply throw the doll into a river or ocean. For those families who can not afford real ‘luxury’ dolls that’s where the paper dolls came from, which were usually made with scraps from kimono which were then connected to by strings so as to decorate bamboo rings. These dolls can cost upwards to a million yen ($10,000), and unless they are passed down from generation to generation these handcrafted paper dolls will have to do for most. In the Edo period these dolls were decorated in accordance of certain regions. These hanging dolls were created by families who could not purchase the ridiculous priced dolls, instead they would use the scraps of cloth to make cheaper versions. These paper dolls would then be proper equivalence to throw into the river. But as time went on, everyone saw it as a waste to toss these hand crafted dolls into the river, and thus the reason the stand is now the popular way to display the dolls and celebrate Hinamatsuri.
The popular song during Hina Matsuri is called “Ureshii Hinamatsuri” (Happy Hinamatsuri).
Akari o tsukemashou bonbori ni
Ohana o agemashou momo no hana
Go-nin bayashi no fue taiko
Kyo wa tanoshii Hinamatsuri
Let’s light the lanterns
Let’s set peach flowers
Five court musicians are playing flutes and drums
Today is a joyful Dolls’ Festival
There are TONS of definitions about the platforms of the stands for these dolls, and honestly. I’d say you can simply check this post out here if you want to learn more about that or watch the video above. Because I honestly don’t care that much about all the reasons of the platforms (I know, bad gaijin right?). What I personally care about is the basic reasoning behind this festival, and perhaps over time I’ll naturally just remember some of the customs with this festival with the platforms. So lets move on to the food during Hina Matsuri.
The food that was offered and eaten is a lot of different foods which are said to purge evil from the body when eaten and drank. Many of these foods and drink are white, green and pink/red, such as white sake and clams and Sakuramochi.
So now, you know a bit about Hinamatsuri and you can totally empress your gaijin otaku friends with your epic knowledge of Japanese festival traditions! Good for you 😛