Sacred swords

As an animist religion, Shinto sees the spirit world as underpinning that of the physical.  This is true too of the traditional swords, thought to have a spiritual presence.  ‘The forging of a Japanese blade typically took weeks or even months and was considered a sacred art,’ says Wikipedia.

Traditional Japanese swords (courtesy Wikicommons)

Writing of the blacksmith in Bushido, The Soul of Japan, Inazo Nitobe commented, ‘Daily he commenced his craft with prayer and purification, or, as the phrase was, “he committed his soul and spirit into the forging and tempering of the steel.” Every swing of the sledge, every plunge into water, every friction on the grindstone, was a religious act of no slight import. Was it the spirit of the master or of his tutelary god that cast a formidable spell over our sword?’

Where did the religious reverence come from?  Mircia Eliade was probably not the first to point out that metal as a gift of Mother Earth had a spiritual fascination for ancient humans.   ‘The blacksmith and the shaman come from the same nest,’ runs an old Siberian proverb.

The extract below is taken from the magazine Sacred Hoop issue 86.  In ‘The Spirit of the Blacksmith’ Nicholas Breeze Wood writes of the Mongolian-Buryat blacksmith spirit.  Given the links of early Shinto with Siberian shamanism, the traditions of the Buryat Mongolians may help shed light on the special nature of the Japanese sword.


In Hindu mythology, Tvastar, or Vishvakarma as he is sometimes known, is the blacksmith of the gods, whereas Vulcan (Hephaestus) holds that role in Greek and Roman mythology, using as he does a volcano as his forge. In ancient Irish mythology, the sacred smith is Goibhniu, and in Wales he is Gofannon. Both of these names mean blacksmith in their respective languages. In Anglo-Saxon Northern Europe, Wayland the Smith, who is known in Old Norse as Völundr, is the heroic blacksmith, who has many legends associated with him.

Yayoi sword (in Kokugakuin museum)

Traditionally in Siberia and Central Asia, the blacksmith is a very important person, closely related to the shaman; one Siberian saying is – ‘the shaman and the blacksmith are from the same nest’ – which sums it up well.

The blacksmith makes many of the shamans’ tools and pieces of equipment. He is the armourer of the shaman, and the iron objects fixed onto shamans’ coats or carried by them, are their armour and weapons. In Buryat tradition, such a smith and maker of shaman’s objects is called Dorligtoixun – ‘a person with Dorlig.’

According to Buryat legend, blacksmiths were taught by spirits from heaven called tengers, who were sent down to the earth to train human beings in the blacksmith’s art. They descended, carrying a hammer, tongs, and bellows ‘the size of a meadow’ to the peaks of mountains. The first people to be trained by the tengers handed down their skills to their descendents. Thus the role of smith became a hereditary one, generations of blacksmith families making the shamans’ ‘armour’, tools and weapons, being honoured for their work and their skill.

Iron was considered magical in its own right, but the smiths worked with other, non-ferrous, metals too. These smiths, like shamans, are divided into two groups: ‘white’ and ‘black.’ Blacksmiths generally forge articles from iron, the ‘black metal’, and their work includes domestic items, such as axes, knives and parts for horses’ harnesses, as well as shoeing horses. They also make the shamans’ items related to Damjin Dorlig such as metal parts for the shaman’s costumes, and iron parts for drums.

White smiths are those who tend to work with non-ferrous and precious metals, and their shamanic work would include making brass and bronze ritual mirrors, and the casting of amulets and bells.

Japan's imperial regalia, as described in the mythology

Posted in Animism, Mythology | 2 Comments

Sugi sacred trees

Gateway onto the fabulously tall avenue of sugi leading to Togakushi Jinja


Nature in Short / Hatsumode: Bringing in the New Year with prayers at shrines, temples
By Kevin Short / Special to The Japan News January 06, 2015

If you are living, working or visiting in Japan, whether in a tiny mountain hamlet or a huge urban hotel, you are within the parish-area of a small local shrine. Each of these shrines covers only a limited and usually clearly defined region, and offers their protection and blessings to everyone within that area. The parish-areas cover the entire nation (the system in the Ryukyu Islands is slightly different), and are coordinated by the prefectural Shrine Associations and the National Association of Shrines.

Sacred tree at Kirishima Jinja, claimed to be the mother of all sugi in the Mt Takachiho region

Most local shrines are too small to support a full-time caretaker or resident priest. Maintenance and care of the grounds are the responsibility of the residents. At this time of year the shrines have been swept and dusted, and the grounds have usually been raked. Visitors will also notice that fresh lengths of braided straw rope have been stretched between poles or pillars, or wound around a stone or the trunk of a huge tree.

These straw ropes are called shimenawa. They are renewed every year, and are decorated with small strips of white paper or cloth known as shide. All of a shrine’s precincts, inside the torii gate, are considered sacred, but the shimenawa designate spaces and objects that are especially sacred.

The tree decorated with a shimenawa is called the Shinboku or Goshinboku. Shin is an alternate pronunciation for kami, as the Shinto deities are called; and boku simply means ‘tree’ (Go is an honorific prefix). These sacred trees are usually old giants. The type of tree is not fixed, but certain species, such as ginkgo (icho), camphor tree (kusunoki) and Japanese cryptomeria (sugi) are popular.

Sugi are a species of conifer endemic to Japan. They grow naturally along the bottom of mountain streams and ravines, but are also planted widely as commercial timber trees. When properly pruned sugi grow tall and straight, and have fragrant wood that is easy to work but also extremely strong and durable.

Sugi can seem endlessly tall as if ascending to a higher realm, as here at Hakone Jinja

According to Japanese classic mythology, the first sugi were created when the great deity Susano-o, younger brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, plucked hairs from his beard and scattered them across the countryside. This myth indicates that since ancient times the sugi have been highly regarded for their excellent wood.

Sugi is closely related to the coastal redwoods, giant sequoias and swamp cypresses of North America. Like most conifers, a single trunk runs straight from base to tip. Short side branches are attached directly to the trunk, giving the tree a tall and slim rather than wide-spreading profile. The reddish brown bark peels off in long vertical strips, which squirrels use to weave their nests.

The vertically peeling bark is a good field mark, but unfortunately several species of cypress in the genus Chamaecyparis (hinoki, sawara) show similar characteristics. The cypress leaves, however, are flattened, while those of the sugi are short and thick, with blunted tips.  At this time of year the seed cones and seeds should also be on the ground underneath the tree.

Woody cones (kyuka in Japanese) are a characteristic feature of conifers. The sugi cones are about 2 centimeters long and very prickly. The cone wood, however, is relatively soft, so there is little danger of painfully pricking one’s pinky. Inside the cone are dozens of small brown flat seeds, about 5 to 6 millimeters long, equipped with thin, narrow membranes along the sides. These membranes act as sails, helping the seeds disperse on the strong winter winds.

During the autumn months, while the seeds are growing, the sugi cones remain tightly sealed. Come winter, however, the seeds ripen. The cones then open up and release the seeds. The seeds are shaken out while the cones are still attached to the branches, so most of the cones on the ground will be spent and already empty. A careful search underneath the tree, however, will usually produce several seeds, as well as a few strange looks!


Sugi are awesome specimens in themselves, but when touched by celestial lightning they are especially blessed - as with this blasted cedar on Kurama hill that forms the sacred heart of Osugigongensha

Posted in Animism, Shrine items | Leave a comment

Komainu guardians

A smart komainu guardian at Nishinomiya Shrine


At every shrine there are a pair of guardians who protect the grounds from evil spirits trying to enter.  The stylised komainu (Korean dogs) are characterised by having one mouth open and one mouth shut.  It signifies ‘ah-un’ which in Sanskrit are the first and last letters of the alphabet.  In other words, the beginning and end of all things.  The transmission from India was through Buddhism, and komainu are deeply syncretic.  In Shinto terms the pair could be said to act as a team to exclude evil on the one hand (shut mouth) and swallow them up on the other (open mouth).

The article below comes from Wikipedia and is interesting for showing how the Chinese guardian lion evolved into the komainu as we know them today.


Komainu strongly resemble Chinese guardian lions and in fact originate from Tang dynasty China. The Chinese guardian lions are believed to have been influenced by lion pelts and lion depictions introduced through trade from either the Middle East or India, countries where the lion existed and was a symbol of strength.

A komainu with reb bib at Shimogamo Jinja

During its transportation along the Silkroad, however, the symbol changed, acquiring a distinctive look. The first lion statue in India appears around the 3rd century BC on top of a column erected by King Ashoka. The tradition later arrived in China where it developed into the guardian lion that was later exported to Korea, Japan, and Okinawa.

During the Nara period (710–794), as in the rest of Asia, the pair always consisted of two lions. Used only indoors until the 14th century, they were made mainly of wood. During the Heian period (794–1185), for example, wooden or metal pairs were employed as weights and door-stops, while at the Imperial Palace they were used to support screens or folding screens.

During the early Heian period (ninth century), the tradition changed and the two statues started to be different and be called differently. One had its mouth open and was called shishi (獅子 lion) because, as before, it resembled that animal. The other had its mouth closed, looked rather like a dog, was called komainu, or “Koguryo dog”, and sometimes had a single horn on its head. Gradually the animals returned to be identical, but for their mouths, and ended up being called both komainu.

Okiinawan shisa guarding the Tamaudun royal mausoleum

Ubiquitous as they are now at shrines, Komainu have been used outdoors only since the 14th century. In Asia, the lion was popularly believed to have the power to repel evil, and for this reason it was habitually used to guard gates and doors. In Japan, too it ended up being installed at the entrance of shrines and temples next to the lion-dog. As a protection against exposure to Japan’s rainy weather, the komainu started being carved in stone.

The shīsā (シーサー), the stone animals that in Okinawa guard the gates or the roofs of houses, are close relatives of the shishi and the komainu, objects whose origin, function and symbolic meaning they share. Their name itself is centuries old regional variant of shishi-san.

Starting from the Edo period (1603–1868) other animals have been used instead of lions or dogs, among others wild boars, tigers, dragons and foxes.

The most frequent variant of the komainu theme is the fox, guardian of shrines dedicated to kami Inari. There are about 30 thousand Inari shrines in Japan, and the entrance of each is guarded by a pair of fox statues. Often one, and sometimes both, has a sūtra roll, a key or a jewel in its mouth. (Sūtras are Buddhist texts, a fact which attests to the Buddhist origins of the Inari cult.)

The statues do not stand for the malice the animals are proverbial for, but for the magic powers they are believed in this case to possess. Sometimes the guardians are painted, and in that case they are always white. White foxes are messengers of the kami, who is sometimes himself believed to be, and portrayed as, a fox. Although visible genitals are rare, the left fox is believed to be male, the right one female.

Often the foxes wear red votive bibs similar to those worn by statues of other deities, for example Buddhist god Jizō, from which one expects some kind of favor in return.  In this case however the bibs seem to be purely a rite, whose origins are unclear.

A golden komainu at Kamigamo Jinja

Komainu with shimenawa rope at Tarumi Jinja

Some are decidedly male, as this specimen at Kego Shrine in Fukuoka

Komainu come in all guises....

.... sometimes crouching down, as here at Kumano Taisha......

... sometimes sitting up and square-mouthed, as here at Jishu Jinja...

... and sometimes oddly proportioned, as here at Hakozaki Shrine in Fukuoka

Exceptionally, you may even come across a komainu and child, as here at Fuji Sengen Jinja

Some have a decidedly doggy character, as this example at Atago Shrine in Fukuoka

Some are touched up to add to their fierceness, as here at Hamanako

Some, as this magnificent specimen at Fushimi Inari, are elaborate works of art. Notice his paw on the ball of wisdom, a syncretic touch.

Posted in Origins, Shrine items | 1 Comment

UK groundbreaking ceremony

Tamagushi offerings are handed out by Shinto priest Paul de Leeuw


Last autumn on Oct. 1, a ceremony was carried out in the UK that was ground-breaking historically as well as literally.  It involved the planting of trees under the auspices of a Shinto priest, the first of its type in Britain.  The ceremony took place at a private school called Abbotsholme in Staffordshire and was conducted by Amsterdam-based Paul de Leeuw, who has featured elsewhere on these pages.  The report below comes from the Uttoxter Advertiser, and the photos are courtesy of Mrs. Jenny Richardson, former teacher at the school.


A TRADITIONAL tree planting ceremony was held at a Rocester school to remember Japanese pupils past and present.  Past pupil Tsuyoshi Ogura, who now lives in Tokyo having retired from business, donated the plantation of Japanese cherry trees to Abbotsholme School.

Tree planting on the grounds of Abbotsholme School

Cherry Blossom, or sakura, is a beloved icon of Japan. The planting ceremony was conducted by Dutchman Dr Paul de Leeuw, the only Shinto Priest in Europe.

Between 150 and 200 invited guests and the school looked on as Dr Leeuw, dressed in robes, took the audience through the 13 stages of preparation, planting and thanks.

Guests included leader of Staffordshire County Council Philip Atkins and his wife Margaret, the Honorary Consul for Japan, from Manchester, Peter Heginbotham OBE and Mr Hirosuke Okada, the representative from Tamagawa Academy and University in Tokyo with which Abbotsholme has had links for many years.

Thin drizzle just before the ceremony commenced was followed by beautiful sunshine as 12 pupils from Abbotsholme, Mr Ogura and Mr Okada took part in symbolic displays of admiration for nature and the actual planting of the trees. At the end of the ceremony the new trees were toasted with sake (rice wine).

The guests then moved indoors to the school chapel. There they were treated to a recital by Aisa Ijiri, the Japanese pianist. She played a piece of music entitled Sakura (Cherry Blossom) which had been composed especially for her by Llywelyn ap Myrddin, and first performed in 2013.

Organiser Derek Sederman then read out messages of goodwill which came from MP Andrew Griffiths, the Japanese Embassy in London, the Vice Chancellor of the Tamagawa University and King Constantine of Greece.

Tea included much to eat but also tea made with cherry blossom petals brought from Japan especially by Aisa Ijiri.


As to the significance of cherry blossom, Paul de Leeuw put it this way: “Cherryblossom, or sakura, is a beloved icon of Japan. In spring time the branches are loaded with pink and white blossoms. Its beauty lasts only for a short while; sakura is compared with youth. It is a beauty that is fully enjoyed by all Japanese. By donating cherry saplings to their old school the Japanese alumni wish to create a living monument that expresses the mutual friendship between Japan and Britain. The sakura, or cherry blossom trees, are a splendid gift for the 125th anniversary of Abbotsholme  School. Future generations will share happiness when they see the trees in full bloom.”

The school community watches the ritual. In the picture below student representatives receive the tamagushi (sakaki branch), and in the bottom picture Mr Ogura and the headmaster offer their tamagushi at the altar.

Posted in International, Rites and celebrations | Leave a comment

Toka Ebisu Festival

The folk deity Ebisu is at the centre of the businessman's festival of Toka Ebisu


The approach to Kyoto's Ebisu Jinja is down narrow streets of stalls and jostling crowds


The small shrine compound is packed, with queues for the Worship Hall stretching out beyond the entrance torii


Green Shinto has covered the Toka Ebisu Festival before.  It’s the first big festival of the year, taking place on January 10, and particularly popular in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.  The event in Kyoto takes place at the Ebisu Shrine adjacent to the Zen monastery of Kenninji. Toka means tenth day, and the festival lasts for five days centred around January 10.  It’s a joyous affair, a true festival of the common people.

Because Ebisu is a deity of business, all the shopkeepers, self-employed and small business owners flock to the shrine to get their lucky charms for the year ahead. And because Ebisu is one of the Seven Lucky Deities (Shichifukujin), the charms come in the form of treasure boats tied to sasa bamboo branches.  The packed streets, lines of stalls and bustling throngs have something of the feel of Edo times, and the infectious mood is augmented in the small shrine compound by kagura dance, maiko (trainee geisha) and famous actresses who help sell and promote the event.


At the centre of it all is the little fisherman, Ebisu, guardian of business and the only one of the Seven Lucky Deities to be native to Japan


Ebisu Jinja is next to a geisha district and trainee maiko help sell the lucky charms


While the maiko sell, the miko dances


There are all kinds of charms ranging from 30 to 80 dollars and more


For the shrine it's a prosperous New Year


Ebisu Jinja is one of the shrines in the local Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage, and to signify their visit pilgrims get their books signed and sealed by people skilled in calligraphy


Such is the throng before the Worship Hall that many resort to throwing their coins over the heads of those in front


After paying respects at the Worship Hall, people knock on heaven's door at the side of the building...


... because behind the 'door' is Ebisu himself, said to be hard of hearing. The knock is to ensure that the entreaty for a successful business year is heard okay.


Posted in Festivals, Kyoto shrines | Leave a comment

Cold water austerities

Bathers run around Teppozu Inari Shinto Shrine before dipping into a tub of cold water with blocks of ice during a winter ritual at the shrine in Tokyo on Sunday. More than 100 people gathered for the mid-winter event (Kanchu misogi) to pray for a healthy new year. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)


The beginning of a new year in Japan is a time for many purifying events to signify a fresh start, free of the spiritual pollution accumulated in the past year. Japan Today carries an article today highlighting the event above at the Teppozu Inari Shrine in Tokyo.

Yamabushi members carry out part of their cold weather austerities by soliciting funds from local shops near Kyoto's Ebisu Shrine

Misogi austerities are syncretic, carried out at both temples and shrines, and yesterday while visiting the Ebisu Shrine event in Kyoto I noticed some yamabushi (mountain ascetics) collecting funds from the local shops while carrying a banner saying they were involved in cold weather austerities.  They told me they were Shingon members attached to Toji temple and in syncretic fashion had come to join in the shrine festivities of Toka Ebisu (see picture to the right).

The mass misogi at Teppozu Inari consists of warm-up ‘rowing’ exercises with group chants following which participants run around the shrine and then immerse themselves in tubs of freezing cold water containing ice blocks.

The whole event takes some 30 minutes, and for a  4-minute video of the Kanchu misogi at Teppozu Inari shrine click here.  For a thumbnail overview of the whole event, please see this link.

In the first picture above, the former shrine priest emerges from the shrine to lead by example.  He was a remarkably youthful man in his 80s, so his cold water austerities had stood him in good stead!

The shrine is unusual in having a Fujizuka slope created from the lava of the volcano.  It is open for climbing on July 1st, and ascending is said to bring the same spiritual merit as climbing the mountain itself.  (Access to the shrine: From Ueno, take the Hibiya Line to Hacchobori stn. (10 min.) and walk south (10 min.)

The Fujizuka at Teppozu Inari Jinja

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Iwakura (sacred rocks)

Pair of iwakura at Achi Jinja in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture


Nice paragraph today by Stephen Mansfield writing about Kurashiki near Okayama…   it draws attention to one of the aspects of Shinto that is little written about and yet is central to the practice as a whole.  What’s interesting about the article is that Achi Shrine of which Mansfield writes lies close to the Inland Sea and has strong connections with immigrants from Korea, which may have been the source of rock worship in Japan.  It’s something I’ll be touching on in my next book, hopefully…


For those interested in Japan’s pre-Shinto spirit world and the putative origins of its early stone gardens, Achi Shrine is home to a number of large granite boulders known as iwakura. Also called “seats of the gods,” they appealed to the early Japanese, who possessed nothing comparable to shrines or religious reliquaries — to them the stones were natural force fields, attracting the presence of deities. Found in forest clearings and other natural settings, iwakura were cordoned off with rice-fiber ropes, and the ground around them strewn with pebbles, in what could well be a seminal model of the dry landscape garden. After staring for some time into the dark mirror of the stones, which are older than everything here, even the historic district in Kurashiki seemed less aged.


For more about sacred rocks, see the postings under the category for Rocks on the right, particularly this one.

Sacred stone on the hill behind Kibitsu Jinja, Okayama


Fushimi hill behind the famous Fushimi Inari shrine is a treasure trove of sacred rocks


The giant mirror rock at Hiyoshi Shrine near Lake Biwa, where the kami may have first descended


A sacred rock in the town of.... Iwakura! (Northern outskirts of Kyoto)


Did sacred rocks provide the inspiration for the Japanese rock garden?

Posted in Rocks, Shrine items | Leave a comment

California tea and torii

Torii with a twist (All photos courtesy of Jann Williams)


Green Shinto follower, Jann Williams, has written in with this striking picture of a Japanese tea house at the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, California.  It was made in Kyoto in 1949 for a wealthy Santa Barbara patron, from whom the city acquired it in the1990s.   Jann writes, ‘It’s interesting that the teahouse was sent so soon after WW2 ended. Some strong connection must have been there.’

The teahouse was given the name ShinKanAn, meaning “Look Through the Heart,” by the 15th Oiemoto (Grand Master) of the Urasenke Tea School.

The gate to the teahouse is a clever cross between the form of a torii and the wabi-sabi architecture of the traditional teahouse, which uses stripped branch and pillars.  Sometimes ‘found objects’ are used in their natural state.  This is echoed in the branch used to create the second beam of the torii.

The addition of a gateway in the lower portion of course negates the whole ‘open gateway’ notion of the torii, but the purpose here is artistic rather than spiritual.  On the other hand it’s tempting to see it as a Calfornia-style innovation, in similar manner to a California sushi.  In other words it’s an adaptation, much in keeping with Shinto’s past.

There are two contrasting ways of viewing such innovations.  Either one bemoans ‘the transgression’ and views it as a despicable straying from orthodoxy.  Or one finds it an exciting break with tradition.  Personally I’m inclined to the latter.  We live in a postmodern world, and it would be reactionary to resist change simply for the sake of a ‘tradition’.  As has been demonstrated by modern historians, tradition is a construct and usually a fairly recent one at that (in Shinto’s case, from the Meiji Restoration of 1868).

Shinto has evolved throughout its history, and there’s every reason to think that it will evolve further as it spreads overseas.  The same has happened to Zen and shamanistic practices as they became popular in the West.  California has long taken a lead in such matters, and personally at some point I would expect to see a similar type of Californication happening to Shinto.  Which kami will they be praying to, I wonder?


Further information about the teahouse, including opening times etc., can be had at this link.

Wood instead of bamboo for the fencing, but it's a very Japanese scene


Posted in International | 1 Comment


Mutsuhiro Takeuchi, Shinto priest and nationalist spokesman (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

One often comes across Shinto priests speaking out on matters that concern right-wing nationalism.  Sadly this is not balanced by the number of Shinto priests who speak out in favour of environmentalism, human rights and universalism.

In the current controversy concerning the film Unbroken, Shinto’s voice has been prominent in attacks on the portrayal.  Unfortunately the stance simply draws attention to Japan’s abysmal record of evasion concerning the wrongs of the past.  In the report below a Shinto representative utters a barefaced lie in denying wartime cannibalism, since there is plenty of evidence of this being carried out by Japanese soldiers.  Not only is it well documented, but there have been confessions by perpetrators.

There is an account of one such incident in Ian Buruma’s excellent The Wages of Guilt, which compares memories of the war in Germany and Japan.  Commenting on the striking difference between the two countries, Buruma notes that the US never fully dismantled the trappings of State Shinto (which include Yasukuni and the emperor system) because of Cold War considerations.

One of the most moving incidents in Buruma’s book is an account of a handful of Japanese participants at a conference in Nanking to consider the infamous massacre of 1937.  Afterwards one of the Japanese teachers present changed into the garb of a Buddhist priest and remorsefully prayed for the victims.  Could one imagine a Shinto priest doing this?  Buddhist sects have officially apologised for their compliance in Japan’s wartime actions.  Shinto on the other hand is closely aligned with revisionists and nationalists.


Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ sparks Japanese boycott calls due to WWII torture claims
By Douglas Ernst – The Washington Times – Friday, December 12, 2014

Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken,” which depicts the life of World War II hero and U.S. Olympian Louis Zamperini, is facing a boycott campaign in Japan over claims made in the 2010 Laura Hillenbrand book it used for inspiration.

A publicity shot from Angeline Jolie's 'Unbroken'

Mutsuhiro Takeuchi, a nationalist-leaning educator and a priest in the traditional Shinto religion, is part of a campaign to get the film — and possibly the director — banned in Japan because of claims that some Japanese resulted to cannibalism during the war.  “There was absolutely no cannibalism,” Mr. Takeuchi said, The Associated Press reported Friday. “That is not our custom.”

In Ms. Hillenbrand’s book, she says, “Japan murdered thousands of POWs on death marches, and worked thousands of others to death in slavery, including some 16,000 POWs who died alongside as many as 100,000 Asian laborers forced to build the Burma-Siam Railway. Thousands of other POWs were beaten, burned, stabbed, or clubbed to death, shot, beheaded, killed during medical experiments, or eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism.”

Mr. Takeuchi’s message for Ms. Jolie was for her to study history, AP reported. He asserted that Japanese war criminals were charged with political crimes — not torture.  “Even Japanese don’t know their own history so misunderstandings arise,” Mr. Takeuchi said, AP reported. He currently heads a research organization called The Japan Culture Intelligence Association.

“Unbroken” will be released in the U.S. on Dec. 25.

Read more:

Posted in Japanese culture, Nationalism | 4 Comments

Kami return

There was a happy Christmas at Ujigami Shrine near Kyoto, for the kami there were restored to their home after being relocated during the extensive repairs carried out. There is often speculation about the nature and location of kami since they are spirits and thereby immaterial.  However, Shinto tradition ascribes their unseen presence to ‘spirit-bodies’ (goshintai) within the shrine.  These are sacred vessels of some kind into which the spirit descends, typically a mirror but anything from a rock to a doll to a sword.

Relocation of the ‘spirit-body’ is done with great veneration and in secrecy, typically involving a white sheet to shroud the objects from view.  What made the occasion special in this case is that the relatively small Ujigami Shrine is a World Heritage Site because of its sanctuary (honden) being the oldest such building still in existence.


Kyoto shrine celebrates return of venerated religious objects after repair work
December 25, 2014  By TAKU KOYAMA/ Staff Writer, Asahi Shinbun

UJI, Kyoto Prefecture–Ujigamijinja shrine, a World Heritage site, held a ceremony Dec. 24 to celebrate the return of sacred deities to its main hall following year-long restoration work.

The torii entrance to the small shrine of Ujigami and a World Heritage Site

The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Ojin and his sons, the imperial prince Uji no Wakiiratsuko and Emperor Nintoku.

The main hall, believed to have been built in the late Heian Period (794-1185), is the oldest example of Shinto shrine architecture.

The latest repairs included the re-thatching of the cypress bark roof, its first restoration in more than 30 years, and the re-painting of walls.

The restoration work follows the completion in September of major repairs at Byodoin temple’s Phoenix Hall, which is located on the opposite shore of the Ujigawa river. Byodoin temple, founded in 1053, is also a World Heritage site.

The festival at Ujigamijinja shrine began shortly after 7 p.m. when chief priest Toru Miyamura, 65, quietly carried the three sacred objects, symbolizing Ojin and his two sons, to the main hall.

“I cannot put my feelings into words,” Miyamura said. “With major repairs completed here and at Byodoin temple, it is as if spring has come at once.”

Ujigamijinja was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” in 1994.

People queue up at New Year to pay respects at the Honden, the country's oldest

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Posted in Kami, World Heritage | Leave a comment