Zen and Shinto 18: Values

Samurai at HimejiSincerity, loyalty, self-sacrifice.  Zen or Shinto values?

Mindfulness is a key concept in both Zen and Shinto.  Purification and egolessness too.
Harae (purification) and kegare (impurity) in Shinto resemble Delusion and Attachment in Buddhism.  The goal in both religions is similar, though the means are different.

Patritoism and Japanese flag

A Shinto poster promoting patriotism

In Shinto people look to restore their kami nature by visiting shrines and praying to the mirror (the pure soul of Amaterasu). In Buddhism they look to restore their original Buddha nature and look to the mirror as a symbol of egolessness.  Both strive for a spotless mirror that reflects without the distortions of the ego.  In one case the mirror is a gift from the kami; in the other it is a product of one’s own endeavour.

Consider the following quotation.  It’s written by D.T. Suzuki, but it seems to me it could equally apply to Shinto as much as to Zen.

The sword has thus a double office to perform: the one is to destroy anything that opposes the will of its owner, and the other is to sacrifice all of the impulses that arise from the instinct of self-preservation. The former relates itself with the spirit of patriotism or militarism, while the other has a religious connotation of loyalty and self-sacrifice. In the case of the former very frequently the sword may mean destruction pure and simple, it is then the symbol of force, sometimes perhaps devilish. It must therefore be controlled and consecrated by the second function. Its conscientious owner has been always mindful of this truth. For then destruction is turned against the evil spirit. The sword comes to be identified with the annihilation of things which lie in the way of peace, justice, progress, and humanity. It stands for all that is desirable for the spiritual welfare of the world at large.
              –   Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture, pp. 66-67.

One thing Suzuki is at pains to emphasise is that acts of war are objectionable when carried out for egoistical ends.  However, a sincere and selfless sacrifice is to be regarded as virtuous.  He praised the Zen connection with Bushido as promoting a sense of selflessness.  Submitting to a higher authority thereby becomes an absolution for the act of killing.

Read through Shinto writings and you will find much the same kind of thinking. Patriotism is fiercely upheld. Since the good of the nation is equated with the figure of the emperor, its heroes are those who sacrificed themselves for the imperial institution while its enemies are those who stood in opposition.  Yasukuni’s cult of the kamikaze pilots is an obvious example of self-sacrifice being exalted as a supreme virtue.

Sincerity, loyalty, self-sacrifice.  These are very much common to Shinto and Zen. Perhaps they offer an example of the way in which the indigenous culture helped shape the transformation of Chinese Chan into Japanese Zen.

A demonstration of Kendo at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto

A demonstration of Kendo at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto, put on to please the kami

A celebration of Samurai virtues at a Shinto festival in Tohoku

A celebration of Samurai virtues at a Shinto festival in Tohoku

Florian Wiltschko, Priest: Part 1


The entrance to Nobeno Shrine in Hisai, Mie Prefecture, where Florian Wiltschko is working as a priest

Green Shinto is delighted to carry an interview with Florian Wiltschko, a foreigner who has become the first non-Japanese in history to obtain an official priest’s licence through the Jinja Honcho system.  There have already been postings about Florian on this site (see here for instance), so it was a pleasure to meet the young Austrian in person recently at his shrine in Mie Prefecture and to hear from him directly.



1) How did you come to be interested in Shinto?

I was interested in traditional Japan since my early teenage years. I visited for the first time when I was 14. Then I started to read about things like Budo, Sado, Shodo etc. and found that all these traditional ways have one and the same origin: Shinto. And I was fascinated by the way that Japan takes foreign cultures and adapts them.  In 2007 I was introduced to the Ueno-Tenmangu shrine in Nagoya, where I was able to train in Shinto. [The Ueno-Tenmangu Shrine has compiled a useful listing of English articles about Shinto here.]

2) What made you decide to be a priest?

After becoming interested in Shinto, I began to practice by worshipping the KAMI at home. While I was taking the first steps along this long road, I became interested more and more and finally decided to make it my lifestyle. I was attracted by the openness of Shinto, which is not the kind of religion with a membership. The torii for example are open to all, so no one is excluded. In Austria and Europe, people’s identity depended on what church or religion they belonged to. But Shinto does not create that kind of division. In fact it’s not a religion in a Western sense at all. I like the aesthetics of Shinto too, such as the design of shrines. Everything has a purpose and it belongs to a profoundly beautiful view of the world. But becoming a priest was not an easy path, and it took a lot of hard work and endurance.

Florian Wiltschko3) How exactly did you go about getting a licence?

In Nagoya I was introduced to the Prefectural Shrine Headquarters, where they do training for one month to get the basic license [for those who have already served at a shrine]. Later, it was suggested that I apply for a higher license, so I decided to take the one year course at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo. I was worried of course about how I would be treated because there were no other foreigners. But I was encouraged by those around me, especially by the advice that not allowing foreigners to enter the priesthood would be ‘un-Japanese’! I see a fundamental part of Shinto as being open to all.

4) How did you get your first position at a shrine in Shibuya?

After graduating from Kokugakuin, I was given a chance to work at Konno Hachimangu, very near the University. One of my classmates who became headpriest there introduced me, and I was treated sympathetically and was able to understand Shinto in a deeper way. I didn’t feel people treated me as a foreigner, but they accepted me as a priest.

5) Why and when did you move to your present position?

I moved to Nobeno Jinja in Hisai (Mie prefecture) in May 2016, where my wife is the head priest’s daughter. Now I’m involved with working on the shrine and helping to improve it. My duties are mainly with shrine rituals as the head priest is concerned with the kindergarten we run. I also helped run the annual festival this year, and we could restore the traditional way of carrying the mikoshi on the shoulders after having used a van to carry it for many years. We also have a big anniversary coming up soon for which we have various plans.


The Honden, Heiden and Haiden at Nobeno Shrine are housed in three buildings joined to each other

Nobeno Shrine (Wiltschko)

The interior of the main building has recently been restored with some choice materials: hinoki (Japanese cypress) for the Honden, imported Thai ironwood for the Heiden, and marble for the floor of the Haiden.


For more about Florian, see this 2014 article from the Japan Times.  There is also an extensive interview with him on the nippon.com site here.  For an article covering the whole range of foreign priests in Shinto, please see this Japan Times article.



Gratitude for the gift of rice

Along with purity and sincerity, gratitude is a prime Shinto attribute.  Indeed, some authorities claim it constitutes the very essence of the religion. Now science has shown that rather than simply being a duty, it could be seen as a spiritual exercise that has a beneficial effect on the practitioner.  (The following article comes from Today Healthy Living.)


Be thankful: Science says gratitude is good for your health

More and more researchers are finding that gratitude doesn’t just make you feel like a better person, it’s actually good for your health.

Gratitude for the gifts of nature

Gratitude for the gifts of nature

“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.”

One recent study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who were more grateful actually had better heart health, specifically less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms.

“They showed a better well-being, a less depressed mood, less fatigue and they slept better,” said the study’s author, Paul J. Mills. “When I am more grateful, I feel more connected with myself and with my environment. That’s the opposite of what stress does.”

Another study found that gratitude can boost your immune system. Researchers at the universities of Utah and Kentucky observed that stressed-out law students who characterized themselves as optimistic actually had more disease-fighting cells in their bodies.

But Emmons said there’s even more evidence.  People who keep a gratitude journal have a reduced dietary fat intake — as much as 25 percent lower. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people. And having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain.

Being thankful has such a profound effect because of the feelings that go along with it, Emmons said.

Gratitude to the kami

Gratitude to the kami

Tokyo talk Dec 15

kami representationsReaders living in Tokyo may well be interested in this talk by a leading figure in the world of Shinto Studies….

“Of Matter, Spirits, and Places: Japanese Discourses on The Bodies of the Shinto Divinities (Kami)” by Fabio Rambelli, Sophia U., Dec. 15th

Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture Lecture Series 2016

December 15, 2016   From 18:30-20:00   Room 301, 3F, Building 10, Sophia University

Fabio RambelliOne of the striking aspects of Shinto is the vagueness and multiplicity that characterize descriptions of the gods (kami). The general understanding today is that kami are spiritual (immaterial) entities that attach themselves to particular things (rocks, trees, mountains, etc.); however, there are also beliefs that natural objects are divine in themselves. In addition, human beings can, in certain cases, be deified as well. The notion of kami also shares some semantic elements with concepts such as mono (entity endowed with supernatural powers), tama (spirit), and kokoro (mind). In this paper, I present some aspects of premodern Japanese discussions on the body of the kami (shintai), with their multiplicity and ultimate irreducibility, with special emphasis on medieval doctrinal texts and early modern philosophical treatments by Confucians and Nativists. I will suggest that a shared feature of the theology of the kami throughout history is a constant oscillation (and indecision) between materiality and spirituality, a structural oscillation that is responsible for both the constancy of certain themes and religious innovation.

Fabio Rambelli (PhD, 1992) teaches Japanese religions and cultural history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he holds the ISF endowed chair in Shinto Studies. His research focuses on Japanese esoteric Buddhism, on the interaction of Buddhism with local cults in Asia, and on the formation of Shinto discourses in premodern Japan. Books include Vegetal Buddhas (2001), Buddhas and Kami in Japan (with Mark Teeuwen, 2001), Buddhist Materiality (2007), Buddhism and Iconoclasm in East Asia (with Eric Reinders, 2012), A Buddhist Theory of Semiotics (2013), Buddhist Anarchism (2014).

This talk is coordinated by Caroline Hirasawa (FLA) for ICC Research Unit “Materialities of the Sacred.”

Institute of Comparative Culture (ICC) Sophia University 7-1 Kioicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8554, JAPAN  +81-3-3238-4082 / +81-3-3238-4081(fax) / Email diricc@sophia.ac.jp /
Web: http://icc.fla.sophia.ac.jp/

The kami of Japan gathered at Izumo for the kamiari celebration each autumn

The kami of Japan gathered at Izumo for the kamiari celebration each autumn

Shinto scholar Mark Teeuwen


Green Shinto was delighted to meet Mark Teeuwen on his recent visit to Kyoto and have a chance to get an interview with him.  Mark (b.1966) is a professor of Japanese Religions at Oslo University and author of several influential works on Shinto. He is perhaps best known for questioning the notion of Shinto as an ancient indigenous religion (see here). He is also the co-author of A New History of Shinto (2010) and Shinto in History (1999).


1) How did you become interested in Shinto?
I’m not sure! I was interested in history, and especially in the history of ideas when I was a student, because it fascinated me to read texts where writers reasoned in ways that seemed exotic or even slightly absurd to me. I was writing my thesis about Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) when I got a small job as interpreter in Holland for a Shinto priest, who was interested in the enthronement ceremonies of the royal house. He offered me a chance to come and study at Kogakkan in Ise, so I chose “Motoori Norinaga and the Ise shrines” as my thesis topic. I spent 18 months at Kogakkan as a Research student after that, on a Monbusho scholarship, to prepare for my PhD application. Basically, Shinto was what crossed my path at a crucial moment, and I’m delighted that it did!

2) You’re a Dutchman teaching in Norwegian at Oslo University. How did that come about?
Well, you go where the jobs are these days. But I must admit there’s more to it: my wife is half Norwegian and has family there, and it’s nice to be around family when you have small kids. I got lucky and there did happen to be a job opening, again when we most needed it. I’ve been a lucky guy.

3) In your writings, you seem to deny the existence of Shinto in ancient times. But would it not be fair to describe the mix of folkore, customs, myth and rituals in those days as ‘proto-Shinto’?
You can invent terms like that, and I have no problem with that. Actually, you will find ‘proto-Shinto’ used in A New History of Shinto. My method though is to avoid reading historical materials with hindsight, and to try as hard as possible to stay within the contemporary context. When I read documents from the ancient period, and find that Shinto is not a concept that existed at that time, I try to figure out what the actual concepts were that WERE current at that time, and how shrines and their rites fitted into them. Then it also becomes possible to probe when the concept of Shinto actually DID come about, and how its emergence affected shrines. I find this helps me to ask better questions and avoid reading later ideas into early texts.

4) Of which of your writings so far are you the proudest?
The last of course… That would be A Social History of Ise Shrines, soon out from Bloomsbury in their series of Shinto studies (early 2017). But I also have a particular liking for the book I edited with Bernhard Scheid, The Culture of Secrecy in Japanese Religion (Routledge 2006), and for A New History, which is quite widely used as a university textbook.


The eagerly awaited book on Ise by Teeuwen and Breen, out on Feb 9, 2017

5) Could you tell us a little about your forthcoming book with John Breen on the subject of Ise Jingu?
The idea of the book is to highlight moments in history when the Ise shrines changed hands — that is, when new social groups emerged who redeveloped the shrines along new economic or political models. We identify 8 phases, I believe, each with their own main agents (often multiple), their own clienteles, ritual practices, and narratives. We want to make clear that behind the standard story of never-changing Ise, there is a very rich reality, and we try to highlight the great creativity of the people who reinvented Ise after each crisis that the shrines faced in their long history.

6) You’ve been on the board of International Shinto Foundation for many years. Many foreigners have wondered exactly what it is. Could you tell us about its aims and activities?
The ISF, now called ISSA, has tried to establish and promote Shinto studies abroad (by donating text collections like Shinto Taikei and founding a number of Shinto Chairs at British and US universities) and encourage exchange between foreign and Japanese scholars of Shinto. It has also tried to promote interest in Shinto more broadly. What I particularly appreciate is that the ISF went out of its way to include scholars from Korea and China, with some serving as riji [on the board] and others giving talks. Budgetary problems have forced the Foundation to reduce its activities radically in recent years, however.

7) One final question: what’s your view of the present direction of Shinto in Japan?
It is going two ways; greener, and more nationalist, it seems. I am worried about the broadened influence of groups like Nippon Kaigi, turning Shinto into a less open organization with a narrower spectrum of views and outlooks. Environmentalist concerns need every spokesman they can get, and if shrines get involved in this, environmentalism will be more clearly rooted in Japanese culture and history. On the other hand, the proof is in the eating, and I am afraid that Jinja Honcho support for nuclear energy (and many other points on Abe’s agenda) will stop shrines from engaging actively in alternative routes towards a greener future.
I hope Shinto remains the cauldron of different opinions and agendas that it is today, and does not go the same way as Yasukuni: from a multifaceted site reflecting the views and concerns of the izoku [bereaved families] in all their great variety, to a place where ultraconservatives push out all others.

The Culture of Secrecy


Hearn 5): Word power


Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) (Wikicommons)

What raised Hearn above his contemporaries was the power of his pen.  Like most people, I had never heard of Hearn before coming to Japan, and it’s no doubt true to say that because he wrote favourably of the Japanese they have made him into something of a cult.  His work in spreading a positive image of the country came at a time when it was opening to the world and particularly sensitive to charges of primitivism and backwardness. Hearn’s writings praising the folk culture and traditions secured him a treasured place in the national memory.

But there is something more which underlies the lasting legacy, and that is the force of his writing.  Anyone familiar with his works, which range from ghost tales to travel pieces to literary criticism, will be aware of the extraordinary eloquence.  He never went to university and was something of an autodidact, in addition to which he was handicapped by poor eyesight.  That doesn’t seem to have stopped him from devouring books however, and from being a prolific writer in a range of genres.

Here by way of example is an excerpt from his visit to Enoshima, which in the pen of another would be a prosaic guide of little wider interest. In the words of Hearn, the visit turns into a veritable verbal delight fired by an unashamed romanticism.  One can’t help but be struck by the delicious choice of words – ‘blood-brightening’; ‘quaintly gabled’; ‘sweet sharp scents’; ‘the dumb appeal of ancient mystic mossy things’.  Notice too the accumulation of atmospheric words – ‘appeal’, ‘vision’, ‘fairy veil’, ‘weird majesty’, ‘riddles’, ‘glory’, ‘majesty’, ‘mystic’ x2, and that final magnificent image of ‘Boddhisattvas about to melt forever into some blue Nirvana’.

There is a charm indefinable about the place – that sort of charm which comes with a little ghostly thrill never to be forgotten.  Not of strange sights alone is this charm made, but of numberless subtle sensations and ideas interwoven and interblended: the sweet sharp scents of grove and sea; the blood-brightening, vivifying touch of the free wind; the dumb appeal of ancient mystic mossy things; vague reverence evoked by knowledge of treading soil called holy for a thousand years; and a sense of sympathy, as a human duty, compelled by the vision of steps of rock worn down into shapelessness by the pilgrim feet of vanished generations.


The romance of Benten

And other memories ineffaceable: the first sight of the sea-girt City of Pearl, though a fairy veil of haze: the windy approach to the lovely island over the velvety soundless brown stretch of sand; the weird majesty of the giant gate of bronze; the queer, high-sloping, fantastic, quaintly gabled street, flinging down sharp shadows of aerial balconies; the flutter of colored draperies in the sea wind, and of flags with their riddles of lettering; the pearly glimmering of the astonishing shops.

And impressions of the enormous day – the day of the Land of the Gods – a loftier day than ever our summers know; and the glory of the view from those green sacred silent heights between sea an sun; and the remembrance of the sky, a sky spiritual as holiness, a sky with clouds ghost-pure and white as the light itself – seeming, indeed, not clouds but dreams, or souls of Boddhisattvas about to melt forever into some blue Nirvana.

And the romance of Benten, too – the Deity of Beauty, the Divinity of Love, the Goddess of Eloquence.  Rightly is she likewise named Goddess of the Sea. For is not the Sea most ancient and excellent of Speakers – the eternal Poet, changer of that mystic hymn whose rhythm shakes the world, whose mighty syllables no man may learn?


For Part 1 comparing Hearn with his friend, B.H. Chamberlain, please see herePart 2 deals with his life and house at Matsue, Part 3 a reflection upon mirrors, and Part 4 with his paganism.


” the dumb appeal of ancient mystic mossy things”

Hearn 4) Pagan connection

meoto-rocks0025This is part of a series on Lafcadio Hearn, a Shinto sympathiser 100 years ahead of his time. Though he was not as proficient in language terms as his great Shinto contemporaries, such as B.H. Chamberlain and W.G. Aston, he had a mastery of words which was striking enough to win worldwide attention.

Thanks to his Greek mother, and no doubt also to the power of his imagination, Hearn had a fascination with the pagan myths of ancient Greece. These seized him in a way that Christian tales did not. When he came to Japan, he felt that he had discovered a land in which the spirit of ancient Greece was still alive and well.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there was an upsurge in interest in ancient Greece in Victorian times. It began at Oxford, where dons such as Benjamin Jowett and Walter Pater promoted Greek in preference to Latin. One of the students to be influenced by this was Oscar Wilde, who based much of his aestheticism on the Greek cult of beauty. Like his contemporary Hearn, Wilde was versed in Celtic myth and saw the two cultures as sharing a similar aesthetic sensibility.

It was his pagan inclinations that attracted Hearn to the native religion of Japan. In ‘A Pilgrimage to Enoshima’ in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894), he writes movingly of the joy of discovering a living version of a faith he only knew as long vanished in Europe. It’s a feeling I myself have shared.

To have studied and loved an ancient faith only through the the labors of palaeographers and archaeologists, and as a something remote from one’s own existence, and then suddenly in after years to find the same faith a part of one’s human environment – to feel that its mythology, though senescent, is alive all around you – is almost to realize the dream of the Romantics, to have the sensation of returning through twenty centuries into the life of a happier world.  For these quaint Gods of Roads and Gods of Earth [Koshin] are really living still, though so worn and messed and feebly worshipped…  and I know myself a pagan still, loving these simple old gods, these gods of a people’s childhood.


For Part I comparing Hearn with his more scholarly friend, Basil Hall Chamberlain, translator of Kojiki, please see herePart 2 deals with his life and house at Matsue, Part 3 a reflection upon mirrors.


Entrance to the main shrine on Enoshima


The Dragon Cave on Enoshima, of which Hearn writes so evocatively

Komainu (shrine guardians)

Some komainu are fierce and some are cute

Some komainu are fierce and some are cute

Anyone who visits a shrine in Japan will have noticed the curious creatures that stand as guardians, welcoming visitors but keeping out evil spirits. Those who visit a lot of shrines will notice considerable differences in the statues. Some are cute, some are fierce, some are worn away and some in remarkable poses. Invariably though, one will have its mouth open and the other closed. This is the ‘a-un’ combination signifying the first and last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Together they combine to make the sacred sound of Aum, universal resonance as recognised in ancient India.

Mouth defiantly open in the 'A' posture

Mouth defiantly open in the ‘A’ posture

Komainu (often called lion-dogs or Korean dogs in English) originated with the Chinese guardian lions of Tang China. These in turn may have been based on Indian lions, with a lion statue raised by King Ashoka on a column in the third century. Wooden statues of lion pairs were used in palaces in the Nara and Heian periods in Japan, and it was only with the 14th century that they came to be used outdoors in stone.

Because the average lifespan is roughly 100 years, the very oldest komainu that remain date back to the Edo Period.  They are mainly at Shinto shrines but are also found at Buddhist temples. There were strong regional variations in the past, but since the end of the Meiji Period the Ministry of Education fostered distribution of a standard type. Japan’s age of diversity was replaced by the kind of uniformity that has plagued its forests where sugi cedar trees predominate to the misery of many allergy sufferers.

There are two basic types of komainu. One is jinnai komainu, mostly made of wood or metal and found in the inner sanctuary (Honden). The other is sando komainu, normally made of stone and found on the approaches to shrines.  There are also regional variations. The Izumo type for instance is found along the Japan Sea, whereas the Naniwa type predominates in the Kansai area.

No evil spirits get past this fellow

No evil spirits get past this fellow

There are many people who take a special interest in the shrine guardians, and there is even an organisation called ‘Society of the Connoiseurs of Komainu Tail Tufts’.  Many shrines received their komainu as donations, either from shrine members or prominent local figures. Pride may have had a lot to do with this, with village prestige at stake.  Since the inscriptions provide the donor’s name, they act as a kind of publicity message for the individual or company which provides it.

Following the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) inscriptions celebrating victory in war became more common. With the enthronement of the Taisho emperor in 1912, there were inscriptions commemorating the Imperial Accession. Then in 1940, with the hegemony of State Shinto, came felicitations on the supposed 2600th anniversary of imperial rule.  In modern times it is common to see inscriptions wishing for the safety of shrine parishioners or commemorating a company’s foundation anniversary.

Early komainu tended to be ferocious, though they subsequently became cuter.  Particularly striking are the handstand type, which welcome visitors with a party trick. It serves to put a smile on their face and holds out the promise of good things to come.  All in all, komainu are a reassuring and benevolent guardian figure who assures the visitor that they are entering a different realm, one that is free of the pollution and malicious spirits that inhabit the everyday world.


Information for the above is taken from an article by my former colleague, Yoshiaki Kotera, whose article on ‘Komainu: The Birth and Habitat Distribution of Shrine Guardian Lions’ appeared in Japanese Religions (Vol 34, No. 1, Jan 2009)

Handstand komainu in distinctive form

Handstand komainu in distinctive form

Some komainu are more lion than others

Some komainu are more lion than others

Others are distinctive in other ways...

Others are distinctive in their body shape…

.... or facial expression

…. or facial expression

Jinnai komainu (Sanctuary guardians) on the other hand can be magnificent

Jinnai komainu (Sanctuary guardians) on the other hand can be magnificent

And some can be plain endearing (all photos by John Dougill)

And some komainu are just plain endearing (all photos by John Dougill)

Shinto-Native American eco-links

Shinto, American natives find common ground: nature

By J. Tuyet Nguyen, United Nations Correspondent

Tsunekiyo Tanaka, head of Jinja Honcho, delivers a speech at the UN in 2014 (courtesy Nguyen)

Tsunekiyo Tanaka, head of Jinja Honcho, delivers a speech at the UN in 2014 (courtesy Nguyen)

United Nations – Tsunekiyo Tanaka, a mild-mannered envoy who likes a good joke, epitomized Japan’s uniqueness in the devotion to nature. For the first time in his life-long career as head of the country’s Association of Shrines, or Jinja Honcho, Tanaka delivered a speech at the United Nations in New York on Nov. 18, 2014, where politicians struggled for years to thwart the deteriorating environment and dangers of climate change using sciences and international conventions as tools.

Gordon Yellowman, chief of the Cheyenne and Aparaho tribes in Oklahoma joined Tanaka. The two shared views when both appeared at the Celebrate Earth event inside the UN.

“Today, political and economical aspects are emphasized when we confront environmental issues,” Tanaka told the more than 120 guests, which included a Shinto delegation from Japan, and UN officials and diplomats. “But what is important, I believe, are the activities based on traditional value and view of nature.”

He said the dance by Shinto priests and performers known as Chikushimai, which was shown at the UN, is not just a dance. “I would like to emphasize that such a dance is inherited, not because it is interesting, but because it is a prayer.”

The presentation captivated and infused a sense of calmness to the guests with the peaceful music from the string instrument that came from Japan with the performers. The performers’ chief priest, Yuzuru Kiyomi, the soloist dancer of the group, showed his controlled agility in the ritual ceremony. The group also held a similar performance at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, where a shrine will mark its 100th anniversary next year. The garden is adorned by some 100 Japanese cherry trees.

Shinto dance

Tanaka explained what Japanese have for centuries considered sacred and rarely exported to the West – the sacred dance of Shinto priests to honor nature. Tanaka is the speaker and president of Jinja Honcho, Japan’s most important association of some 90,000 shrines.

The March, 2011 giant earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami that struck the Fukushima prefecture in the eastern part of the country, killing nearly 20,000 people and caused vast destruction, were met with stoic calm and resignation by the inhabitants in the region. The victims suffered the tragedy and feared nature with awe. It is with the same kind of admiring awe when watch each morning the sun rises over the horizon, flooding it with light and beauty.

Japanese “neither hate nor curse nature,” Tanaka said. “They acknowledge that human beings are part of nature and accept the great power of nature as it is.”

Japan’s homogeneous society has led to the continuation of centuries-old traditions and application of practices to worship deities.

Gordon Yellowman Sr. and his wife, Connie, left their home in Oklahoma, a region frequently struck by tornadoes, to join Tanaka and the Japanese group at the UN.

Nature scene

Yellowman said the Cheyenne people pay particular attention to water and fire, two natural elements that give life on earth and must be respected. “So respect them, don’t play with them. Those are the rules that we abide by,” he said, citing the power of water in accidents in which children are drowned if they are unattended.

“We have to live in a different world today, we live in a society with modern technology…but our lives and traditions have always been with us, and our way of life is based on institutions and teachings of our culture. But the technology does not live and breathe the culture.”

“For us (Cheyenne people), we live our way of life in harmony with nature while coping with today’s technology,” he said. “The Cheyenne want to learn about technology, but also to learn how to live in harmony with the earth. Our knowledge is beyond technology. We live everyday and breathe everyday, and the technology cannot see and understand (our culture).”

“Technology means advance (in society), but our way of life is more humble, more appreciative and more active in understanding nature.”

Tanaka and Yellowman are separated by geography, traditions and cultures . But somehow they understand each other well when they talked about nature.


Both have their own areas of expertise. Tanaka can be called the “Japanese Edison” for an odd invention of a light bulb that works with a filament made from bamboo. That particular bamboo grows in the mountains of Kyoto where Tanaka is the master of a Shinto Shrine. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb using metal filaments.

Yellowman is called the Cheyenne “weather god of Oklahoma,” according to a story published in newspapers, including the New York Times.

“Tornadoes have a job to do, which is to restore balance to the environment,” Yellowman said. He said the Cheyenne have implored nature to spare them of its calamities. He said the huge tornado that could have inflicted destruction to his tribal community in El Reno on May 31, 2013 listened to Cheyenne holy men’s prayers and changed its course. “They asked it to have pity and it turned away.”

The event at the UN, called “Celebrate Earth,” was organized and sponsored by the Society and Diplomatic Review In New York and the Cooperation and Planning company (COPLA) based in Tokyo. COPLA president, Yuichi Ishizuki, plans further projects that would expose Japan’s traditions and culture to other countries.


Groundbreaking UK groundbreaking

In a first of its kind, a UK groundbreaking ceremony has taken place for the contstruction of a saké factory…   The Hashimoto family chose the site as it was close to where one of their children was attending school. The family, which owns Dojima, was supported by both UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Japanese government. In March 2015 they paid more than £3m for the Fordham estate, which is close to Newmarket and consists of a Georgian manor and more than 200 acres (81 hectares) of parkland.  The rice will be imported from Japan, grown on a farm owned by the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.


UK’s first Sake brewery at Fordham Abbey is blessed before building gets underway

Assistant Priest.

The assistant priest prepares tamagushi offerings

Japanese company Dojima is to begin building the brewery on the Fordham Abbey Estate, creating 100 jobs, and invited guests to a traditional ‘Jichinsai’ ceremony to purify the building site on Friday October 28.

The ceremony was laid on to purify the construction site, and prayers were said for the safety of all those involved with the build.

The build is expected to take nine months to complete, with the first production of sake available in October 2017. Once finished, the Dojima sake brewery aim to make 10,000 bottles in their first trading year.

His Excellency, Ambassador Koji Tsuruoka attended the event and said: “Although this is a ceremony that happens in Japan when a new building is being constructed, it has never happened in the UK and I was very happy to be a part of it.

The construction site is blessed.

The construction site is blessed by the officiating priest (all photos Seb Pearce)

“The ceremony showed the respect that the two countries have for the tradition and it is through appreciation of these historical and cultural treasures that the two countries are bound very strongly together.”

The ceremony was also attended by councillors and MPs, including Lucy Frazer. She said: “The ceremony was fascinating and shows what a diverse area we are in. It’s great to have a new and interesting business establishing itself in the region and it will bring a great deal to the constituency in financial terms, as well as culturally.”

Yoshihide Hashimoto, owner of the Dojima Sake Brewery UK & Co said: “We were pleased to be joined by so many people for our Jichinsai ceremony. This traditional ceremony is fundamental in the build and we were very happy to share this moment with many of the local people who have been involved in the process so far.”

The project was given unanimous planning approval by East Cambridgeshire District Council and the construction of the building will see £9m invested over a period of five years.


For the Dojima UK website, click here.  For an Asahi tv report of the event, click here.
All about the Fordham estate, here.


An official representative takes the tamagushi offering prior to offering it to the kami

Japanese ambassador visits Fens to conduct traditional ceremony at Britain’s first sake brewery
Posted Wednesday 2nd November 2016

A traditional Japanese ceremony was held at the construction site of the UK’s first sake brewery in East Cambridgeshire.

60 people attended the event, including the Japanese ambassador Koji Tsuruoka and MP for South East Cambridgeshire Lucy Frazer.

The ceremony known as ‘Jichinsai,’ a traditional Shinto ceremony undertaken to purify the building site prior to laying the foundations and to pray for the safety of the people involved in the construction. Before the ceremony came to an end, guests tasted some sake.

The building is expected to take nine months to complete, with the first production of sake available in October 2017. The Hashimoto family, who are building the Dojimo brewery, brought in their priest from Osaka to conduct the proceedings.

Mr. Tsuruoka attended the event and said: “Although this is a ceremony that happens in Japan when a new building is being constructed, it has never happened in the UK and I was very happy to be a part of it. The ceremony showed the respect that the two cultures that the two countries have for the tradition and it is through appreciation of these historical and cultural treasures that the two countries are bound very strongly. ”

Lucy Frazer, MP said: “The ceremony was was fascinating and shows what a diverse area we are in. It’s great to have a new and interesting business establishing itself in the region and it will bring a great deal to the constituency in financial terms, as well as culturally.

Mr Yoshihide Hashimoto, owner of the Dojima Sake Brewery UK & Co said: ‘We were pleased to be joined by so many people for our Jichinsai ceremony. This traditional ceremony is fundamental in the build and we were very happy to share this moment with many of the local people who have been involved in the process so far.”

The architects bringing this piece of Japan to a Georgian estate in england, they’ve have to adapt their design to fit the sake process. Jon Buck, an architect for Kay Pilsbury Thomas Architects, spoke about the design of the barn style brewery on Cambridge TV, saying: “It’s red the barn, it’s got a big window with a Japanese character that says ‘sake’ on it so it’s a very proud building that hopefully will shape the future of this site.”

The construction of the building will see £9m invested over a period of five years. The project was given unanimous approval by East Cambridgeshire District Council and is set to create up to 100 local jobs initially, both on the build process, as well as in the Sake brewery and the accompanying visitors center which will be located on the site.
– See more at: http://www.enterpriseeastcambs.co.uk/news/japanese-ambassador-visits-fens-to-conduct-traditional-ceremony-at-britains-first-sake-brewery#sthash.Itf4vp6A.dpuf


The temporary altar site for the jichinsai ritual

The temporary altar site for the jichinsai ritual


Symbolic breaking of the earth in the form of a ‘mountain’


A ceremonial sip of saké upon completion

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