Robert & Roberta Adair

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Sometimes people (Japanese and non-Japanese alike) make comments about how unreligious Japan is. I, too, occasionally feel this way – after all, “religious” people attend weekly services, pray before meals, and read a holy book. Yet I am understanding more and more that religion here is both incredibly private (within the home) and incredibly everywhere in Japan. Ceremonies, holidays, language, little (and not so little) shrines on nearly every block, etc. infiltrate the society in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

R and I walked to a cheapo Italian restaurant chain for dinner last night. On the way, I commented that I felt understanding Islam was a lot more attainable than understanding Japanese Shinto-Buddhism. Islam is a religion of a book with 5 pillars. There is a weekly service of sorts, there are some similar stories and imagery in the Old Testament, etc.  Shinto, on the other hand, is basically animism with “8 million gods” (a number to signify infinity). For me, this lack of commonality with “religion” as I understand it is uber-confusing.  Two years living here and several books read, and I still feel like I don’t have a clue.

Anyhoo, R and I were walking, and R noticed that the street was lined with string holding paper prayers and some sort of branches.  Then, as we arrived at an intersection, a big procession was coming – it really took me by surprise!  There were 4 or 5 older women standing around, and then all of a sudden there were 30+ other onlookers.  First came a bunch of kids.  They seemed to be pretty playful and yelled out at R and me, “Hello” (more like Herro! Herro! Herro!)

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Then came people carrying big ol’ masks (??), drums, and other stuff.IMG_3565IMG_3581IMG_3566

R took a mini-video with his phone, and I snapped a bunch of fuzzy pictures with mine.  I felt like such a tourist…wanting to both capture this experience yet not wanting to give the impression that I was for it.  Hm.  Generally, though, it seemed like the other people there were onlookers/bystanders/tourists, too.

And then this thing came into view.  (pardon my ignorance to even know what to call it.)  All of a sudden, people (in white and those around us) started scurrying around – throwing money, touching it, clapping (the ceremonial kind), making noise.  And I realized…this is real to our neighbors and many of our friends.

IMG_3578IMG_3576This…this is what is prayed to…

…and worshiped…

…and looked to as powerful, beautiful, significant…

I felt a little less hungry for rather un-amazing cheap Italian food.

I suppose I’m getting a better understanding of the phrases I’ve heard such as: “To be Japanese is to be Shinto-Buddhist.” And: “To be Christian is to be less Japanese.”  What does Christ being made known here look like?  What does worshiping One True God mean in a land of 8 million “gods?”  What does meeting together regularly for prayer, worship, teaching, and caring for one another look like in a land where the local religions don’t have these regular practices (and where people work 100+ hours/week)?  Golly, this overwhelms me.

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