Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Japanese Easter moment

I had an Easter moment in Japan.

Despite the fact that daily life in Japan shows absolutely no sign of this being the Easter weekend – I encountered God in a Shinto shrine.

Amy tells me that modern Japanese people see themselves as a secular society. So I did some research, and found that their history is a combination of Shinto and  Buddhism. We have visited both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Some are placed magnificently on top of hills, while others are tucked away alongside bustling city roads.

I also discovered that the Emperor Meiji found Shinto to be a useful tool to unify Japan. He made Shinto the official religion, known as State Shinto, with shrines under government control. Later, during World War Two, Japanese nationalism required everyone to participate in State Shinto and accept the Emperor as divine. After the war, the shrines were taken out of government control, and State Shinto was abolished

It seems that since then, organized religious participation has declined, Japanese society has become secular, and religious study in general has become less important. Perhaps this is a reaction to the state using the religious sentiments of the people for political purposes. What we have observed, however, is that the people are still spiritual. The shrines all have fresh flowers, the temples have burning candles and incense, and there is a steady stream of people visiting their holy places to offer prayers.
Which brings me to my God-moment.

Yesterday – Easter Saturday - Amy took us to visit a local Shinto Shrine in Sasayama. It is called Ojiyama makekirai inari. This can be loosely translated as “hate to lose”, which indicates that this is a place to pray for victory. Many students come here to pray for success in examinations. We climbed the rows and rows of stairs up the hill towards the shrine at the top. They are intended to slow a person down, to allow us to pause, and breathe, and think. And they do.

Jenny and I were taking pictures, and enjoying the sense of leaving the noise of the town and entering a tree-lined sanctuary, when things changed for me. I found myself standing in front of a shrine just to the left, and below, the main shrine. And I lost my desire to take more photographs, or to talk, or to do anything other than stand in silence. I had this sense that God was enveloping me. I knew that I was loved, and I stood rooted to the spot in silent awe. After a while I found one of the candles placed in front of the shrine and lighted it in reverence for this moment of peace.

Ojiyama makekirai inari
 As I stepped back I saw that the shrine was crowned with a cross. I do not have a clue what symbolism was intended by those who built this shrine – but this was my Easter place. I prayed at the foot of this cross, and my spirit was renewed. Jenny and Amy joined me in lighting candles, and there was really no need for words. We worshipped God.



MC in NZ said...

God is, where you are (comma intentional!). Thanks Pete, nice to know you guys are a little closer to us than usual. God bless!

Sharky said...

When we stop, listen, reflect and just be, God's presence is known. Thanks Pete, a timely reminder that God is not bound by our limitations of knowledge, dogma, intellect and experience.