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October 10, 2010

The constraints of Shinto: Shinto as dance

Someone asked "How is Shinto constrained? Is it Japanese social conditioning?" And this is how I responded.

This is a big issue. And there are quite a few things going on.

You seem to be exploring the limits of Shinto, wondering whether it has limits, and how these are defined. And also here you mention the issue of the extent to which Shinto is bound up with being Japanese.

In my opinion, dealing with the constraints first of all, Shinto does have limits of a short. It is not "any thing goes," libertine, unconstrained. It may appear that way for several reasons such as, in my humble opinion:

1) Shinto is not the same
Shinto constrains things that other religions do not constrain, and does not constrain things that other religions do constrain. Take for example, being naked. Shinto does not constrain nakedness (or at least male nakedness). For Christians, the fig leaf is one of the most primal constraints. So Shinto can be, is, really liberating in this area. You can take your clothes off! But that is not to say that it does not make you put other things on. It is, I believe, constraining in other ways.

2) Shinto comes in waves
Shinto emphasises festival. There are a lot of festivals in Shinto. And, as the theorists
will tell you, and as is obvious from taking part, festivals contain quite a lot of liberation. Christianity contains festivals too, and there is some liberation. Otherwise relatively puritan, non-extravagent Protestants may suddenly eat lots and give each other a
lot of things at certain times of year, before going back to being Protestant again. But it seems that generally Christianity is more time constant. The rules are the rules, and they do not change much from one day to the next. Shinto on the other hand comes in waves. There are times and places where things are allowed, and other times and places where they are not (this relates to your post about the localisation of Kami). So coming from the West to a Shinto *festival* one may gain the impression that Shinto is one big party but that would be missing the preparation for the festival, or even the strict bits - the rituals - within the festival itself.

3) Shinto is like a dance
Not withstanding Shakers and "The Lord of the Dance" (one of my favourite Christian songs), Christianity tends to shy away from dancing, seeing it as heathen and all. In Shinto there is nothing more sacred than dance. An important point is that Shinto is something that you do, and that you learn by watching, copying and doing rather than from reading a book. One can convey a dance to an extent in words - you swing your hips, you go to the top of a hill and pray - but they wont so proscriptive. The dance, or perhaps the state of mind that accompanies the dance, is the important thing. The lack of "thou shalts" means that Shinto may appear unconstrainded, but this is because it has "moves," and these are perhaps just as constrained. 

Now returning to the Japanese question. You asked if Shinto was "Japanese social conditioning".

I think that a lot of Shinto may be "Social conditioning" but not only "social." A lot
of Shinto can and is done on ones own. While most Christians go to church all at once as a group and listen to sermons, most Shintoers do it on their own. But being a dance, Shinto is in a sense "conditioning" or rather "practice," and one usually learns the practice from someone else. But that other person, and the person doing the practice does not, in my opinion have to be Japanese.

I don't think that Shinto is exclusively social. There is an extent to which it just comes, since there is an extent to which it is natural in the sense of already there. But I don't think that it is all already there; there are moves.

Posted by timtak at 05:46 PM | Comments (0)

The Meiji Orthodoxization of Shinto Kagura

In the late 19th century, Meiji reformers, impressed with the social cohesive effect of monotheism in the West, and under the banner of the Japanese emperor, took the more chaotic, polytheistic, syncretistic living Shinto tradition and tried to make it structured, based upon the ancient (Chinese import) Ritsuryo system, the Kojiki and the rites of the imperial family.

<a href="">The Ritsuryo system</a> was basically the same sort of thing: Meiji part one. Or perhaps the Meiji reformation was Ritsuryo # 2. The Japanese government had been fiddling with Shinto throughout its history.The Shinto-Buddhist syncretism was as much a result of government interference as was the post Meiji Split. And no one knows what "Shinto" was like before the Ritsuryo.

With the introduction of the resultant Meiji State Shinto, there was then created a profession of centrally funded priests that had not existed for a thousand years. I am sure that many large shrines had their own priests and that some families were shrine owners and traditionally priests by profession from before the Meiji restoration, but it is my impression that the Meiji Restoration allowed only religion that was given the government seal of approval (chucking out all Buddhist effigies and monks from Shinto shrines - a process known as haibutsukishaku - and outlawing some forms of Japanese worship such as Shukendou for instance.

Prior to Meiji there were all sorts of religious practitioners but after Meiji, clergy were either a Kanushi with a particular rank or they were a propagator of "meishin" - superstition.

I think that Koujin (Aragami) Kagura, such as is
found in the Chuugoku (Okayama, Tottori, Shimane) region, was not allowed as one of the accepted expressions of Shinto (in the same way that Shukendo was not accepted either). So in the same way that Shukendou practitioners suddenly found themselves out of a job, labeled as 'lay persons', or worse, charlatans, there were also perhaps Kagura performers that also lost their job, that become suddenly classified as merely "villagers." There were many more semi-religious and religious practitioners, of healing, foretunetelling, exorcism, and perhaps traveling kagura troops, that would were outlawed in the great orthodoxization of Shinto that the Meiji Reformation brought about.

Koujin Kagura was performed in some rural villages partly with the purpose of deciding would be the next priest, since the role of priest in
the village was taken in turns, decided by lots drawn at the time of the

I have theorised (lamely, in vain) that the multitude of coloured paper strips festooned from the tengai (the crown) of the Kagura stage, that people seem to want to take home after the event may have something to do
with this drawing of lots and various rituals seen in totemic religions.

While there may have been some Kagura groups disbanded as a result of Meiji, there are too many roles in the average Kagura for all of them to have been performed by "priests". It seems to me that Koujin Kagura was very much a village event. But perhaps I have been biased by the events that I have seen in Shimane Prefecture. Events in which the whole community participates, which I would recommend to anyone. 

Originally posted to the Shinto Mailing List

Posted by timtak at 05:38 PM | Comments (0)

Tea and Shinto

Sadou or the Japanese Way of Tea is more strongly associated with Zen. But Zen has a strong affinity to Shinto. It seems to me that the form of Zen Buddhism that is found in Japam, the wordless, and some would say ultimate path to the Buddha, became so wordless (even though the man, Siddhartha Gautama, himself was quite a talker) as a result of the meeting of Buddhism with Shinto. It is true that Zen Buddhism started in China. And some would argue that Zen is Buddhism plus Taoism, and fair enough, but I think that it flourished in Japan because Japan, as Shinto-land, is the land of the way <a href="">that can not be spoken of</a>.

I collected some links between Shinto and the Way of Tea, that can be found on the net.

<a href="">Kubo chief shrine priest</a> writes that the "Dou" (Dao, or Tao in Chinese, Michi in Yamato Japanese, and often Path or Way in English) in Shinto (Shindo), is the same as that in Judo, Aikido, Sado (tea ceremony), Kado (Flower arrangement) Koudo (the way of scent?), and that he feels Japanese identity permeates through all of them.

The <a href="">Sotan Inari Shrine</a> is to a Tea-Person (Cha-Jin) Sotan, who is the <a href="">grand master and Zen priest of hot water</a> for Tea.  There is also a tradition that the fox (to which all Inari shrines are dedicated) of this shrine would pose as a man and give tea parties. Local Tea practioners <a href="">come to drink and make tea there</a>.  Sotan Inari Shrine is in the grounds the large <a href="">Shokukuji Zen Temple</a>.

The temple may sell Ofuda, or Omamori (most likely ones from the temple rather than the small shrine, if they sell them at all). They publish their <a href=" ">email address</a>.

This <a href="">Shimoga Shrine</a> has an affiliated little shrine to Susano.

who it is claimed is the spirit of the tea ceremony. Susano? He is one of the more agressive untamed of spirits, so that is a bit of a surprise.

<a href="">This shrine</a> seems to be connected with tea, housing a tea pot and having a monumnet to a tea practioner in its grounds

This article claims that there are strong Shinto-Tea connections and quotes <a href="">the opinion of a leading Tea practioner</a> that the Seiza form of sitting came from Shinto

Being a Briton at heart, I take a large bit pot of <a href="">PG Tips tea</a> to work everyday, thanks to my Japanese wife.
Originally posted to the <a href="">Shinto Mailing List</a>

Posted by timtak at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2004

Noh and Shinto

The spiritual roots of Noh lie in a much earlier tradition than Zen. They are evident in the Shinto-style stage and the back wall with its painted pine tree. This is thought to be a reference to the Yogo Pine at Nara's Kasuga Shrine, to which Kannami had been attached. One day an old man was seen dancing beneath the tree, who turned out to be the spirit of the shrine in human form. The legend tells of the essence of Noh and the bond between men and gods. Before the sacred pine, the ritual drama realises a magical moment of transformation when the spirit world stands revealed.

Dance as an offering to the gods has a long tradition in Shinto. It is said to have its origins with the goddess Uzume, who performed on a wooden tub, stamping her feet and exposing herself in ecstasy. This was because the sun-goddess, Amaterasu, had withdrawn within a cave, plunging the world into darkness. Uzume's dance provoked clapping and cheering from the onlookers, which made Amaterasu peep out to see what was happening. A mirror was held up to blind her with her own brilliance, and a rope slipped across the entrance to the cave to stop her going back in. Sunshine was restored.

The spiritual dimension of Noh is evident in the spurning of realism. The concern is not with the material world, but with spirits, lost souls, and the supernatural. Redemption, passion, recollection, and longing are the themes. The music is eerie, the movements unworldly, and the lead character masked. There is no scenery, and barely any props save for symbolic markers to indicate a gate or boat.

Posted by at 09:16 AM | Comments (3)