Sunday, January 12, 2014

Shinto in the Spotlight

Blessing of the Thames
Japanese Prime Minister ABE Shinzo's Christmas Day (U.S. time) visit to the Yasukuni Shrine spotlights the Shinto faith. For the Prime Minister, Shinto is a religious and ritualistic form of Japanese patriotism.

For the average Japanese, it is as much Japan's religion as it is a cultural tradition that honors and apotheosizes nature and the dead.

John Dougill, a professor of British Culture at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, maintains an excellent blog, Green Shinto, dedicated to "the promotion of an open, international and environmental Shinto." He provides insights into both the history and practice of Shinto.

He has collected the many definitions of Shinto, among them:
"Shinto”, indeed, is a term that should be used with great caution, since it can be applied to an animistic cult, to a theocratic myth, to a simple folklore that expresses indigenous Japanese sentiments about life and society, and to an organized system of ritual with a certain political content.’ – George Sansom, The Western World And Japan A Study In The Interaction Of European And Asiatic Cultures
‘Shinto is the Japanese conception of the universe. It is a combination of the worship of nature and of their own ancestors.’ Percival Lowell, Occult Japan: Or, the Way of the Gods; An Esoteric Study of Japanese Personality and Possession
‘The term Shinto covers a many-hued array of Japanese religious traditions.’ - Mark Teeuwen and John Breen in Shinto – Shinto: A Short History
But Shinto's veneration of nature and the past is not foreign to Westerners. On Sunday, January 12, London's Southwark Cathedral holds its Annual Ceremony of the Blessing of the River Thames and Those Who Use It. The ceremony involves throwing a cross into the water as a symbol of Christ's baptism, and praying for the people working on the river.

Southwark is the oldest cathedral church building in London (AD 606). Significantly, Southwark stands at the oldest crossing point of the tidal Thames at what was the only entrance to the City of London across the river for many centuries.

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