Tag Archives: Shinto

#atozchallenge: S is for Shinto

by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2018




Until 1945, the national religion of Japan was Shinto. Japan is a very high context culture. People went about their daily business knowing they were surrounded day and night by all kinds of gods, monsters, and other spirits.



Dr. Harrington comes into this situation knowing that his native Christianity has not had a long or happy history in the Land of the Rising Sun. He also knows that Kiyomizudera is a Buddhist temple. What he does not know is the animistic nature of Shinto, which permeates every aspect of life.

From Japan-Guide.com:

In contrast to many monotheistic religions, there are no absolutes in Shinto. There is no absolute right and wrong, and nobody is perfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. Consequently, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami.

This is why I keep talking about the ofuda. When I visited Kyoto, I stood on the cypress veranda at Kiyomizudera. Believe me, that’s an experience that should be on everybody’s Bucket List. Seeing the gorgeous view from there, and visiting all of the shrines within the temple’s grounds really shows you why Japan is known as yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神), an expression literally meaning “eight million gods.”



With that in mind, I highly recommend Wen Spencer’s novel Eight Million Gods. That will give you a modern taste of what Dr. Harrington is up against!



Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, doctors, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, legend, Lillian Csernica, nature, steampunk, sword and sorcery, travel, Writing

Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto Day Four)

by Lillian Csernica on Dec. 2, 2015

In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples.  Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind.  If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera.  This was the number one item on my bucket list.  Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.

I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them.  This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories.  My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera.  If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.



 The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls.  Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva.  There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera.  Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.



There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there.  People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms.  When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.


The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves.  Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.

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Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop.  Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards.  The Stage contains not a single nail.  Wooden pegs were used instead.

In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.  The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time.  Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire.  Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!

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This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction.  I stood at the corner on the center left.


There are several shrines on the temple grounds.  This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth.  I love those fox figurines.  Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.

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Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking.  The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai.  Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money.  The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.


Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition.  The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers.  A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine.  The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.

Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree.  Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it.  We didn’t understand that at the time.  Now we do!

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The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people.  I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji.  Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world.  Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them.  Still not sure what that was all about.


Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings.  On the far right, wisdom.  In the center, long life.  On the left, success in scholarship.  I meant to drink from the water of longevity.  Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead.  I suspect that’s probably what I really need!

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Soon it was time to head back down the mountain.  This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.


I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning.  Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list.    If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka.  We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick.  Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa.  I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.







Filed under fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, Food, Goals, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, legend, love, research, romance, steampunk, travel, Writing

And now…. Kyoto!

by Lillian Csernica on November 19, 2015

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Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple

Yes indeed, between hospital stays I managed to run off to Kyoto, Japan for a week.  Two of those days were spent in transit, but I did manage to do quite a bit in the five days I had to explore one of the most amazing cities on our planet.  What made it even better was doing the exploring with my best friend, Patricia H. MacEwen.

It took one car, three planes, a bus, and a taxi to get us from my house to our hotel in Kyoto.  I have many stories to tell about what happened to us in transit, both on the way to Kyoto and especially on the way home.  I’m going to save those for a later post.

Day One: As we roamed the streets of Kyoto, in search of the nearest Citibank branch and the local post office, we were lucky enough to come across a few of the local Shinto shrines.  Most of them were in honor of O-Jizo-sama, the god of children.


The first such shrine we found was on one of the major streets, tucked into a niche next to a big bank building.  Most of the time we came across the shrines in what to us were side streets or back alleys.

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A shrine to Inari, god of rice, which equals wealth.

It was quite impressive to see this shrine,  complete with hand-washing station and the bell to ring.  The shrine was spotless, well cared for, and clearly maintained with great respect and affection.

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A map of the original Bukkoji temple complex

Pat discovered Bukko-ji Temple.  This is one of the lesser known temples in Kyoto.  The government is working to generate more interest in it, and I hope the project is successful.  The temple complex is smaller than some, but even so it possesses that unearthly peace you find only in sacred places.

I have come to learn that my idea of Buddhist monks is based largely on Zen monks.  There are at least five different Buddhist sects alive and well in Kyoto.  Not all of them have monks in the sense that I recognize.  This got more than a little confusing because some Buddhist men who work at the temples will wear a garment that looks like a black scholar’s gown.  They also wear stoles which come in different colors.  I asked about those, and if I understood the explanation correctly, the stoles indicate one’s home temple.  (When we visited Higashi Honganji, there was an older gentleman in a three piece suit wearing a pale green stole of fine workmanship.  The stole is what one wears when one visits a temple, much like as an Orthodox woman I cover my head and I do not wear pants when I go to church.)

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This is where you purify your hands before entering the temple. The dragon is a rather intimidating presence!

Pat figured that we must have hiked a good three miles that first day.  What an adventure!  Yes, we did find Citibank. Neither of us had a Japanese bank account, so there wasn’t much they could do for us there.  That’s why we went looking for the post office.  As we knew from our adventures in Yokohama during Nippon 2007, the ATMs which will accept foreign debit cards are found in the post office.  Unfortunately, by the time we found the local post office, we were thwarted in our efforts.

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Yes, this is sideways.  I find it rather fitting because our plans had gone sideways.  See that little door on the left?  In that tiny alcove we found the ATM.  In a strange example of serendipity, when we went back the next day during business hours, the person in there using the ATM was an actual monk.  Monks need cash too, but the sight still caused me a moment’s cognitive dissonance.

We’d been doing pretty well reading the map and navigating in the right directions, but as the afternoon wore on and our joints started to complain, we found ourselves getting a bit turned around.  My Japanese is good enough to ask for help and figure out what I’m told in reply, so we made some progress.  Somebody Up There took pity on us and sent us an angel in the form of a young lady named Manami.  She appeared at my elbow and asked if we needed help, and once we explained where we were trying to go, she led both me and Pat down the street for at least two blocks and pointed us in the right direction.  I tell you, the Japanese are more than just polite.  They’re really nice, really kind people.

On the corner just down the street from our hotel was a McDonald’s.  Call me a Philistine if you like, but after doing so much exploring on foot and absorbing so much really amazing culture, I needed the simplicity of a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke.  At this McDonald’s you ordered downstairs, took your drink and a number, then went up a flight of stairs to the seating area on the second floor.  I’ve seen this design when I was at a McDonald’s in Amsterdam.


Pat and I settled in to enjoy our comfort food while we watched our temporary neighborhood shift from its busy day to the more carefree tone of a Friday night.


Our home away from home in Kyoto.  I highly recommend Citadines.

Here’s our room:



With a 7-11 right across the street and a subway station entrance practically outside the hotel’s front door, we had one of the easiest, most convenient vacation locations I’ve ever enjoyed.

Next up: The marvels of Higashi Hongaji!




Filed under Food, frustration, Goals, history, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, memoirs, nature, research, romance, travel, Writing