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.
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.”